Herder takes crop farming by the horns

David Ole Risa at his farm in Isinya Kajiado County. The successful farmer has a reason to smile after turning his fortunes from a pastoralist to agribusiness. (Photo: Peterson Githaiga/Standard)
David ole Risa is a real risk taker. After years of gambling with unpredictable weather, livestock diseases and low returns from his herd of traditional cattle, he disposed of his entire herd and tried his hand in commercial crop farming. Today, the farmer from Naserian village, Kajiado County grows vegetables and fruits and has a reason to smile.

Though he is now settled, he admits that the journey has been interesting.

Risa is living testimony that with application of technology, Kajiado and other dry areas in the country can be converted into bread baskets. His journey into horticulture farming started in 2011 after attending an empowerment seminar hosted by a local NGO, the Neighbours Initiative Alliance.

The NGO teaches pastoralists on alternative forms of farming like crop growing.

The seminar he says, was an eye opener. “After listening keenly to the lessons and discussions, I left for home fully convinced that I would sell my herd of cattle, drill water in my shamba and embark on small-scale irrigation,” he says.

One chilly morning, he went round the village announcing to neighbours that was selling his nearly 200 Zebu cattle the following day.

“Many thought I was kidding. Others thought the old man had probably gone nuts. But I was clear in my mind what I wanted to do and paid little attention to what people said,” he recalls.The following morning his homestead was flooded with interested buyers.

“Within two weeks there was not a single traditional cow in my compound,” he says.

Bold step

After the ‘big sale’ he ready to embark on his next project.

To start off, he had to solve the water problem. Towards this end, Risa sank a dam, bought a small generator and put his shamba on drip-irrigation. He also bought an old pick-up vehicle to attend to the chores demanded of his new venture.

With the basic logistics in place, the daring farmer, though with little formal education, embarked on a market research. He learnt that onions were on high demand and the market in Kajiado and Nairobi was always under-supplied. For that he set aside three acres of his land for cultivation of onions.

He also learnt that one could never go wrong growing vegetables as the demand was insatiable.

For vegetable growing, he set aside another chunk of land to grow cabbages and spinach. In the process, he also discovered that traditional vegetables like managu and terere were popular in urban areas. He chose to go big on indigenous vegetable farming.

After several hits and misses, he perfected the art of crop growing. But in this valley of learning, he took with him many lessons.

First, to succeed in horticulture farming, it is wise to go for low-cost production, but high-return crops. These include sukuma wiki, managu and terere.

He says: “Most of the high-value crops like vegetables, fruits and flowers are also very perishable. Growing them without a market in mind can be devastating. The whole harvest can rot as you watch. Alternatively, you would be required to invest heavily in refrigeration which can drain away all your profits.”

Lesson number two, cultivate your crops with a market in mind.

“You see the big mistake most people make is to start growing certain

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crop farmingDavid ole Risalivestock farmers