Noble farming idea that changed students’ lives

Storey garden belonging to Richard Kiama, a Land Economics student at the University of Nairobi, at Kiti area within the outskirts of Nakuru town. [Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

When great minds come together, great ideas are born. That statement rings true for 10 students who came together in March to venture into agribusiness after universities were closed due to Covid-19. So far, so good.

After careful research under the leadership of Richard Kaima, a land economics student at the University of Nairobi, the group saw an opportunity to start supplying vegetables and fruits to supermarkets and hotels in Nakuru.

Due to space limitation, they embraced an economical farming idea dubbed ‘multi-storey farming technology’.

“We researched on the Internet about multi-storey farming technology and were impressed by what it offered. Maximum yields under limited space,” says Kiama.

He adds: “This technology allowed us to produce maximum crop yields on a 50 by 100 plot. We were inspired to go this way after interacting with a farmer we met who was supplying fresh traditional vegetables in one of the leading supermarkets in Nakuru. He hinted to us that he could not meet the current orders from supermarkets.” 

There and then they saw an opportunity and went in full throttle.

They pooled together resources and raised Sh150,000 from their personal savings and donation from their parents. One parent offered them a plot they farm on.

Before they ventured out, they approached some supermarkets and made inquiries on whether they would be interested in fresh produce. They secured some orders.

Securing a market

“Many farmers make the mistake of venturing out and they have no clue where they will sell the produce. In our research, we learnt the importance of securing a market first before venturing out,” says Kiama.

With a market guaranteed, they set up five gardens which they have now increased to 100 gardens with vegetables and fruits.

The multi-storey farming technology uses dam liners which allow smooth flow of water downwards and serves same purpose as sacks and mosquito nets popular with most urban farmers.

In their 100 gardens, they grow spinach, kales, managu (African nightshade), capsicum, amaranth and coriander.

Kiama explains that they grow the vegetables in different stages. Each ‘garden’ has a spacing of about 4.6 square feet and can accommodate between 120 to 300 plants depending on the type of vegetable grown.

They also grow strawberry fruits and harvest twice a week. They sell to fruit vendors and cake houses at Sh400.

To supplement their income, they also install gardens for individuals eyeing urban farming.

They charge Sh2,500 to install a single garden, out of which Sh2,000 is for buying raw materials and Sh500 for labour. To prepare a garden farm, they use dam liners with a thickness of 0.5 to 1 millimetres.

The liners are cut into sizes as per preference of a farmer and availability of space. They are fastened to circular rings with bolts.

 After assembling the dam liners into the required sizes, they are filled with soil that is mixed with manure at a ratio of 50:50.

Dam liners

Kiama says the dam liners are most preferred material because they retain water and soil capillarity unlike sacks.

The liners are also durable and can last up to 10 years unlike sacks that last for two years. “The dam liners can be sourced in agro vets in most towns,”says the budding Kiama. 

Unlike other conventional farming methods, Kiama says the multi-storey technology is economical as it uses minimal space.

Weeding is done by hand to avoid destroying roots of crops.

“Watering of the plants is conducted in an interval of three to four days, depending on weather.” 

With technology, there is no destruction of crops as a result of flooding, as the garden is raised.

Controlling of pests and diseases is also easy. For instance, plants infested within a garden are uprooted without affecting others.

“There is minimal labour used with the technology,” says Kiama.

 The team is also planning to venture into hydroponics to boost their income streams.

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