NYAMBURA NGUNJIRI:  FARMING THE ORGANIC WAY

Nyambura Ngunjiri in her mushroom house.
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Ambitious young  farmer   offers  healthy  solutions  in her fast growing enterprise

By Joseph Macharia

Organic farming as a mode of agribusiness is gaining traction as people become more sensitive about what they consume. This is owing to lifestyle diseases that have and continue to plague many people’s health. Happy Ville Farm, located in Ruiru -Kimbo  is an organic farm that has curved  a niche in the production of purely organic food.

Its co-founder Nyambura Ngunjiri who doubles as an organic consultant exudes hyper passion for organic farming. Growing up in a farming  household  in Murang’a, agriculture was the way of life. As a teenager, she would keep kienyeji chickens while at home and make good money out of it. “I love everything agriculture, farming is not part time for me, it is full time,” she gushes with an air of contentment.

Destined for farming

After completing her high school studies, she proceeded toThe University of Nairobi to pursue  a bachelor of science degree  in  agribusiness management.  After graduating   in 2019,  she worked briefly with a non-governmental organisation that was promoting organic farming. That is how she wound up in organic farming. Tapping into her extensive skills in organic farming, she does value addition of almost everything produced in  the farm.

Happy Ville Farm mainly deals with indigenous vegetables like amaranth (terere), black nightshade (managu), cowpeas (kunde), spider flower (sageti), jute mallow (mrenda), Ethiopian kale (kansera), crotalaria (mitoo), arrow roots, pumpkin leaves among others. On the farm she also plants exotic vegetables like lettuce, spinach, coriander and onions as well as exotic herbs like hibiscus and mint. She actively vouches for people to eat foods grown organically given their numerous health benefits. Though she deals in many crops she is quick to caution new famers: “Don’t diversify before you become good in a specific enterprise. Focus  on   one enterprise  that  you are  good at.”

Everything on the farm is organic; they make their own organic bio-pesticides and insecticides. They use locally available plants like tithonia,chilies, ginger, garlic, comfrey leaves and vodka. For instance,  vodka is used to extract properties from other plants. “In organic farming,  we are also mindful of diversification. We use available space to mix crops and livestock in order to reduce risks. A food forest is where you have a variety of crops like fruits, root crops and vegetables,” she explains.

White oyster mushroom

Interestingly, one of her  cash-cow   products   is the edible white oyster mushroom. It all started with an interest. Some years back,  she developed an interest in farming white oyster mushroom. Interest turned to curiosity. With a background in agribusiness, she   researched about oyster mushroom reading any piece of article she could find in   the internet. Then last year  ( 2023) , she took a leap of faith and started farming mushrooms.Nyambura not only farms mushrooms but loves to eat them   either for breakfast or dinner. She says they are sweet andcooked the same way as meat.

Mushrooms are technically categorized as fungi – not plants. There are many species of fungi. Specifically, white oyster mushroom was first cultivated in Germany during World War  One. Since then, oyster mushroom has  become  a   menu  in  many cultures where it’s served like stew, soup and stir-fries. They are planted on straw and other media like decomposing wood. While they are saprophytic in nature, mushrooms help in decomposition of dead matter (like dead wood or dried straw) returning back vital elements and minerals to the ecosystem in a usable form to other plants and organisms.

Benefits

Besides their sweet taste, mushrooms are eaten for their nutritional properties. They contain an array of powerful compounds that enrich our health. In ancient times, mushrooms were used in traditional medicines.  One   of the benefits of white oyster  is  that   they are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and low in carbohydrates. As a result ,  mushrooms make a good diet for people who want to reduce their weight. For lactating mothers, mushrooms help   to boost milk production for babies. They also help provide anti oxidants which help minimize cellular damage in our bodies.

Oyster mushroom directly promotes heart health by lowering heart rate factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure. For those with diabetes, oyster mushrooms may help regulate blood sugar levels. Additionally, the mushrooms may support immune system by boosting antiviral and antibacterial effects. Scientific research suggests that oyster mushrooms contain anti-tumor properties as well as anti-inflammatory compounds.

White oyster are grown on straw that are placed inside a transparent polythene bag. The bags are then placed in special condition houses where temperatures are regulated. To achieve optimal conditions,  charcoal is spread on the floor of the house to preserve cool atmosphere. The house may be constructed  using   mud, polythene or stones. It takes between seven   days and three   weeks for oyster mushroom to colonize(it turns white before it starts to pin). Afterwards,   it will pin or produce the mushrooms for about two  to three   months. One bag can yield  two  kilograms. A quarter a kilogram fetches between Kshs. 130 to  Kshs. 200 in the market. You can do your calculations! After three months,  the bags are renewed.

Lessons

Throughout    her and entrepreneurial journey, she has learnt some important lessons. Key among them is the need to approach farming like any other business: “You need to conduct your farming   as a business. Keep records of everything. You need to understand your expenses and income.”Gone are the days when farming was done like a hobby. “Record keeping is a crucial part that any farmer should adopt,” she seriously  adds.

While many farmers plant crops without first surveying the market, Nyambura counsels that  market research should come first in any farming endeavour. ” Some  entrepreneurs   venture  into farming on the assumptionthat people will always eat, only to start looking for buyers when the market is flooded,” she observes. To remedy this problem,   she encourages farmers to get a   market for their produce before they engage in farming.

Learning is important in farming, she says. “Farming is a learning curve; every day is a learning day. You need to understand your crop, what it needs and   how you take care of your soil,” she notes adding that continuous learning is the determining factor in the success of any venture.

Way Forward

“To  those   interested in farming, start somewhere. Visit  the  farmers  who are already  established  in  order to learn  from them,” Nyambura opines. She encourages the   new farmers , to begin with low risk vegetables that take less than a month before proceeding to  the  high risk ones like tomatoes.

Nyambura has a word  for  fellow youths: “The value chain is so big ; starting from input suppliers, to the farmer, transporters and finance. You can join as a retailer in the chain. White collar jobs are shrinking. Start small, there is  no quick money you’ve got to sweat,” she urges.

Nyambura is upbeat about what the future holds. She is planning to have the farm as a demo  centre   where farmers can come and learn about organic farming practices. “The future is bright and it’s big. There are so many untapped opportunities in the agricultural sector. I’m looking forward   to scaling  up   my farming operations,” she ends.

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