By Caroline Mwendwa
Vincent Gitau’s vegetable garden is not common type. It is a well organized commercial investment, worth admiration. The university graduate and former data manager of farm produce exporting company, erred not when he quit formal employment to venture into agribusiness. “I watched farmers making so much money from their produce, and I therefore decided to follow suit,” he narrates.
Since his home is close to River Karura, a clean natural river, Gitau begun with fish farming. He trapped the water from the river to build a reservouir in which he reared the first fishes. “I began with 200 fishes at the reservoir, but due to challenges of wild animals I lost so many of them and that is when I decided to build a fish pond and transfer them to it,” he adds. At the pond Gitau begun with 250 fishes. “Fishing in a pond is much better because the temperatures are a bit controlled and one can place a net above the pond to keep away wild birds and animals which prey on the fish,” he elaborates.
It is at this point that he approached Juhudi Kilimo. “My first loan with Juhudi Kilimo was Kshs 65, 000, which I used in the transition from the river to the pond,” he explains. With this cash, he bought a pump to get water from the river and quality fingerlings which are mono sex. “Monosex fingerlings are preferable because they don’t breed at all and have more time to feed than look after their young ones,” he explains. A fingerling at Sagana fisheries where he obtains his stock goes for Kshs 10, while a market size fish is sold at Kshs 300. Had he met Juhudi Kilimo in the first instance, Gitau admits he would have not started fish farming at the reservouir. “Officers from Juhudi Kilimo give us invaluable advice and I am sure they would have guided me on starting up on a pond rather than a reservouir,” he points out.
Gitau sells his fish to buyers at Wakulima market in Nairobi, as well as the Chinese market at Yaya Centre. “It takes eight months for a fish to get to the market size,” he elaborates.
His future plans for this business is to scale it in a warmer place such as Mai Mahiu, where he has a piece of land. From the experience he has had in fish farming, Gitau advises farmers not to take the short cut in farming as it comes with its own costs.
Gitau’s mainstay is not fish farming. “I grow coriander at a large scale, and that is why I consider it my mainstay business,” he says. In his two acre piece of land, He has invested highly in coriander, a fast moving spice vegetable in the market. “The advantage of majoring on vegetables such as spices, is that they are fast moving unlike the other kind of produce with a longer shelf-life. When a customer buys coriander, he or she has to use it within three days, and move to the market to buy again, and that is what keeps me in the same market as the seller”, he says.
Coriander which he grows in shifts gives him about Kshs 20, 000 a month. “I have divided my piece of land in order to have a harvest every month,” he explains. Since coriander has three stages of growth: the sowing stage which takes about 10 days to germinate; the growing stage which takes 14 days and harvesting stage, he ensures that every month there is coriander in each piece of land, at different stages. This also ensures that he doesn’t lose touch with his customers. “I have customers who come to buy them from the shamba, and this is much more convenient. “A bunch goes for five shillings, but when I take them to the market, I sell a sack at Kshs 500.
Juhudi Kilimo came in handy when I was starting the 3 stage growing as I needed financing for the transition,” he explains.
Apart from coriander, Gitau grows lettuce and celery which he sells to at Zucchini and City markets. One head of lettuce goes for Kshs 10, and from his garden he harvests about 2000 heads. In a month he therefore makes Kshs 20, 000.
“Celery on the other hand takes 3 months before it is ready for the market. “I sell Kshs 100 per kilogramme and in a month, I harvest about about 200 kilogrammes,” he says.
To ensure continued fertility, Gitau practises crop rotation. He however points out that growing the fast moving vegetables requires a lot of water, for irrigation. “The river comes in handy as armed with the pump I am able to bring the water up to the farm for irrigation. The market is also not always steady, and sometimes one is bound to get fluctuation of prices,” he warns.
With the worrying trend of lifestyle diseases caused inorganic foods, Gitau keeps his produce highly organic, especially by using manure from the dairy cattle reared in his homestead.
“I am seeking partnerships with contractors, for whom I can grow these vegetables – either hotels or learning institutions,” he explains. “That way I can count on a stable market and hence expand my farm greatly,” he continues.