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Lack of water did not freeze my plans to farm

By Jeckonia Otieno
Sophie Brenda's onion farm in Kisaju, Kajiado County. [Jeckonia Otieno, Standard]

Along Namanga road on Kaputei Plains, lies a neat farm where one ambitious agriprenuer is doing wonders in an arid area.

Despite the area lacking sufficient water supply, Brenda Sophie has transformed an otherwise dry five acre land in Kisaju Kajiado County, into a food haven.

Like every speculative investor, she bought the farm with other intentions but now she is doing some serious farming.

“I bought this piece of land some years back to build rental houses because it was quite dry. I never imagined that crops would flourish in this area,” she says.

For a while, the land was idle and was almost becoming a dead asset but after some research, she learnt that the rich black alluvial soil is great for farming.

Most investors in the area have erected houses for renting but she saw an opportunity to farm.

Lost the entire crop

“Kisaju has great potential to be an agricultural hub. To achieve that goal, what one needs to sort out is constant supply of water,” she says.

The soil is perfect for agriculture as it is mainly a result of rich deposits left behind as torrents of rain water flows towards to Athi River.

After doing her groundwork, last year, she delved into farming full swing and planted tomatoes which did pretty well.

But on the second harvest, she suffered a big blow.

She lost all her produce as birds devoured more than half of the produce.

Disillusioned, she decided to change tack.

“I sold what had remained at a throwaway price but it was a great lesson. If I have to do tomatoes again, it has to be in greenhouses to avoid such instances,” she says.

She has also planted onions on an acre and has harvested more than ten tonnes which she intends to sell in Kitengela and Nairobi.

Because of the unreliable water, she sunk a borehole and connected pipes for drip irrigation.

She gets up to 10,000 litres of water for irrigation.

“I drilled a borehole to ensure I had enough water,” he says.

Sinking the borehole, installing a water pump and setting up a water tank cost her Sh2.4 million which she got from her savings.

Every drop counts

She got water at 280 feet below the surface and invested in quality pump to avoid the pain of repairing it often.

To avoid waste through evaporation, she does drip irrigation in the evenings when the heat is low, she says.

“Because water is a precious commodity here, every drop counts. To avoid waste, I invested in drip irrigation and this way, crops get the exact water they need.”

Brenda says unlike tomatoes, onions are not prone to attacks by pests and diseases.

“It seems birds and pests do not like onions which is good for me,” she says.

Saw an opportunity

For a bumper harvest, she uses manure to nourish the land. Last year, Brenda spent about Sh300,000 to prepare the farm and buy seeds.

In the period she has been farming, she has learnt many lessons along the way.

One lesson is that onion farming requires a lot of attention from the time they are transplanted from the nursery to the time they are harvested.

“I have a farm manager and I get an agronomist who visits regularly to see how the onions are doing. I also get casual labourers when need arises,” Brenda says.

Water harvesting

She has also learnt the value of giving the land time to replenish lost nutrients after a harvest.

This season after harvesting all the onions, she will let the land lie fallow for a season before she plants onions again.

Going forward, she intends to set up a dairy farm. To diversify, she has also bought 30 indigenous chicken and her farm is lined up with grafted mangoes.

Though hopeful, she faces two challenges — being new in agribusiness, she is not sure how to navigate the market, mainly controlled by middlemen.

“Brokers are everywhere and they deny us our hard earned sweat. I wish there was a direct way to reach buyers, that way our profit margins would be higher,” she laments.

The ongoing rains have also caused havoc on the onion farm.

“I have never seen so much rain here. It has caused damage to onions and I wish there was a better way the county government could harvest it instead of it going to waste. All this water will be needed in the next few months,” she added.  

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