From garlic, to French beans, maize farming to hawking and broker stints, Moses Githaiga is your real definition of a hustler.
Githaiga, 39, completed his secondary education at Nanyuki High School and because of lack of funds, instead of joining college, he chose to start doing menial jobs such as sharpening knives at restaurants and hotels for survival.
He had a fee balance of Sh40,000 and since his family could not afford to clear the fees, he had no hope of collecting his leaving certificates.
Githaiga, now a father of three, focused on sharpening knives in Nyeri town before moving to Manyatta slums in Kisumu where settled down.
"I lived in the slums and did all kinds of odd jobs to eke a living. My mother, a maize farmer was always worried that her son could be engaging in illegal activity," Githaiga recalls.
Tired of the struggle of earning peanuts, in 2007, Githaiga left Kisumu for Nyeri where he embarked on French beans farming, with the help of his mother. It was his mother's idea that he ventures into French beans farming as it was popular in their village thanks to agricultural extension officers from a French Beans buying company who had marketed it properly.
From the knives sharpening business, Githaiga had saved a solid amount which he used to invest in a water pump and other farm tools for French farming. But the farming was not profitable because of cartels who exploited farmers.
"There were delay in payments and we could wait for up to three months. Many times the produce was rejected because of quality issues. It was very draining," says Githaiga.
He quit and started hawking garlic onions at Kiawara market in Kieni in 2012.
The idea to venture into garlic farming crossed his mind when he visited Kiawara market and realised there was a market gap, since most of the farmers were only growing the ordinary onions, yet there was demand for garlic.
He researched about garlic and got his first seeds from the very farmers who used to sell him onions at Kiawara market.
Although he made good cash out of the garlic farming, Githaiga says it takes long to mature and therefore takes time for him to recover money spent.
But nonetheless, Githaiga says he made good fortunes in garlic farming and even increasing the acreage to two acres.
"I made some good money from garlic. I even bought my first car, from garlic farming. But it was time and labour intensive," says Githaiga.
After hoping from one venture to another, he says found his breakthrough with chamomile plant, which is used to make a popular health drink.
He says last year, while on a field tour in Nyandarua, he was impressed by the beauty of some flowers at a farm. It was chamomile plant.
When he spotted it, he got inquisitive and asked the farmer who told him more about the plant, its market potential and health benefits.
The chamomile farmer also gave him dry leaves to make herbal tea and sold to him a glass full of seeds for planting.
"When I went back to Nyeri, I made some tea with the dry flowers and was impressed by its sweetness. I also planted the seeds I was given in a seedbed and after they had sprouted, I transferred them on an eighth of an acre. After a month, the plants has started to flower," says the farmer.
He bought a glass full of seeds and prepared seedbeds in an eighth of an acre and started off, after a month, the plants attained flowering stage.
Generally, in six to ten weeks after germination, chamomile plants will be in full bloom and continue to produce new blooms onwards. These blooms are harvested throughout the growing season for healing and relaxing teas.
According to Githaiga, chamomile is a short maturing period plant and earns more than garlic. When his crop was ready, next challenge was the market.
"I only informed one client that I had the flowers and he spread the information. With time word went round and now tea processors and herbalists make endless calls looking for the produce. That is how I made up my mind to concentrate on the flower which has good returns within a short period," Githaiga says.
Chamomile looks more promising and he now plans to do away with the garlic completely and replace them with chamomile on a four-acre piece of land as he looks for an additional ten acres to grow it on large scale.
Githaiga says despite farming on a small piece of land, the returns outweigh what he gets from garlic on an acre.
"A kilo of chamomile goes for up to between Sh1,500 to Sh1,200 and 10 kilos of flesh flowers make half of dried flowers. We harvest daily and this is our greatest motivation," says the farmer.
Though it has good prospects, he says not many farmers practice chamomile farming due to lack of information.
Because it is a herbal product, it is grown organically, which means one does not use chemical fertilisers and pesticides, making it very economical to grow.
To create interest in the plant, Githaiga has taken it upon himself to create awareness on it.
"I am now educating farmers on the potential of the flowers and training them on how to grow it. It is quite affordable to start. You need to buy the seeds, prepare the land with manure, plant then wait for harvesting."
How to grow it
On how to grow the plant, Githaiga says one needs to dry the seed for ten days, plant them on the seedbed and water them regularly for a month to attain the flowering stage.
He says harvesting is the biggest challenge since it is done manually and therefore require many people.
The plant is harvested daily for three and half months after taking one month to mature. Watering is done twice a month in a quarter of land where 200 pieces can be accommodated.
Business is good and he is not complaining.
"From the proceeds of chamomile I have managed to clear my fee balance at Nanyuki High School and I have even enrolled for a Sales and Marketing course at Dedan Kimathi university.
"I have also bought several acres of land for investment and bought my mother a three-acre farm where I plan to build a house for her. I'm also a proud owner of a Toyota double cabin courtesy of chamomile," says Githaiga.
He does the farming at the dry Kiawara which is considered arid and semi-arid area drawing water from Ngareng'iro river.
Everyday, Githaiga hires about ten people to help him harvest the produce.
Given the huge potential chamomile has, the farmer wants the Export Promotion Council to help him get direct market overseas.
Data from Horticulture Directorate statistics indicate that last year, Kenya exported chamomile worth Sh1.6 million in the six-month last year, out of the total export earnings from herbs which fetched Sh800 million.
The plant is classified under specialty teas has Ethiopia as one of the largest producers, producing sweet, full-flowered chamomile of exceptional quality. Kenya lags behind in production of the plant.
The rise in lifestyle diseases has led to an increase in a health consciousness population offering a ready market for chamomile herbal tea.
According to Medical News today chamomile tea has long been used, as a traditional folk remedy, for a wide range of health issues.
Nowadays, researchers are increasingly exploring its effectiveness in managing illnesses, including cancer and diabetes.
So far, research into the potency of chamomile tea has shown promise. However, studies vary with some research proving clear benefits compared to alternative remedies, and others merely pointing to possible ones according to Medical News today.
For most people, chamomile tea is safe to try as a supplement to other treatments, but it should not replace mainstream medical treatments when people have serious illnesses, says experts.