Mombasa mum turns hobby into lucrative Bonsai venture

Pratti Shah tends to one of her bonsie tries which is at least five years old outside her home at Kizingo where she runs her business. Pratti supplies most of her bonsie trees to major offices which are used as decorations. [PHOTO BY GIDEON MAUNDU/STANDARD].
MOMBASA: Keen to demystify the notion that housewives cannot engage in money making ventures, Prachi Shah is making news in Kenya’s coast for cultivating, exhibiting and selling Bonsai plants.

Bonsai is a Japanese tradition of growing miniature trees in pots for ornamental purposes.

The trees are grown to resemble real life mature trees but remaining miniature-sized.

Unlike other crops, Bonsai plants are purely ornamental and are not intended for food production, medicine or creating landscapes.

Prachi’s love for nature and the environment led her to rearing and adopting Bonsai plants more than a decade ago after she got married and relocated to Kenya from Gujarat in India.

Growing and tending of Bonsai plants is equated to good wishes. In the Indian context, it is like giving someone a laughing Buddha, she says.


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“To Indians, it is a gesture of genuine good wish coming from deep within the heart when someone gives you a Bonsai,’’ she says.

Prachi, a mother of two daughters and wife to Mombasa businessman Samir Shah, says Bonsai are normal plants which when treated in a specific way take the form of a dwarf tree.

“My sister in law used to practise it as a hobby and I got interested and begun as well,’’ she told Smart Harvest at her family home in Kizingo, Mombasa County.

At her residence main entrance, which partly serves as parking bay, pots full of Bonsai plants ranging from Baobab, Ficus, Desert rose, Powder Puff, Bougainvillea, Juniper, Maple tree and Jade dot the premises.

Using techniques such as pruning and wiring, the idea is to train a sapling in a pot to adopt the appearance of a miniature tree.

Yet her knowledge on Bonsai plants has by and large been experiential. “I did read some extensive journals on Bonsai that equipped me with vast knowledge which I have put to use to grow and nature the Bonsai plants commercially,’’ she says.

She proudly has a collection of more than 400 Bonsai plants. The relationship between the plant and the pot is complex.

“The plant must blend with the pot to achieve a balanced and final composition,’’ she says.

Her list of loyal clientele ranges from cement manufacturer Athi River Mining, Namura Insurance Company, confectionery makers House of Manji, Techbiz, Sconco Limited and Sitima Printers. Others are Coast Hauliers, Ukwala Supermarket in Eldoret and Nakuru Farm Tools.


Depending on the species, Prachi makes at least Sh2,000 per tree. But there are others that cost between Sh20,000 and Sh25,000 per plant.

Grafting of rare Bonsai is done in India and Thailand, which she imports with approval from, among others, the Kenya Health Plant Inspectorate (Kephis).

Her favourite Bonsai plant is the Baobab. “Baobab have a strong, heavy look, green, beautiful shaped leaves,’’ she says.

She advises that when buying an ornamental plant, it’s growth characteristics and health needs should be taken into consideration.

She says one common misconception about the Bonsai plant is that they are genetically dwarfed plants yet  any tree species can be used to grow one. “Bonsai are normal trees and they can be propagated like any other but trained using sophisticated techniques to keep them small.

The training entails basics like regular pruning and wiring but with more advanced styling techcniques such as creating deadwood,’’ she said.

Another misconception is that rearing bonsai trees is labour intensive. “Some maintainance is required though but not excessive,’’ she says.

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