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Nandi farmer makes over Sh1.5m a season from tomato, tea and cabbage sales

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In 2016,  Robert Kiprop Choge started raising cabbage, tea seedlings and tomatoes for sale as a side hustle to top up his income from his job as an assistant manager, Acumen Communications Ltd. The endeavor has since transformed into a multi-million venture earning him more than Sh1.5m every season.

“I raise and sell seedlings and vegetables to local markets within Nandi, Uasin Gishu, and other neighboring counties. For tea seedlings I usually get up to Sh500,000 depending on demand, last year I earned Sh400,000 from cabbages and from my  tomato greenhouse I got Sh230,000,” said Choge.

The 29 year old  who hails from Kipsigak location, Nandi County started with an initial capital investment of Sh50,000, a commission paid to him in December 2015. He used the cash to fence his two acre farm and bought two bulls which he later sold at a profit of Sh35,000. He then used the profit to buy 25,000 sachets which he used to raise tea seedlings.

Unfortunately, out of the 25,000 tea seedlings he raised, only 20,000 grew to maturity ready for transplanting. In May 2017 he sold 12,000 seedlings at Sh10 each earning Sh120,000 and planted the remaining 8,000 at his two acre farm acquired from his father.

Since tea takes up to three years to fully mature, Choge utilized the free spaces between the teas plants to plant kale and cabbage seedlings for sale to his neighbors and to local markets.

In August 2017, took a bank loan of Sh210,000 which he used to develop a eight by 30m greenhouse and a 5000 liter water tank. He planted 1000 seedlings of Anna F1 high yielding tomato variety in the greenhouse and started harvested a total of 110 crates.  He sold each crate at between Sh1,800 to Sh2,200.

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Robert Choge inspecting his tomatoes at a greenhouse in his farm in Nandi. Photo: Farmbiz Africa

“To ensure pests and diseases such as tomato blight did not attack my tomatoes in the second season beginning March 2018, I planted the crop in tubes with imported soil from outside,” said Choge. The second harvest in July 2018 saw him improve his yield to 115 crates with each retailing at between Sh2,200 to Sh3,000. 

Considering that Choge works in Nairobi about 300km away from his farm, he has decided to embrace the concept of digital farming to manage his farm. This type of farming enables him to manage his farm activities and run day to day farm practices from far.

In this he uses mostly WhatsApp to communicate with his grounds man who sends him photos of the crops and how they are faring on.  In case of a disease attack for instance, he receives a photo of the affected crop which he tend sends to his agronomist who then advises him on what to do.

“It is a good way to manage your farm if you are working elsewhere but one has to have someone reliable on at the farm to ensure smooth running of your farm. I am lucky I got someone I reliable on the ground because in most cases digital farming can be quite challenging. This is because I have seen a number of my friends lose a lot of investment by entrusting their farms with relatives or employees who end up messing everything leading to loses. So for me, digital farming has been successful. It is quite challenging though because I found myself travelling most of the time to the farm mostly over the weekends,” said Choge.

The biggest challenge he has ever faced was in 2018 when he bought fake cabbage seeds in the market.

“I purchased cabbages seeds worth Sh40,000 expecting to get at least 30,000 seedling to plant on three acres, but only 3,000 seedlings of cabbages germinated. This almost damped my zeal for farming but I picked up my pieces and moved begun afresh. Since then I buy seedlings only from certified agrovets such as Plantech,” said Choge.

Currently he has 70,000 tea seedlings expected to be ready for sale in April at the onset of the long rains and 25,000 cabbages on a 2.5 acre piece of land of which the first 15,000 will be ready for sale at the peak season in March this year at Sh70 to Sh80 each.

Choge, 29, graduated from Kenyatta University in 2014 with a Bachelor of Commerce degree (marketing option). His first work was at Xtra Publishing Ltd as a Business Executive where he learnt the skills on business management prompting him to venture into agribusiness.

Besides farming, Choge is also the founder and Director of Jelberts Kenya Limited, a company that deals with greenhouse construction both wooden and metallic, farm consultancy, market forecast and market linkage, soil fumigation, drip line system installation and seedlings.

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