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Farming ventures you can bank on in the New Year

The New Year spirit is one that invites us to grow and become better versions of ourselves. We seek to evaluate the past 365 in order to place targets on the next 365.

Perhaps in the New Year, you would like to broaden your basket of opportunities. You have established that agriculture is the basis of Kenya’s economy and you would like to invest your money, time, skills, and passion into farming.

Worry no more! Today, we offer you an insight: into farming ideas that would likely yield profits – whether in actual money or produce.

The Smart Harvest team spends the whole year curating news in the field of agriculture throughout the year. The ideas we are sharing with you today are based on information thus far collected; accompanied by evidence. 

Avocado fruits ready for harvesting in a farm in Nandi County. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Avocado, the green gold

This is probably the umpteenth time we are telling you about avocado growing. And yes, avocados are that good.

Kenya is Africa’s leading exporter of avocados. It is also sixth globally. What does this say? That, over the years, avocado exporters in the country have been able to find niche markets out there.

In fact, in 2019, Kenya made new foray: getting access to the China market. China is important because it is the most populous nation in the world with more than 1.4 billion people. It is fastidious, to say the least.

When the deal was signed, the agreement allowed Kenya to only export frozen fruit. This was subsequently upgraded to fresh fruit.

Data from Horticulture Directorate show that Kenya exported avocados worth Sh7 billion to China in the three months to October 2022. Imagine that. The head of the directorate, Benjamin Tito, said Kenya would be seeking more markets for its avocado.

With more farmers taking up commercial growing of the Hass avocado – the most sought-after avocado variety in the world – chances are that Kenya’s avocado will continue attracting demand from the outside world. Wouldn’t you want to cash in on it too?

Dragon fruit

Not long ago, while window-shopping at a leading supermarket in Nairobi, in the fruit section, I saw a Sh943 badge on a fruit and immediately wanted to find out more about it. 

A piece of the dragon fruit [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

It was a dragon fruit. One dragon fruit – or at least the one I was looking at – was going at more than Sh900.

‘Is it worth that much?’ I remember having that debate in my head. Curiosity caught the better of me and dropped the fruit into my basket.

At home, I followed a YouTube tutorial to skillfully slice the fruit – like its sweetness depended on it. The fruit has a unique texture on the tongue. It packs a unique flavour: a blend of the kiwi fruit, watermelon, and perhaps some savoury taste I can’t quite place on anything.

Was it heavenly? No. But it was sweet. Talking to Antony Mugambi, a pioneer dragon fruit farmer in Kenya, I learned that the fruit is in high demand for its medicinal properties.

“You do not need much convincing to become a dragon fruit farmer. Just visit any supermarket wherever you are.

“If you find the fruit on the shelves, check the price tag. That should be sure proof for doubting Thomases.

“If it is not in the shelf, ask yourself why – yet we have farmers producing the fruit locally: personally I have it under 30 acres. It is not on the shelf because the current demand is unquenchable,” Mugambi says.

Well, even at face value, dragon fruits – also known as pitaya – is from the cactus family. Something about its unusual appearance just screams medicinal.

Demand for the fruit, we believe, emanates from the fact that production remains low vis-à-vis demand. It could also be a factor of the fruits ‘healthy’ qualities – especially among Oriental natives.

Currently, the market price for the fruit averages Sh800 per kilogram. Sounds yummy!

Geranium

This October, yours truly traveled to Laikipia County and met – for the first time – farmers growing a herb commonly called geranium.

The earliest evidence of geranium farming in Kenya is from 2017. That is the year Fairoils Limited – a company involved in essential oil production and marketing –began signing farming contracts with farmers around Mt Kenya.

Scientifically known as Pelargonium graveolens, the rose-scented geranium is a perennial herb with a strong smell. Fairoils Limited extracts essential oils from the plant for export.

I met a 28-year-old farmer, Julia Nyambura, who made an impressive sum from a quarter of an acre in the first seven months of growing geranium. On one acre, she was making some serious cash.

This is good money especially because the herb does not demand a lot from the farmer. The herb grows well in organic conditions without fertilisers or pesticides. Being a perennial herb, one plants once every five years. Afterward, the farmer harvests its foliage at four to six-month intervals.

David Kariuki, an agronomist who doubles up as Mt Kenya region manager in charge of field operations at Fairoils, says: “The crop is adapted to arid and semi-arid land areas. It needs little water and is always green. A farmer is assured of some harvest even during drought.”

There is only one challenge to taking up geranium farming: the crop is currently farmed through contracts with Fairoils Ltd. There could be other companies contracting farmers for it as well. For you to take it up you probably will need to be within a radius of the company buying the produce from you; yet not many companies have specialised in its commercial processing.

One thing is for sure though, says Kariuki: “Demand for geranium is high. We are barely meeting demand for the essential oils asked of us by our clients abroad.”

Dog breeding

To be clear, this is not about slaughtering dogs and exporting them to China, just to dispel the rumours. 

