From a nickname ‘Mkulima Mdogo’, to a brand in SEEDLINGS RAISING

From a nickname ‘Mkulima Mdogo’, to a brand in SEEDLINGS RAISING

Lamech Kabuti, is the founder of Victorious Green Farms and Mkulima Mdogo companies that grows and propagates seedlings for farmers. Like his nickname, ‘Mkulima Mdogo’ a Swahili name meaning a young farmer, is only 24 years old. He shares his wealth of experience in agribusiness with Hortfresh Journal, a journey he began at an early age.

I developed interest in farming at an early age. While still in form two, I was helping form four agriculture candidates with their projects and that is where the name Mkulima Mdogo started. I ventured fully into the practice in 2018 after surviving a fire accident while in my second year at the campus and the nickname became my brand.

Seed propagation is simply multiplying, reproducing, or raising plants using seeds. Plants that produce seeds are called spermatophytes. As an alternative to seed propagation, farmers are also propagating plants via plant cuttings (taking clones), grafting, or plant tissues, depending on their skills, range of equipment they have, and the plants they are wishing to propagate.

Mkulima Mdogo majors in seedlings raising, though still grow passion fruits and tree tomatoes in about eleven and six acres respectively. As much as we are doing propagation, we are also farmers. This enables us understand farmer’s needs. We propagate commonly consumed vegetables like cabbages, tomatoes, capsicums, and spinach among others.

Our biggest challenge is the high cost of production. Seeds are very expensive. The seedlings you see here, we have used about Ksh. 200,000; this is because we only use hybrid seeds which may cost up to seven shillings per seed; that is before germination. Sometimes the seeds we sow do not germinate 100 per cent, here we are lucky because we are able to achieve at least 70 per cent.

Fortunately whether the cost of production is high or not, we still make some good returns. We sell vegetable seedlings from two shillings to 20 shillings per seedling. For example we sell sukumawiki at two shillings, tomatoes at 4 to 5 shillings but for greenhouse varieties, the cost is 15 shillings. The price for fruit seedlings range from 30 shillings with the most expensive being grapes that goes for Kshs 300. We sell passion fruit seedlings for Ksh. 50 and tree tomato seedlings such as Red Oratia for Ksh 50.

In our Kenol farm, we support directly thirty households among whom, two are agronomists. After the farmers buy seedlings, the company assigns agronomists to follow-up with them for any assistance that they may require. Sometimes we also connect new buyers to older clients who we started with and who are today more of experts to give guidance where necessary. Many farmers venture into production of certain crop for example tomatoes or onions just for profitability. The source of their motivation into the ventures vary from one farmer to another. Some would venture because there is a hype everywhere on social media or even at the market place that this product earns you lots of money, whereas others would just hear testimonials, never mind whether factual or exaggerated of how much money a prominent farmer made in an acre of, say tomatoes.

However, without properly establishing facts on the journey to attaining such amazing results, they naively embark on the murky journey of farming as a business, with a view of making similar amount of money, if not more.

What majority don’t understand are the dynamics surrounding production, and marketing of these products and because they already have predetermined end in their minds, they don’t feel so much pain spending unnecessarily high amounts during production, after all ‘what can a ten say

Since most of them have all along been dreaming of huge returns, they get highly disappointed when the produce is ready and the market is flooded with supplies and the prices become low. It is until this time when the farmer comes to terms with the harsh reality. Many farmers have abandoned the exercise after learning the bitter lessons of total losses either due to crop failure, poor market prices, and wrong husbandry practices.

We encourage our clients to take their time, learn and understand their markets very well, particularly the first time farmers in order to increase surety of getting returns on investment.

Those interested in horticultural farming should ensure they have reliable water source. It is not enough to say I have a big all season river passing through my farm, instead, put up mechanism of getting this water from the river to the roots of your plants.

Seed selection is very critical component to consider. The farmer must ensure that he or she gets the right seed that adapts to the environment well.

It is also important to understand what market needs, and produce exactly that. In fact, it is better to start with market before venturing into any form of farming. You must also know about pests and diseases. The prevailing challenges in your area will inform the type of seedlings you would select.

Last but not least, consider diversification as well as comparing notes with similar practitioners, locally and abroad. Israel is a good example of countries where companies don’t sell seeds directly to farmers, instead they sell seedlings. A farmer just places an order and the company assigns a propagator. Even us here, some people normally place orders to grow for them seedlings. This is because when you start concentrating on raising the seedlings, you may lose focus. We recommend farmers to concentrate on management and production in their farms. Our motto is do it right from the start because if you get bad seedlings, you plant a wrong crop.

By Malachi Motano

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