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Uasin Gishu farmer earns double from short season crops after quitting job

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In February 2018, Maxwell Kiplagat quit his job as a farm manager to start horticulture farming that earns him over Sh60,000 a month up from a sh35,000 salary. He has created a model farm that he also uses to train over 150 farmers to grow horticulture crops including lettuce, cauliflowers, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, passion fruits and pepper.

Kiplagat is a horticulture expert, ambassador for youths in horticulture and an advocate of technology-driven farming.

“I realised that there was a high demand of lettuce in Eldoret, Kitale and Lodwar because traders travel to Nairobi, over 350 kilometres away to buy the products as local small-scale farmers are not consistent thus not able to satisfy the demand or meet the required quality standards,” said Kiplagat.

Kiplagat, 28, holds a Bachelor of Science degree in horticulture from Egerton University and an advanced diploma in agriculture which he studied in Israel. He lives in Ziwa, Uasin Gishu County where he runs his farm.

“After quitting my farm manager’s job, I approached my parents and asked for a piece of land to start my venture. I was lucky because I was given two acres where I have set up three greenhouses”, said Kiplagat.

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Currently, he has planted 6,000 heads of lettuce, courgettes, Chinese cabbage, passion fruits, tomatoes and an acre of butternuts. His passion fruits and butternuts are due in the next two – two and a half months.

“I enjoy the returns from farming these crops. For example, one piece of Chinese cabbage goes for Sh80 and courgettes Sh30 per kilogram,” said Kiplagat.

He learned the skill while in the former farm where he pioneered its shift from maize and dairy farming to horticulture farming and introduced drip irrigation. This change followed a market research he carried on horticulture demand and supply across Kenya’s North Rift.

The experiences as a farm manager and market knowledge has enabled him maximise output, quality and crop timing.

For example, he learned the need to strike the right balance in the forces of supply and demand. In late 2017, he oversaw planting of 11,000 heads of lettuce at the farm. Afterwards, he was required to sell the product across the various markets in the region. He later realised he had an over supply and only managed to sell 70 percent whereas 30 percent of the produce was spoilt.

For this reason, Kiplagat has adopted a ‘staggering’ farming method for his own farm whereby he subdivides his land and the greenhouses to plant crops in phases of one to two weeks intervals. This enables him have the right quantities of products at a given time and avoid overproduction which may go to waste.

The farming venture has earned Kiplagat a new name ‘Mr. Horticulture’ which he has adopted for his Twitter account name at @Maxwel_Kiptanui with 4405 followers.

“I have been very active on social media advocating for youths to take up horticulture farming because I have seen the benefit of this venture,” said Kiplagat.

In June 2018, Gordon Farm, a South Africa based company discovered Kiplagat’s advocacy on Twitter and engaged him to reach more farmers for mentorship. He was also contracted to pilot the company’s Farm Data Management System that helps farmers track their farming activities.

He continues to expand his farm and increase crop varieties despite facing several challenges that impact production and income. Earlier this year, his tomato plants in two greenhouses were attacked by a bacterial wilt that cleared the crop in just two days.

Occasionally, Kiplagat faces a challenge with inconsistent casual workers who he relies on to carry out various activities in his farm such as planting, tilling and harvesting.

Another challenged is that of brokers. Retailers prefer brokers because of their consistency. This allows the brokers to dictate the buying price thus creates the biggest threat to farmers.

“The government needs to protect farmers by putting in place a policy to regulate prices. Also, the prices should be based on the weight of a product per kilogram and the forces of demand and supply,” said Kiplagat.

According to the ministry of agriculture, horticulture is ranked as the fastest growing sub-sector in the agriculture industry in Kenya. The sector’s earnings increased by 33 per cent from Sh78.2bn to Sh104bn during the first eight months of 2018 compared to a similar period in 2017.

In this, vegetable earnings increased by 9.6 per cent to Sh16.9bn from 50,000 tonnes of produce sold while fruit exports on the other hand fetched Sh8.7bn from 57,000 tonnes exported.

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