Steroke farm adopts Crop Diversification as a better way to stay afloat

Steroke farm adopts Crop Diversification as a better way to stay afloat

Crop diversification is a better way of staying afloat for farmers as they stand the chance of enjoying continuous revenue flow. Rosemary Gathage is an agri-business entrepreneur who grows several short term and long term crops. She is a university graduate who began her farming escapades in Laikipia before settling in Karakuta – Mang’u, Kiambu County. She has literary laid her hands on almost every crop before discovering her good haven in horticultural crops.

Her journey to farming is a fascinating story of young and employed lady cultivating maize and beans as a side hustle with the imaginations of breaking even because she had some disposable income. And true to her imagination, she was able to recoup back her investment and a slight profit. Feeling encouraged, she set her eyes to full time farming and this is what she says.

After my first experience and the motivation that came with it I felt like ploughing back and now doing it at a larger scale. I roped in my husband in what I was doing; we joined hands building a greater synergy and leased 50 acres of land in Laikipia. With good weather patterns in Laikipia, we had bountiful harvest and I secured a place in Nairobi which we used as a granary. We were able to make a colossal amount of money after we marketed and sold the produce to millers in Nairobi. To us this was an eye opener and our new farming journey started.

With the help of our grandfather and the money we had made from the sales, we were able to enter into a long term lease for a 30 acre piece of land in Karakuta and we relocated to this place which was now near Nairobi for ease of doing business. Fully energized, I made the decision of quitting my work to solely concentrate on the farm.

Having experienced the sweetness of agribusiness, we decided to venture into short term horticultural crops which had higher returns unlike maize which we planted annually. We called our farm Steroke which is an acronym of my family names; that is my husband, myself and my daughter.

We decided to maximize on the space we had and also in adopting technology. We needed water for irrigating our crops thus we had to drill borehole and laid down a drip system. We have subdivided our 30 acres into 5 acres, planting different crops in each portion on rotational basis. Currently, we are growing crops such as tomatoes, vegetables, onions, eggplants, capsicums, avocadoes, bananas, watermelons, pawpaws, sweet potatoes, Kales, spinach and many more. The reason we diversified is because most of our clients used to buy certain produce let say tomatoes and they were in need of capsicums instead of us referring them to other farms we saw it as an opportunity to grow for them.

Our first horticultural crops were chilies, ginger and onions, which we farmed on contract basis. While visiting a renowned seed company I chanced upon eggplants seeds which we incorporated in the contract farming. But the contractee, exporter didn’t honor the agreement. We had to aggressively market online and we got so many orders either from retailers or consumers and we made good money but we discovered that we were spending a lot of time doing the deliveries. Though it was a booming business, a lot of time was being spent; I encourage my customers to be picking the produce from the farm, this enables us to have a personal touch with them and also get their feedback. For eggplants we faced market challenges since they are rarely consumed by locals, and also they fruit and sprout very fast and meaning one has to have a ready market to avoid incurring losses.

There are risks involved with contract farming which we have learnt in our farming years. There are contractees who promise farmers to farm for them, but they are just scammers. You will find them signing a contract with a farmer to buy seeds and farm inputs from them, follow their spray program while purchasing chemicals from them; they recommend an agronomist who the farmer has to pay for every farm visit. Their aim is to exploit farmers only for them to disappear when the produce is ready for market. For anyone with interest in contract farming, always do background checks before embarking on the venture. Alternatively, grow what is consumed locally because when faced with such challenges you are able to sell all round .

According to Horticulture Regulations 2020, the dealer should submit the farming agreement signed with the producer to Horticultural Crops Directorate (HCD) or county government for verification and witnessing before execution and should provide necessary extension services among others. This is never the case thus the contracted farmer is taken advantage of.
Horticultural farming is a very sensitive venture because it needs one to really put eyes on the ground. What counts most is time, if somebody messes with your time not only as an individual but for the plant, it messes everything. For example, if you miss timely spraying of the crop you have messed with the whole crop cycle and with the produce.

There is this notion especially with our young generation, that when you tell them to be engaged in farming it is like you are degrading them because for them this is for people who didn’t score good grades. This is not right and we should debunk this myth; people with such mindsets are lazy and don’t want to toil.

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