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INTERVIEW: I quit accountant job to concentrate on horticulture

NAIVASHA, KENYA: Under the sweltering heat of Naivasha, a lady is turning the dry area into an agricultural zone with a multi-million investment into horticulture.

Ngarama Farm, a 12 acre piece of land located on the Naivasha-Mai Mahiu road, is a mix of modern technology and traditional farming practices that has seen the enterprise started in 2013 become talk of town, in terms of food security.

Anastacia Ngarama, the Farm founder says this has become her source of livelihood since 2013 when she took an early retirement as an accountant with the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.

The farm which is divided into several portions carries red cabbages, red and white onion, strawberries, French beans, tomatoes and courgettes which she sells to middlemen targeting both local and international markets.

“It is a journey which I started in 2011 initially relying on rainfall, this has been upscalled to include piped water which now serves the entire farm,” she says in an interview. “We have pipes all over the farm connected to our borehole with a capacity of producing 50,000 liters of water per day,” she adds.

In a region which experiences harsh weather conditions during some parts of the year, the idea of building a sustainable water source has put her ahead of other farmers in the area. The farm is productive throughout the year and she is able to plan in advance what crop to plant in which part of the month, in order to sustain market demand.

The farm has further embraced the greenhouse technology where she plants tomatoes. But out of mixed bag of crops, the red cabbages stand out, offering her a good fortune as she has found a niche market for them.

“I sell the red cabbages to hotels in Naivasha, which they use to make salad. The crop offers better price than the green cabbage. A kilo of red cabbage goes from Sh40-Sh80, depending on demand while a piece of green cabbage, weighing about 4kg, costs Sh40.”

The main difference between the two crops is the colour and use. Green cabbage is greenish-white, while red cabbage is purplish-red in colour.

“In size, the green cabbage is bigger and can weigh up to 4kg while a large red cabbage weighs about 2kg,” she says.

According to Ms Ngarama, passion mixed with workshops has enabled her practice sustainable farming. In November this year, she was voted as the overall farmer at a National Farmers Award Scheme.

The award scheme, an initiative of Elgon Kenya, national and county government, has grown in stature, number of participants and categories since it was started in 2013, becoming an important event in the farming calendar.

According to Nelson Maina, the head of communication at Elgon Kenya, the 2016 event attracted the highest number of participants in the event’s calendar with those who took part being spread across the country. “We are glad the award scheme is transforming agriculture through mentorship, and farmers learning from each other, ultimately steering the country into food sufficiency. It is what we envisioned the award to achieve,” Mr. Maina said. The award has also attracted a pool of sponsors top among them BASF.

Ngarama farm which has nine employees says major challenges in running such enterprise include high water bills, and flooding of market with same product.

Other challenges include insect attack and stringent requirements on exports by various responsible authorities.