For 10 years, Taratisio Ireri grew maize and beans like other farmers in Karurumo, Embu County. The fertile Karurumo produces succulent mangoes.
Ireri also grew mangoes as his cash crop but for some reason, the mango business never broke even.
“I was making negligible amount despite the fact that I was giving the project my all. From that frustration, I embarked on research to establish a money minting venture,” he says.
He settled on bamboo farming. Now three and half years later, he thanks the gods for making that brilliant decision.
Ireri is among handful of farmers engaged in bamboo farming in a county where nearly every farmer is into coffee, tea, mango and macadamia as their main cash crops.
“For the many years I grew maize and mangoes, I did not achieve the financial success I envisaged despite employing the best farming strategies. For mangoes, brokers offered throwaway prices. You either took it or watch your mangoes rot,” he tells Smart Harvest.
In his research, the farmer from Kavuru in Runyenjes constituency was motivated by the insight that farmers in a province in China relied on bamboo as their cash crop and their income was impressive.
To kick off the project, Ireri sourced three bamboo seedlings from a neighbour who had already ventured into the project. Sadly, the first lot, dried up but that did not dampen his determination.
To sharpen his craft, his next stop was a farmer near Embu town who has a few bamboo plants. He sourced several plantingmaterials but again, after planting they also dried up. It appears he was buying contaminated planting materials.
“I did not give up but researched online and stumbled on Kitil farm in Isinya, Kajiado County where they sell tissue culture bambooseedlings. I bought seedlings worth Sh20,000 and tended them so well that only five dried up,” he recalls.
Motivated by their luxuriant growth, the next rainy season he bought more seedlings worth Sh20,000 and planted them to fully replace the mango crop.
Today, he has 500 bamboo plants in three and half acres of his five acre farm, with dried stumps a clear evidence that mango crop once filled the farm.
Unlike other crops, bamboo is not labour intense. He rarely waters or sprays the trees.
“Once I had the right planting materials, I dug holes measuring 4ft depth and 4ft width and observed spacing of 12ftX12ft. I applied manure at planting and watered when the crop was young. As they firmed up there was no need to apply water,” he says.
He crop is now maturing and Ireri has started earning from it.
His bamboo forest has formed a serene and scenic environment that when bristled by the afternoon breeze against the scorching sun provides a perfect place for retreats.
Consequently, Ireri has created a picnic and retreat site inside the plantation where he charges between Sh500 and Sh5,000 for those touring the place either for leisure or education purposes.
The bamboo shoots act as a popular fodder for animals which Ireri sells to neighbours. But it is the bamboo stem which he expects to reap a fortune from once he sells it.
He says bamboo has plenty of uses— construction, furniture, source of fuel, medicine, matchsticks, toothpicks etc.
“Already interested buyers have started making orders. Even neighbours who thought I was foolish to replace my mango trees with bamboo are envious,” he says.
Ireri has also taken a petition to the national Assembly seeking for approval of bamboo as a cash crop so that the government can streamline its farming and marketing to the benefit of farmers. So far, a bamboo factory that has been constructed in Tharaka Nithi County is expected to serve Mt Kenya.
“My journey has just began. In five years time, bamboo will have changed my fortunes. I will also have played my part in environmental conservation since bamboo prevents soil erosion and is friendly to water sources. It retains water and can even be planted along river banks,” he says. Experts say bamboo does well in average annual temperatures of about 20 to 27°C.