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Kajiado farmer finds sweet side hustle in cucumber and lettuce production

Mathews lettuce farm

Part of Tejeu’s lettuce farm at Birika in Kajiado County. He harvests 2,000 pieces of lettuce after every two weeks and 2,000 kilos of cucumbers in every four weeks. Photo courtesy.

A young farmer from Kajiado County is earning up to Sh160,000 a month from cucumbers and lettuces production side hustle, a venture he started in 2014 to supplement his monthly income he pockets from working with a non-governmental Organisation in Nairobi.

Mathew Tejeu, 29, the CEO of Centre for Advocacy Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse, an NGO advocating for a drug-free society has three acres piece of plot which is part of their family’s 10 acres land at Birika between Isinya and Kiserian in Kajiado County where he grows the crops.

Other than his intention to increase his monthly income, Tejeu ventured into horticulture farming as a way to commemorate his mother, who died in 2010 following a short illness and whom he used to help in tomatoes, cabbages, onions, French beans and dairy farming while in high school from 2004 to 2007.

“Between 2007 and 2009 we had a 100x30x8m greenhouse which my mother had installed and where we used to grow the crops alternately. In the same land we also kept 15 dairy cows of which 12 were lactating,” said Tejeu.

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When his mother got ill and died in August 2010 there was no one to take care of the farm especially the crops in the greenhouse and the cows which needed much attention.

Tejeu had just enrolled for a Bachelor’s degree in law at Africa Nazarene University in 2009, their father at the time was held up in religious duties at Presbyterian Church, Thika branch and was not able to spend much time at home while his two younger siblings were in boarding school.

“We, therefore, decided to sell all the cows except two which we could still rely on for milk. The money realized was taken by our father to be used for the family expenses that included school fees,” said Tejeu.

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In 2011, the father was transferred to Kiserian after he negotiated with the church’s top administration to let him work closer to home which was then left lonely following the demise.

He saw this as an opportunity to embark seriously on farming and decided to hire one farmhand whom he paid Sh2,000 to run the daily activities on the farm.  Tejeu then used Sh2,000 to purchase tomato seeds, Sh15,000 on installing drip irrigation, Sh10,000 on fertiliser.

“While in school, I worked as farm produce broker.  I would source some tomatoes from farmers in Nyandarua to sell at Marikiti Market in Nairobi. I also connected some sheep and goats farmers from Kajiado who wanted to sell their livestock to prospective buyers and if the deal went through, I earned my commission. From this job, I managed to save Sh50,000 which I used to hire the farmhand and buy the inputs, ” said Tejeu.

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With the farm inputs in place in 2013, he decided to start by planting tomatoes in a quarter piece of plot on the family’s 10 acres land. When this was successful, he decided to expand the acreage by an eighth piece of plot each season to incorporate more crops such as capsicum, China cabbages, purple and red cabbages, onions and French beans increasing the area under production from time to time.

He has three acres open field under lettuce and cucumbers which he plants differently to spread his harvesting and the flow of income throughout the year and has employed five farmhands whom he pays between Sh9,000 to Sh13,000 per month depending on the work done.

“I plant 5000 pieces of lettuce every two weeks and cucumbers after every four weeks rotationally and continuously throughout the year. Lettuce takes 40-60 days to mature depending on the weather while cucumbers take 60 days to harvest,” said Tejeu.

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He harvests 2,000 pieces of lettuce after every two weeks and 2,000 kilos of cucumbers in every four weeks thanks to Julius Ndwati, his longtime agronomist whom he consults every two weeks through the crops production process.

A piece of lettuce goes at Sh30 at Marikiti Market while a kilo of cucumbers sells at Sh50 at the same market at a maximum price. This translates to Sh160,000 gross income per month before deducting Sh16,000 transport cost per week among other expenses.

One big challenge he faces is the government’s high taxation on pesticides that shoots up the price of the farm input. “If I were to spend Sh10,000 per week on pesticides, for example, with the new VAT regulations, the figure will rise to Sh75,000 increasing the cost of production,” said Tejeu.

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Despite the challenges, he is planning to put up a grocery in Birika, which will enable him and other farmers sell their produce directly to consumers and big retail outlets without passing through middlemen, who he says deny farmers their full returns.

Besides his main job and farming, Jejeu has also registered for a Master’s program in Public Policy at Kenyatta University which he is still undergoing and at its final stage expecting to graduate at the end of this year.

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