Early this year, Samuel Gathigi, an information systems security engineer at a local major airline, had what he describes as a light-bulb moment. A visit to a 70-year-old lady growing tomatoes in greenhouses in Limuru ignited an agricultural passion he never knew he had.
Seeing the financial windfall the lady had from farming wowed him. But what really gave Gathigi a paradigm shift was her comment that she wished she had discovered it all at his age.
For the 34-year-old Samuel Gathigi that was it. He set about rehabilitating his 27-acre Gramonra Gardens in Tala, 45km from Nairobi, sinking a borehole and planting trees, as the beginning of a vision to play a new role in promoting agriculture in Kenya.
His first step was a new business model leasing land or greenhouses, along with farm labourers and managers, to whoever wanted to grow crops there. Per year, the lease for the space costs Sh60,000.
With a permanent staff of 5 and 40 casuals to tend crops for tenants, he recruited a horticulture graduate to ensure best-in-class farming techniques, and now has 7 greenhouses, each of 8 by 30 metres on one sixteenth of an acre.
“Basically we manage the farming for you,” said Gathigi. The management involves advising clients on crops to grow, chemicals to buy, spraying, weeding, tending and harvesting. For the farm management, clients are charged Sh7000 a month. To assess progress the farmers make fortnightly visits, but those who don’t get progress reports sent to them.
Farmers now leasing at Gramonra Gardens include groups who have pooled funds to raise the lease and monthly charges. Most are growing onions, vegetables, potatoes, beans and tomatoes. “We have around 15 waiting in the queue,” said Gathigi.
Though marketing is largely left to the lease farmers, after harvest Gramonra lists the products harvested on their website so that buyers can order online. “They send us emails, we give them the contacts of the selling farmers,” said Gathigi. The farm is also selling produce straight from the ground, to visiting buyers.
Gramonra has also launched an Agri-Consultancy service, advising farmers on the right crops to grow in different climates, and the right seeds to plant for optimum yields. Gathigi says he has received hundreds of calls from farmers around the country. However, he prefers doing the consultancy for farmers with around 10 to 15 acres of land, to cover the standing charge of Sh20,000.
His long-term dream is to replicate the Gramonra model in other parts of the country. To achieve that, he plans to end his 6 year job tenure with the airline at the end of December and venture full time to agriculture. “The soil and weather in Kenya is so favourable for farming,” he said. His other aim is to make Kenyans “see” agriculture as an investment vehicle and shatter the lifelong myth that it’s a poor man’s profession.
For the nearly 1 year he has been in farming, he has realised information is the biggest hurdle to successful agricultural. “It’s not disseminated as it should be,” Gathigi said, who says the agricultural ministry often has great initiatives that Kenyan farmers never get to know about.
To counter that, Gramonra Gardens is now also running initiatives such as Agri-Tourism, offering rural urbanite and kids’ holiday boot camps. The Rural Urbanite camps encourage professional urbanites to learn about farming and turn it into a hobby or income generator. The kids’ holiday boot camp trains children about healthy foods and farming, as well as life skills. The boot camp also spurs kids to learn entrepreneurial skills.
The farm’s next step will be to extend its leasing model into aquaculture.