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    Former researcher finds her fortunes by returning to farming roots

    Anne at her onions farm

    By George Munene

    Upon her gradu­ation, Anne Muriithi was among a se­lect few who got a chance to work for Eger­ton Uni­versity’s Tege­meo In­sti­tute of Ag­ri­cul­tural Policy and De­vel­op­ment in March 2014 under con­tract.

    In two months, however, the re­search con­tract which paid her Sh1500 a day ended leav­ing her job­less. The 2013 Ag­ri­cul­ture Eco­nom­ics gradu­ate from Moi Uni­versity would not have be­lieved it then that in a few short years she would be selling Sh450,000 worth of to­ma­toes.

    ‘’I grew up in Mwea, Embu County and farm­ing was our fam­ily’s primary source of live­li­hood; with job op­por­tun­it­ies hard to come by in Nairobi, I headed back home with the sav­ings from the job to chance my arm at farm­ing,’’ said Anne.

    As a new­bie in ag­ribusi­ness, she spent the bet­ter part of 2014 re­search­ing and gain­ing prac­tical com­mer­cial farm­ing know­ledge through con­sulta­tions with ex­per­i­enced farm­ers and ag­ro­nom­ists. In Janu­ary 2015 she leased five acres of land in Mwea for Sh25,000. On one acre, she grew Sukari F1 wa­ter­melon and had three acres under onions.

    She har­ves­ted eight tonnes of the bulb onions which she sold to traders at Sh30 a kilo. This earned her Sh240,000 while wa­ter­mel­ons raked in Sh150,000.

    Re­lated News: Gar­lic farm­ers earn six times more than reg­u­lar onion farm­ers

    ‘’Though I didn’t quite earn as much as the ideal ag­ro­nom­ists’ pro­jec­tions, I got en­cour­aged that it was doable and gained in­valu­able ex­per­i­ence,’’ said Muriithi.

    In the suc­ceed­ing 2016 sea­son, she de­cided to move on from or­din­ary onion seeds to hy­brid vari­et­ies plant­ing Red Trop­ic­ana F1 and Red Creole on two acres.

    She more than doubled her yield to 19 tonnes. After selling her pro­duce to traders at her farm, she earned Sh0.5m.

    In 2017, she opted to grow French beans for the ex­port mar­ket. Sow­ing in June, she har­ves­ted 1.5 tonnes in less than three months. This earned her Sh75,000 after selling at Sh50 per kilo to an ex­port­ing firm.

    Heavy loses

    Just like any other busi­ness, farm­ing has its own share of chal­lenges. Dis­eases, un­pre­dict­able weather pat­terns and mar­ket down­turns are just a few of the chal­lenges grow­ers face; es­pe­cially new entrants such as Muriithi.

    After suc­cess­ive good har­vests, the 29 years old’s de­sire to clinch the coveted ex­port mar­ket made her bite more than she could chew. She in­ves­ted over Sh300000 to grow snow peas and sugar snaps on a three-acre piece of land away from home in Thar­agua, Laikipia County.

    Hor­ti­cul­tural pro­duce is wa­ter-in­tens­ive and with no piped water on the new farm, she had to ferry in water for ir­rig­a­tion which ate into her ex­penses. Fre­quent vis­its to check on the farm from Nairobi—where she had since moved—also proved costly.

    Just when she thought she had weathered the storm, frost at­tacked her crops and she lost everything. This led her to aban­don the farm and lease it to an­other farmer for the re­mainder of the sea­son.

    Boun­cing back

    After the blow, Muriithi again re­turned home to Mwea. Her par­ents gave her 1.5 acres of their land to grow French beans as well as cov­er­ing her cul­tiv­a­tions costs.

    A down­turn in the ex­port mar­ket meant she wasn’t able to get as much as she’d hoped, but the little she had ac­crued was still enough to en­able her to lease an acre in the neigh­bor­hood.

    Re­lated News: Cab­bages, kales and to­ma­toes earns gradu­ate Sh120,000 in profits in three months

    Re­lated News: 25 Mur­anga farm­ers earn Sh20m a year from French beans through group ex­port con­tract

    “I did not want to squeeze my par­ents on their small piece of land; with the little I had, I leased land to grow French beans and also try out to­ma­toes,’’ said Muriithi.

    Since then, she has been spe­cial­ising in the two crops which she says have be­come her top earners and she has been grow­ing from strength to strength.

    Septem­ber last year she says she har­ves­ted 120 boxes from a two-acre piece of plot in Mwea selling each box at Sh3500-4000, earn­ing her between Sh420,000 and Sh480,000 gross in­come.

    Her ad­vice to the young people who wish to ven­ture into ag­ribusi­ness is that they per­form ex­haust­ive mar­ket re­search and to en­gage well-known ag­ri­cul­ture ex­perts as well as ex­per­i­enced farm­ers be­fore sow­ing a single seed.

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