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10 lucrative ventures you can bet on in the New Year

By Gardy Chacha
Lawrence Mwangi making hay feed for the cows at Bullocks Farm in Isinya. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

We are in the New Year and it is time to start thinking new ideas. If you are toying with the idea of venturing into farming, here are some promising ventures you can bet on:

1. Feedlots

Have you heard about feedlots? If you have, it is probably because feedlots are the next frontier in beef farming.

What is feedlot farming? A feedlot is a designed farm where animals are ‘fattened’ within a short period of time. Veterinarian Dr Moses Olum uses the phrase ‘Intensification of production within a small space and within a short period of time.’

In feedlot farming the farmer buys healthy adult cattle that haven’t achieved optimum body condition. The animals are kept in simple zero grazing units. They are fed on high carbohydrate diets with sufficient proteins and optimum mineral salts. Essentially, the animals are fed on best feed ratios.

“Animals in feedlots produce high grade beef that is equally healthy,” says Dr Olum.

The meat is ready for the market in the shortest time possible and fetches high returns – as high as Sh1,000 per kilo – as clientele for meat from feedlots are premium customers like five-star hotels.

2. Avocado

In Kenya, the avocado fruit is known to be a quintessential accompaniment at mealtimes.

High quality avocados have a soft (but not damp) texture with a lingering oily taste and a tapering sweet aroma.

It is a taste that transcends Kenyan and African borders. The taste has attracted interest from Europe and China. Soon enough others are bound to ask for it.

Official national data shows that in the 2018-2019 financial year Kenya exported avocados worth Sh10 billion, accounting for about 80,000 tonnes; twice the amount exported in 2016. This shows an upward trend likely to keep rising as Kenya began exporting avocados to China last September. China is an important part of this conversation because as the most populous nation on earth by itself it is a sufficient market.

Geoffrey Rimbere, a director at Fresh Produce exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK), is full of optimism for the future of avocado farming. He says: “As it is, Kenyan avocados cannot meet the demand in France; leave alone Belgium or London or Germany.” The most profitable avocado varieties – around the world – are Fuertes and Hass avocados.

3.  Garlic

In 2015, a Smart Harvest writer met Moses Githaiga: a garlic farmer. If you want to understand monetary potential in garlic farming you only need to read Githaiga’s story.

Githaiga started off as a small-scale garlic farmer on an eighth of an acre. On the plot he harvested approximately 500Kgs which he sold at Sh250 per kilo; making Sh125,000.

The following season he increased acreage to half of an acre earning Sh475,000. The next season he scaled up to three acres and harvested 10,000Kgs which raked in Sh2.5 million.

That last fit led him to a proprietorship – Saumu Centre Ltd. The business works with a network of garlic farmers, selling them ready seedlings, while also trading in good quality garlic. The beauty of garlic farming is that the crop is ready within four months and its value is higher compared to others in the onion family.

4.  Insects

A plate of termites served with ugali. Sounds familiar? Termites are edible among a few communities – especially in western Kenya.

That insects are edible requires no contest. An insect that has in recent years attracted attention is the cricket.

Dr John Kinyuru, a senior lecturer and lead researcher on edible insects at Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology (JKUAT) puts it aptly: “Cricket farming is gaining popularity in Kenya with small and medium farms being set up in various regions with the help of researchers from the university.”

Domesticated house cricket (Acheta domesticus) and the field cricket (Gryllus bimaculatas) are the most popular species reared commercially in the country.

Crickets do well in temperate areas with a temperature range of 25 to 30 degrees centigrade: basically the whole of Kenya.

The JKUAT research on cricket started as a way of up-scaling the use of insects as food and feed to address food insecurity.

Insects, it is estimated, are part of dietary culture to about 2 billion people in the world.

5. Tomato

Tomatoes are already commercially farmed in Kenya. Tomatoes make this list because we predict that they will fetch more for farmers as the population grows.

Dr Elijah Gitari a veterinarian, plants tomatoes on a seven-acre farm in Kirinyaga.