[iStockphoto]

Have you been around Nairobi’s upmarket lately? ‘Walking the dog’ is the in thing. Some are using the dogs as pacemakers as they exercise. Some have dogs as companion animals. And some are simply relishing their upper-class status.

Yes, upper class! How else would you explain buying a puppy at Sh120, 000? Yet, this kind of opulence is becoming commonplace. And since Kenya is rising up the economic ranks (now we are a lower middle-income country) we should witness this even more.

By the way, the dogs I am talking about, are not the average amber-coloured squirrel hunters with one broken limb and a teary eye. These dogs have fancy names. And they look the part.

The Japanese Spitz is whiter than snow, the Maltese Terrier is fluffier than your pillow, the Labrador retriever is gentle and playful, the bulldog is menacingly cute and the Doberman is stealthy. The German Shepherd is fearless and the Chihuahua – with eyes larger than their sockets – can make you laugh effortlessly every time it goes into a barking tantrum with its diminutive body. There are many other breeds, by the way.

This year one of us met Mugo Wambui, a dog breeder who had German Shepherd, Boerboel, Pitbull, Russian Mountain, Terrier Maltese, and Labrador breeds.

“A puppy ranges from Sh30, 000 to Sh150, 000 depending on the breed,” he said.

Not long ago, he sold 10 puppies to a security company: each at Sh50,000. “That is how I bought my first car,” he said.

Wambui started small and build up. He has a passion for dogs; something that he can trace back to his childhood days.

If you are going to become a dog breeder you better have passion. The animals will need quality care – high hygienic practices, proper feeding, vaccination and treatment and close monitoring. All these require resources and commitment.

Beekeeping 

[Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

This is not a surprise, is it? The thing about beekeeping is that the insects are wild. They do not need to be fed nor do they need to be watered.

You also won’t need a vet on call to check in on their health every few weeks like we do livestock. The insects do not need to be vaccinated either.

“It is as simple as building the right hive, baiting it, and placing it in the right location,” says Pauline Otila, a beekeeper and honey businesswoman per excellence.

In a 2021 interview with James Muriuki, the Head of Apiculture and Emerging Livestock at the Ministry of Agriculture, it emerged that Kenya is importing honey – mostly from Tanzania – to meet demand.

At the same time, there is a genuine demand for authentic honey.

“A lot of what you find in the market is not pure honey. Many Kenyans are bright enough to know – at the first taste – when taking adulterated honey,” Otila says.

Actual beehive honey, she says, retails at Sh800 (and above) per kilogram. “I would question the quality of anything cheaper than this,” she says.

By some estimates, Kenya is only meeting about 25 per cent of local honey demand. Actual numbers are not yet available but the Ministry of Agriculture confirms that demand is still not being met.

Beekeeping would be an incredible source of passive income: especially for those with large swathes of fallow land.

You have to be ready to invest in professionally constructed beehives.

Seedlings production

The whole idea behind farming is the understanding that we plant one and harvest a thousand: multifold return on your investment.

In modern times, a farmer has to be smart because not all seeds will fetch you a bumper harvest. Farmers have to invest in quality seeds… or seedlings.

Many crops start from the nursery bed. Crops such as passion fruits, Swiss chard, kale, Sukuma wiki, onions, tomatoes, and many fruit trees, go through the seed bed. The designing and building of a nursery bed consume time and resources that a prolific farmer would do well avoiding. The need for ready-to-plant seedlings has created a business avenue that has not been fully exploited.

Currently, only one multimillion-seedling Production Company is operating in Kenya. A few other mid-level operators, like Caroline Mukuhe, the proprietor of Kimplanter seedlings and nursery, have thrown their hats in the ring.

Agriculture is the backbone of Kenya’s economy. It contributes to more than 30 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. As more Kenyans take up farming – because the populace has to eat; and whatever they eat comes from the farm – demand for seedlings is also going up.

Along major Nairobi roads, you might come across roadside nurseries. While they have a specific clientele, there is an untapped market for quality (mark that word) seedlings to meet the country’s growing farming demands.

In 2015, we profiled Ignatius Kemboi and Joseph Barno from Lessos who operated a startup tree seedlings business. The duo said they made good money in profits every year. Imagine the business’ potential on a large scale?

Hay

In the last two years, many parts of the country have experienced an extreme drought that experts say is linked to climate change. Livestock keepers have lost millions of their animals: many left rotting by the wayside. Last October, we met Elizabeth Mutugi selling hay in Bisil,  Kajiado County.

“We are bringing the hay here from Mt Kenya,” she said. “This is the business with the most profit right now.”

As climate change persists, hay will become even scarcer, making the business even more lucrative. Today, lorries full of hay are commonplace along Mombasa road; headed towards Kajiado.

Largescale hay production could be targeted at monetary profits (as a business) or could also be a source of feed for a dairy or a feedlot establishment. Remember, if you don’t have the hay, you will be the one to spend money buying.

In both scenarios, hay is valuable in the livestock industry.


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