A FARMING ENTERPRISE BLOSSOMS IN THE HEARTLAND OF NYANDARUA

TRANSFORMATION: Left, Mr. and Mrs. Kiragu infront of their modern house, right, their old wooden house.
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Determined to transform their lives, industrious couple joins hands with Vision Fund to venture into agribusiness and put up a modern house

By George Gichuki

Blessed with fertile volcanic soil, ample rainfall and a friendly terrain, Nyandarua county is renowned for high   productivity in agriculture.  Thousands of farmers in Nyandarua grow potatoes, cabbages, peas and carrots among other high value food crops. They also rear dairy cows, sheep and goats.  Through a network of   agribusiness organizations and traders, Nyandarua farmers are able to sell their produce across the country.  Their main market is the major urban centres in Kenya like Nairobi, Nakuru,  Thika and Mombasa. In the same vein, traders from as far as Tanzania buy potato seeds   directly  from  these   farmers in big  volumes.   In a nutshell, agriculture is the mainstay of Nyandarua’s economy.  It is the livelihood of most residents in the region.

In the colonial days, Nyandarua was part of the infamous White Highlands.  It was exclusively occupied and farmed   by the White settlers who had displaced Africans from their ancestral land.  Soon after independence, Africans were resettled. They started farming and engaging in other economic activities   in earnest.

A section of snow peas that Daniel Kiragu cultivates at his farm.

Agribusiness

The Aberdare Range bestrides Nyandarua like a colossus; making it unique and attractive.  It is a site to behold; just like the industrious farmers tilling their land, sowing crops and milking cows in an effort to earn their daily bread.  These are no ordinary farmers.  They generate a lot of income from their produce, besides feeding their households. 

Agribusiness just like any other commercial venture requires capital.  Against this background, Vision Fund Kenya is one of the major financial institutions that has partnered with farmers in Nyandarua so that they can reap benefits from their enterprises.  The lender made an entry into the productive   region when it was known as the Kenya Agency for the Development of Enterprise and Technology (KADET).  One of its first customers was Mrs. Margaret Kiragu. She joined KADET through a self-help group (popularly known as chama in Kiswahili) in 2008 while working as a nursery school teacher. She was the group’s secretary.

 The group was taken through a financial literacy programme by a staff member of KADET and after saving for three months, its members were able to access loans. Margaret got her first loan amounting to Kshs. 15,000 in 2008, before graduating to Kshs. 30,000. That marked the beginning of   a very fruitful relationship with the lender which has lasted to  this day. It has immensely transformed her life.

Humble roots

In 2009, Margaret got married to Daniel Kiragu – a farmer from Tulaga in the neighbourhood of Engineer town.  “This was a bit far from my parents’ home and hence I ceased being a member of  our  self-help group,”  she recalls. After settling in marriage,   Margaret introduced her husband to KADET. He opted to borrow as an individual as opposed to joining a group.   His first loan in 2010 was Kshs.50,000. Together they have a family of three children who are all in boarding   schools.  Currently,   they are   servicing a Kshs.1.5 million loan from Vision Fund Kenya.

Going down memory lane, the marriage between Kiragu and Margaret started in a very   humble way. They were living in a modest timber house that Kiragu had constructed using money from the sale of his only cow. “I used my first loan from KADET – Kshs.50,000- to buy another cow,”Kiragu pleasantly  recalls.  Eager to uplift their standard of living, the couple invested their second loan in an agrovet business.  They bought   stock worth   Kshs. 100,000 using the facility.  The balance was used to buy   a weighing machine and to put up shelves in the shop.  The business picked very fast because of the high demand for agriculture, veterinary products and animal feeds in the locality. It was a wise investment decision.  The couple was therefore able to settle their loan within a short period of time. Buoyed by this success, they took a loan of Kshs. 200,000 in five tranches which they used to open new branches at Kahuruko and Kamba shopping centres in the locality.

Duty calls.  Inevitably then, Margaret was under a lot of pressure of bringing up her young children, while still managing the operations of  the three shops.  It was a delicate balancing act.  This forced her to employ shop assistants who unfortunately   mismanaged the business.  To avoid incurring more losses, the couple closed the business in 2013 and decided to focus more on farming.

One of the dairy cows kept by Kiragu.

Growth

In 2014, the couple diversified   their income by venturing into horticulture.  Their first crop was snow peas. To that end, they got a loan of Kshs.350,000 from Vision Fund Kenya. They used part of that money to restock their shops and to plant fodder crops for the dairy cows.  The horticulture enterprise was a huge success since snow peas were in high demand both in Kenya and abroad. In 2016, as luck   would have it,   they got an opportunity  to export French beans and snow peas.  To that end, they registered a new business.  “Due to this development, we required more capital to grow the two crops in our farm and to source the same from other farmers,” says Kiragu. “We therefore approached Vision Fund Kenya for a loan facility of Kshs.500,000 and they  obliged,” he adds.

Daniel Kiragu driving his new truck that was financed by VisionFund Kenya.

As  the couple continued  to grow economically by  expanding  their  piece of   land  , purchasing  commercial plots  and     investing more in  dairy farming and horticulture,  they strongly  felt that they needed  to put up  a modern house.  The modest wooden house had become old and was too tiny for their family.  Once again, Vision Fund offered them financial support.  “Josephine Muchina was the officer in charge of Vision Fund’s   Engineer town branch,” says Kiragu. “She facilitated for us a loan of Kshs. 750,000 which we used  to lay the foundation of our modern   house and to buy construction material,” he adds.  They were able to settle that loan within a short period of time. After   getting the second loan (amounting to Kshs. 1 million), Kiragu and Margaret roofed and ultimately   finished   the house.

Benefits

The couple has been financed by Vision Fund to buy a lorry and a light truck   for transporting French beans and snow peas to the market in Nairobi. The two vehicles also   collect   the said produce from other farmers in Nyandarua.  “Vision Fund is the foundation of my success in agribusiness,” Kiragu confesses.   Before he got married, Kiragu used to farm  only a   small portion of  his  land – about half an acre- because of shortage of capital .  Currently, with the support of Vision Fund, he is able to farm thirty to thirty five acres.  In total, the land is forty five acres. Part of it has been purchased from Kiragu’s siblings with the financial support from Vision Fund.  In the same regard, all the three children of Kiragu and Margaret are in boarding school.   “We are able to pay their school fees comfortably from our profit in agribusiness,” Kiragu happily says.

From left to right: VisionFund staff Kelvin Muriithi, David Njuguna, Josephine Muchina, Geofrey Lotini, Patricia Kuria with Mr. and Mrs. Kiragu.

The couple commercially grows snow peas, French beans and potatoes in their vast land.  They also generate income from the sale of sixty to sixty  five litres  of  milk  produced  daily  by  their  ten  dairy cows .  To support them in this enterprise, they have employed four permanent and twenty casual workers.   Due to its good management,   the enterprise   is used as a training centre of individuals who want to venture into snow peas and French beans farming.  “The training is sponsored by companies supplying   horticulture inputs to us,” says Kiragu.

The ambitious and industrious couple has partnered with Vision Fund for twenty years.  Based on this solid and fruitful   relationship,    they   have referred their friends and relatives to the lender. “Any time we experience challenges in our farming enterprise, Vision Fund listens to us and adjusts the payment periods of our loans accordingly,” Kiragu says.

Through their captivating rags to riches journey,   Kiragu and Margaret have debunked  the   myth   that economic opportunities are limited in the rural areas.  By being far sighted and partnering with a very supportive financier – Vision Fund- they have been able to establish a thriving farming enterprise.  Indeed, no task is too difficult for those who are determined.

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