Gitari says he earns more from farming tomatoes than he does at his day job as a veterinary officer. When one of our writers interviewed him in 2017, Gitari admitted making millions in profit. From one acre he harvests on average 300 crates – a crate being the wooden box that carries approximately 60kgs.

At the time, Gitari spent about Sh150,000 on an acre of crop. In return the acre bore him Sh1.5 million worth of tomato produce. Wouldn’t you call that good business?

Tomatoes are a staple in the Kenyan diet and indeed the world over. Demand comes from the local market and overseas. This is why we are convinced the future is bright for tomato farmers.

6. Poultry

A famous local joke chides folks from one particular community in Kenya to whom chicken is an important component of a feast.

A 2017 study published in the journal ‘Science Direct’ predicts an increase in consumption of poultry meat from 54.8 thousand metric tonnes in year 2000 to 164.6 by year 2030.

In Nairobi alone the increase will be from 6 to 30.5 thousand metric tonnes.

Again, the researchers connected this increase to population growth and urbanisation. Dr Nyan’ang’a, a lecturer at University of Nairobi’s faculty of Agriculture, points to the mushrooming of fast food joints like KFC as a good sign for poultry farmers.

‘Fish n Chips’, he notes, are a favourite for many urbanites in these restaurants. And where does the poultry come from? From farmers, of course.

7. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are fungi: perhaps the sweetest fungi known to man. If you ask seasoned mushroom farmer Jeff Anthony he will tell you there is no better farming investment than mushrooms. Why? “Because mushroom is a high value crop: it earns a lot per unit.”

On space that measures 5m by 6m Jeff is able to produce enough mushroom to fetch between Sh32, 000 and Sh60, 000. He sells his produce to high end hotels in Kisumu – and demand, he says, is still more than supply. According to the National Farmers Information Service (NAFIS), a kilo of mushroom fetches between Sh400 and Sh600 locally.

JKUAT offers short training courses on mushroom farming which costs on average about Sh15,000. For more details visit their website. According to Alfred Barasa, a mushroom researcher at the institution, the demand for mushrooms within in Kenya is still far from being met. Mushrooms, he says, require minimal input and produce is a lot within a small space.

8. Hay

The biggest threat to agriculture by most accounts is climate change. During the Africa-Arab Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction Conference – which took place in Tunis in October 2018 – it emerged that heat waves will occur 10 times as we move into the next decade. This means longer dry spells and even more erratic weather. Dr Judy Kimaru, a veterinarian and disaster operations manager at World Animal Protection, knows this too well.

Dr Kimaru’s advice to farmers is ‘make hay while it shines’. “Hay, when packaged well, can stay for many years without damage,” she says.

Hay making is already a lucrative business in cattle rearing areas of Kajiado, Kiambu and Machakos. It is only a matter of time: cattle farmers will soon need to store enough hay to last dry seasons – which can be as long as a year.

9. Bamboo

Walk into any supermarket today and you cannot miss a product made from bamboo. Bamboo is used to make an array of products form kitchen tongs, spoons, chopsticks, tooth picks, to chopping boards and cloth hangers.

Bamboo is also used to make chairs, tables and beds. Really, the list is endless. Bamboo is also used in real estate: to make tiles and also in place of wood and timber in some cases. Therefore, we can conclude that demand is sufficient, especially in the wake of oriental influence permeating the Kenyan economy in recent years. The Chinese are known to use bamboo products a lot.

Prospective bamboo farmers can start from the Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI) where they can receive valuable information on the opportunities available.

10.  Organic farming

Organic farming excludes all synthetic fertiliser, pesticides and additives.

Sylvia Miloyo Kuria is one of the investors who have tasted benefits of organic farming. She owns an organic farm in Mai Mahiu which produces organic vegetables as well as eggs.

Demand for organic products is growing fast fuelled by a surge in lifestyle related illnesses and cancer. Sylvia says she is assured of selling her produce as demand for organic food is massive.

“I have never had products going bad: demand is way high,” she says.

John Njoroge, an agronomist and director of Kenya Institute of Organic Farming in Juja, says organic farm products fetch higher profits as they are scarce, “and most of all of good health benefits to the body.”

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