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    How mixed vegetable farming keeps Meru farmer earning through the year

    garden 2By George Munene

    When I meet Mr Kirimi at his Kaaga home he has a phone in hand fi­nal­ising the sale of 50kg of sukuma wiki. This will hap­pen in­ter­mit­tently over the course of our con­ver­sa­tion, he warns, for around these parts, any­one look­ing to buy hor­ti­cul­tural products knows just who to call.

    For Patrick Kirimi has cre­ated a model in mixed farm­ing on the acre at his home and his three-acre farm at Giaki, using most of his land to grow his most luc­rat­ive crop of to­ma­toes, but, bear­ing in mind their price volat­il­ity, en­sur­ing he has a solid in­come of some Sh100,000 a month from an acre that he splits between kale and cap­sic­ums.

    He grows the sukuma wiki on a 3/4 acre plot in front of his home. This year, he bought 20,000 seeds of the Mfalme F1 brand at Sh2500 for 100 grams. This is ex­pens­ive, he says, as other brands sell for Sh300. But the extra in­vest­ment is worth it, as his cus­tom­ers prefer this type of kale, which doesn't cause heart­burn as other kales do.

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    He trans­plants the sukuma from his nurs­ery, plants them at 2*1 feet spa­cing, ap­plies DAP fer­til­iser and ma­nure, and is ready for har­vest­ing to begin in around six weeks. At one month, he ap­plies CAN fer­til­iser, and then, once ready, keeps pluck­ing away at a single crop for over a year. 

    His over­all cost of pro­duc­tion ranges from Sh70,000 to Sh90,000 a month, made up of around Sh25,000 in la­bour costs, to which he adds the costs of crop re­plen­ish­ment and pest con­trol, and the rest goes on ma­nure, cost­ing Sh35,000 for every lorry.

    Kirimi has a steady water sup­ply from the river be­side the path to his home.

    For pest con­trol, the most com­mon pests af­fect­ing his suku­mas are aph­ids, white­flies and cater­pil­lars. For every sec­tion of sukuma he har­vests, he'll spray it for pests. He also does this whenever there's a dis­ease out­break, which he says is rare.

    He har­vests about 150-200kg of kale daily which he cur­rently sells at Sh30 per kilo­gram, totalling between Sh4,500 and Sh6,000 a day.

    Opt­ing to plant kale was a stra­tegic choice, says Kirimi. The crop has mul­tiple be­ne­fits: it isn't prone to pests and dis­eases, gen­er­ates re­l­at­ively low main­ten­ance costs, and en­joys high de­mand throughout the year, mean­ing he clears some Sh60,000 to Sh80,000 a month from the crop.

    Being close to so­cial in­sti­tu­tions - his home bor­ders a church, there schools in the vi­cin­ity, KEMU's main cam­pus is only walk­ing dis­tance away, there are ho­tels about, and Meru town is just 2 km away - he never wants for cus­tom­ers.

    His main crop, however, is to­ma­toes, which he grows in an open field of three acres at Giaki pre­pared by tractor and cas­ual la­bour­ers. He tells me that he leaves his land bare for one to two months after the ini­tial till to ex­pose weeds and para­sites to scorch­ing. He then trans­plants the seed­lings from his nurs­ery after three to four weeks, plant­ing them at 3*3 feet in spa­cing and adds a tea­spoon of DPP fer­til­iser for every hole.

    He wa­ters his plants every morn­ing and even­ing in the ini­tial two weeks, then four times a week de­pend­ent on the weather. On the fourth week he top dresses his crop using CAN fer­til­iser.

    The most pre­val­ent to­mato pests he says are Cat Worms, which he treats with the pesti­cide Thun­der. Cold is treated by Rindo­mill,TIHAN,Vic­tory or any other de­th­ane

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    To­ma­toes are fed on fo­liar feeds such as Waxol every two weeks to en­hance crop growth.

    Two months after the crop be­gins to flower, Kirimi uses in­sect­icides to avoid the flower and the newly natured fruit being eaten. After three months, the crop is nearly ready for har­vest and he is care­ful to use only re­com­men­ded mild sprays.

    The down­side to to­ma­toes is that their mar­ket prices are highly volat­ile. A kilo­gram of to­mato can sell for as little as 20 shil­lings - mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for a farmer to break even and Kirimi con­fesses to hav­ing been burnt a couple of times. But this year is prov­ing ex­cep­tional.

    He has planted twelve thou­sand seed­lings of the Hy­brid F1 and Sarah F1 vari­ety on two acres, from which he ex­pects to har­vest 25-35 tonnes per acre. But to­mato prices have soared lately to over Sh100 a kilo, gen­er­at­ing a po­ten­tial rev­enue of many mil­lions for Kirimi across the sea­son, be­fore costs.

    “To­mato prices are really hard to pre­dict,” he said.

    For this reason, Kirimi then fur­ther spreads his risk and busi­ness by grow­ing ¼ acre of cap­sic­ums at his home with 1,000  seed­lings of the Con­tin­ental hy­brid F1 and Cali­for­nia Won­der vari­et­ies. From these, he har­vests 200-300kgs every two weeks, which he sells loc­ally at Sh100 per kilo, geern­at­ing rev­enue of around Sh50,000 a month at peak.

    In his ex­per­i­ence, the price var­ies from Sh50 to Sh250, peak­ing over the hol­i­day peri­ods, but tends to run at about Sh100 until about April.

    In terms of land use, he ad­vises, cap­sic­ums should not suc­ceed to­ma­toes over a plant­ing sea­son, as, being mem­bers of the same fam­ily, they share sim­ilar dis­eases.

    The most dev­ast­at­ing pest that af­fects the So­lanaceae fam­ily (to­ma­toes & cap­sicum) in his ex­per­i­ence is the Tuta ab­so­luta. It is highly com­mu­nic­able and de­struct­ive, in severe cases it re­quires up­root­ing the whole of the af­fected crop.

    In all, Kirimi is, these days, an ex­pert, well versed on every minute de­tail of crop pro­duc­tion after two dec­ades in ag­ribusi­ness. His ex­pert­ise ahs paid off too, gen­er­at­ing pro­ceeds that have al­lowed him di­ver­sify into other fields such as trans­port­a­tion, al­though he's now plan­ning on di­vest him­self of the other daily op­er­a­tions in order to focus solely on ag­ribusi­ness.

    He is now plan­ning to cre­ate four fully op­er­a­tional green­houses by the end of 2020. Twenty years in, and many mil­lions bet­ter off, there is a sense he's only just get­ting star­ted.

    "Ag­ri­cul­ture has been good to me,” he said, as he bangs on his metal­lic lorry bed fit­ting. “There are few pro­fes­sions one can get to do that they enjoy and earn a good liv­ing off it too."

    Patrick Kirimi can be reached through:07170770686

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