After retiring from politics three years ago, Zipporah Kittony, a former Senator has found a new hobby in farming. At 77, wearing her signature multiple rings on her hand and pearls on her neck, she walks through her vast tea farm in Cherang’nay, Trans Nzoia, counting the gains of her retirement investment.
She started purple tea farming in 2012 and has since expanded the land under two tea varieties to 56 acres.
Years of low grain prices and frustrations drove her into tea farming.
Zipporah says it was frustrating for her, just like many maize farmers, to plant and after harvest the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) tells them that “their maize is not clean or not dried properly yet you have been charged exorbitantly for it to be dried.”
“First, I had the soil sample tested at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and they gave us a go-ahead to grow tea. The soil in this county is acidic and therefore suitable for tea growing,” she says.
Tea success has prodded her to keep going.
This year alone, she has added 12,000 seedlings. Her harvest averages between 800 to 1,000 kilos a day, even in low rains.
“I am happy. My Sirwo farm has broken a record, bringing in the highest single-day factory produce of 1,912 kilogrammes. No other farmer has reached that amount,” she says.
Zipporah says most retirees have seen their investments crash owing to lack of early planning.
“Only set up a business after doing market research. If you invest without a clear strategy will always fail and this is what most retirees go through,” she says.
Her Sirwo farm has two types of tea; purple and green tea. She plans to venture into purple tea value addition.
“Purple tea is medicinal. It is a healthy drink especially when taken with lemon,” she says.
In her sunset years, Zipporah still enjoys playing golf. Her daily routine involves spending time at the farm, playing golf, and responding to customer concerns at her businesses located in Kitale town and Sibanga Township.
“I miss the pressure of active politics, especially engaging the electorate. I occasionally interact with upcoming leaders who wish to be mentored,” she says.
For any retirement investment to be successful, hiring the right staff is important.
Richard Wanjala Naseti, 53, who is the Sirwo farm manager, has worked for the Kittonys since 2013 but has been taking care of the tea for about three years now.
“We started harvesting tea with only 15 workers at an average of 70 kilogrammes then went up to 100, 200, 300, and 400 kilos per day. We added more workers to 25 and each of them harvests between 30 kilos to 35 kilos,” he says.
Once the tea is harvested, it is checked for quality and weighed, before being taken to Kapsara tea factory.
Zipporah not only lives off her farm but has made it almost self-sufficient to provide for her hotels. In addition to the tea, she has planted coffee, macadamia, vegetables, and keeps livestock.
The coffee is grown on a 65-acre piece of land and intercropped with 2,545 seedlings of macadamia while 100 seedlings of pure macadamia. She has 28 dairy cows that produce over 80 liters of milk a day, an average of 10 liters per cow.
Maize is used as silage to feed dairy cows, milk, and vegetables that are supplied to her hotels.
“Diversification makes you a better investor,” says Zipporah.
At the farm, she has dug boreholes used to water her produce and there is also a dam under construction. Once the dam is completed it will be used for irrigation.
For succession, most large scale farmers lack plans of continuity for the next generation. But for the Kittonys, her son Kiprono, who worked as the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is already into farming.
Kiprono is seeking investors to set up a tea factory to process the purple tea at their farm.
Zipporah says for farming to pay off, there has to be fair play.
“Agriculture secretary Peter Munya should listen to small-scale farmers from other regions like Kisii, Kericho, Kakamega, Bungoma, Trans Nzoia, Nandi, West Pokot, and Elgeyo Marakwet. Let him come up with favourable solutions for all,” she says.