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    By George Munene

    Tukalime Ventures is an innovative farm management service that farms and markets your agricultural produce at a fee. Founded in 2016, the company takes the hustle out of farming, actualising their client’s objectives by growing in-demand crops, employing the right expertise, inputs, and implements as well as ensuring timely harvests and a ready market for your produce.

    Tukalime’s slogan is simple: “We plan, we grow, you earn”. With some previous ‘farm from the office’ schemes having been exposed as con jobs; it is understandable that for many Kenyans this has a whiff of ‘too good to be true'. However, Tukalime’s six-year track record of results— the firm has managed over 1,800 acres of farmland since its inception— proves that if done ethically, with professionalism and a sound business plan, agricultural outsourcing can be a lucrative option for those looking to venture into farming.

    As a testament to the firm's success, in 2020, Kzanaka Limited, an agricultural holding company that is home to well-known brands such as Cooper K-Brands Ltd and Analabs invested in the budding company. This gives Tukalime access to financing as well as specialized lab and agronomy services. 

    “Agriculture is an uncertain enterprise, to minimise risks and maximise profits for our clients we adhere to the right farming protocols; proper land preparation, using the right seed, proper crop feeding programs, ensuring pests and diseases are at an acceptable threshold, and having access to markets,” explained Tukalime’s founder Kevin Kamau.

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    Having come back to Kenya after a ten-year stay in the United States, Kevin first got into potato farming in a partnership; “While my friend handled the hands-on farming, I sourced for and provided market linkages,” he says of his first step in farming. Though he had no background in agriculture, he understood the obvious: food is an essential. 

    Tukalime was founded one year later. This was driven by his evident initial success; “Friends outside the country sought me out to provide a more reliable and transparent way of investing in agriculture beyond ‘sending money to a cousin’,” he said.

    With a background in economics and finance; Kevin best explains his business's success model thusly; “Economics basically involves studying factors of production and how to best utilise them to get an end product. The market for the service we offered was there in people looking to make an extra income through farming. Food is an everyday essential, meaning the byproduct of our business also had a ready market. As an economy largely held up by agriculture, skilled agronomic labour was also available to us.” The company currently has four permanent employees—like many businesses, the Corona pandemic forced a shaving off of staff.

    The firm offers a wide range of services tailor-made for particular and wide-ranging client needs. These are determined by factors such as land size, region, and a wide range of options that cater to various complexities.

    The first step involves a farmer reaching Tukalime and expressing what they want to realise with their farmland. The company will then conduct an assessment to ensure the infrastructure capable of actualising what was outlined is available.

    A soil test is then conducted and a budget formulated with the information gathered from the farming site. 

    A client is then given the budget to review and if approved, the project is initiated and executed according to the budget and plan.

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    At the final step harvesting and marketing of the produce is finally undertaken before a post mortem of the entire project.

    Every step has to be expertly executed to realise the farmer’s objective; “Farmers are charging me with actualising their hopes, ambitions, and dreams, if I failed in my role as their farm manager, I would be crushed, “Kevin said.

    Kevin Kamau is amongst this year’s Agripreneur of the Year finalist at the Founder of the Year Africa (FOYA) awards.

    His vision forTukalime is for it to become farming’s equivalent to Airbnb; an online rental marketplace that has more rooms than any hotel chain in the world without owning a single building. “We want to be the leading drivers of safely and affordably grown food without actually needing to own farmland,” he illuminated.

    Tukalime: +254 (0)709 094 000/ +254 (0)734 330 044 

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    Mukombero

    By George Munene

    Through the Kakamega Natural Forest Catchment Conservation Organization, KANFCCO, Mukombero farmers in Kakamega County have signed a deal to supply 100 metric tonnes of the herbal root to Germany every year.

    With a ready market secured, KANFCCO—which currently has about 360 farmers in its books—is recruiting growers of Mukombero (Mondia whitei) as well as other medicinal tuber plants like Maruku or lesser yam (Dioscorea esculenta).

    “To archive the export quantities required by German company Man Fields we will need to expand our pool of farmers to at least 2000,” explained James Ligare, KANFCCO’s secretary. 

    Founded in 2018, KANFCCO is an umbrella body charged with the environmental conservation and equal benefit sharing of Kakamega’s genetic resources. Together with the Kakamega County government, Ministry of Agriculture, and ward administrators it has been mandated to ensure sufficient Mukombero is being produced across the region to meet this growing export demand.

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    This is made even harder to achieve given the wild vine flourishes agronomically when grown in tropical climates with sufficient rainfall. Being a community organisation, KANFCCO also deals exclusively with farmers based in Kakamega.

    The few farmers growing the indigenous aromatic roots of Mukombero are a satisfied lot:” Compared to maize and sugarcane—crops I previously relied on—Mukombero has so far given me the best return on my investment,” elatedly said Alfred Wafula, an early Mukombero farming convert.

    Thought of sorely as an aphrodisiac, the mention of Mukombero often invites averted snickers among Kenyans. The woody climbing plant however has a myriad of other health benefits. Among them, as an immune booster, and sedative that alleviates symptoms of hypertension as well as insomnia. It also contains essential nutrients such as Vitamins A, D, E, and K and vital minerals like Sodium, Calcium, Zinc, and Iron.

    It can be consumed after a quick wash as a fresh root or value-added powder, natural wine, juice, or yogurt. 

    Mukombero wine

    All these variants of Mukombero can be accessed locally through KANFCCO or its affiliate outlets. The body is also keen on adding value to the plant’s roots before export as this will ensure farmers reap maximum returns. 

    The crop takes three years to mature and with good agronomic practices is harvestable every three months for up to five years.

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    “Being a climber Mukombero is best grown intercropped with trees such as the Sesbania sesban, a soft-wooded tree that grows rapidly and is useful for fodder and green manure. The soil needs to be farmed to a fine tilth to encourage tuber growth,” Ligare illuminated. 

    Farmers can purchase Mukombero for propagation from KANFCCO at Sh 50 a seedling or Sh 5000 for one kilogram of seed.

     

    KANFCCO: 0738944555/ 0728 738631/ 0721329061
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    Avocado

    By George Munene

     

    Speaking during the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) 93rd Annual General Meeting, Kakuzi PLC Chairman Nicholas Ng'ang'a said the firm will this year invest more than Sh400 million in capital expenditures (CAPEX) focusing on upscaling the value of its smallholder avocados farmers’ operations. 

    "The global market is responding positively to Kenyan avocados due to their high potential to provide good quality fruits but, we must work tirelessly to secure this market positioning by focusing on the quality aspects," Ng'ang'a said. He added that "to secure this market positioning, Kakuzi will step up its effort to strengthen the capacity of our smallholders to meet the stringent quality and phytosanitary standards required at the global markets."

    At the virtually held event, Mr. Ng'ang'a pointed out that focusing on lifting its smallholder farmers' value would complement its production capacities and boost the global positioning of Kenyan avocados.

    “It's critical that markets only receive good quality fruits from Kenya, and to achieve this, building knowledge of the market requirements amongst farmers is very important,” he said.

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     The Company he added has secured lucrative markets for Kenyan agriproduce such as avocados and macadamia and will continue adopting a shared prosperity approach by integrating smallholders.

    Alongside the smallholder avocado development plans, the integrated agro-business firm is focusing on developing its other core agribusiness lines; macadamia, forestry and cattle while experimenting with the new blueberry venture.

    The firm's chairman added that they are exploring value addition opportunities in a number of these crops.

    "The markets for Kakuzi's avocados remained solid, despite the almost complete closure of the food retail sector across our main markets. We expect that there will be some recovery in 2021, but this is not guaranteed. To mitigate this, we continue to trade with our traditional buyers as well as some key new players across 14 different countries," Ng'ang'a said.

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    At the AGM, the firm's shareholders unanimously voted for a Sh18 dividend per share, representing a 28.5 per cent growth from the Sh14 dividends paid out the previous year and making Kakuzi PLC one of the best performing returns on investment firms at the NSE.

    Last year, Kakuzi achieved robust results for the year, despite the uncertainty in its main sales markets caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The firm posted a Sh848 million pre-tax profit representing a 16 per cent drop from Sh1,014 billion realized the previous year.

    The firm's avocado and macadamia export volumes were higher than 2019 but not sufficient to mitigate a significant reduction of 34 per cent in the price of avocados due to higher global supply.

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