The Tripple Threat; Young, female and an agriculturalist wins Presidential Award

The Tripple Threat; Young, female and an agriculturalist wins Presidential Award

There are very few young people you meet and they inspire you so much. One such person is Carolyne Mukuhi Mwangi. You don’t even have to take my word on it, take the President’s word! President Uhuru Kenyatta awarded her the 2019 Youth in Agriculture Award during ASK Show in Nairobi. The Kiambu County Government also named her a Shujaa on the 2019 Mashujaa Day Celebrations and made her an Ambassador for agriculture in the County.

“It has been a tough journey socially and business-wise,” says the soft-spoken and self-proclaimed introvert, Carolyne. She is the Founder and C.E.O of Kimplanters Seedlings and Nurseries. Kimplanter means seedlings in Danish.

The human resource specialist started as an administrator in 2011 for an international company and immediately started investing some of the money from her salary in passion fruit farming. She got the idea from a friend who was cultivating passion fruits in Malaa.
She started cultivating passion fruits in 2012 on an eighth-acre piece of land on the family plot in Kimbo, Ruiru. She requested her mom to look after the 250 passion fruit plants as her job was away in another town. At this time she was only 22 years of age.
A media house covered her passion fruit project and one of the big passion fruit processors called her and wanted to place an order for one ton of passion fruits weekly but she only had a capacity for 250kgs.

It is at this point in 2013 that she got transferred by her employer to an administrator position in Nairobi. This being close to her parents’ home, she started blending passion juice concentrate that she would take to work and sell to a juice vendor near her employer’s office.
Soon, people started inquiring for seedlings of the passion she was planting but she didn’t have any. She would refer them to Murang’ a where she had bought hers. The seedlings seller in Murang’a wasn’t able to meet the demand from her referrals and she saw a business opportunity there.
So she started grading her passion fruits and the good ones would be for seed. She planted her first seedling in the ground but the germination rate was terrible. So she went online to research on how to increase the germination rate.

She stumbled upon seed trays and their use in propagation as well as the use of cocopeat as planting medium. Planting seedlings in the soil took one and a half months to be ready but it was only a month in trays in cocopeat. The germination rate was also higher in trays and less chance of diseases.
She used to intercrop the passion fruit plants with spinach and customers also started inquiring for spinach seedlings as well. It happened that there were heavy rains that year (2013) and it destroyed her seedlings and at this juncture she realized she needed cover for the seedlings in the form of a greenhouse.
She constructed a small wooden greenhouse the size of 5mtrs by 6mtrs. The demand for seedlings made her increase the greenhouse. As her seedling project was doing well and she wanted to do metallic greenhouses but the neighbor who had allowed her to set up seedlings beds in his plot chased her away but that only made her upgrade her wooden greenhouses instead.
As her seedling propagation business kept on expanding, she realized that the profits from her seedlings matched the salary she was getting at her administrator job and she decided to quit to concentrate on the farm. This was also necessitated by the need to create interpersonal relationships with her customers whom she only talked to on the phone from her job in Nairobi while they (customers) were at the farm in Ruiru. “Customer relations is key,” says Carolyne

She was now giving all her attention to the farm and it grew in leaps and bounds and she had open credit lines for big companies that were regularly getting seedlings from her. This, unfortunately, turned out terribly like one of those big companies went bankrupt with arrears of Kshs. 280,000 worth of seedlings she had delivered to them.
This did not discourage her as she went ahead to open another farm in Makuyu in 2019 which is half an acre of seedlings. They plant capsicum, tomatoes, herbs, cauliflower and lettuce seedlings.

They have two models of work.

The first model is where the farmer places the seed order, Kimplanter buys the certified seeds from the seed companies, propagates them and the farmer collects later when the seedlings are ready.
This normally takes 4 to 6 weeks depending on the crop. The advantage of this model is that there is enough time for proper planning and land preparation.
The second model is where the farmer walks in and buys ready seedlings. The company has over time been able to select crops that perform well in certain regions and in different climatic conditions. They also use their knowledge and experience to predict which seedlings farmers will need at any one time.
The advantage of the second model is that there are timely planting and zero wastage.
Farmers are also able to get an assortment of varieties of seedlings. This also helps the farmer achieve good market timing.
Kimplanters Seedlings and Nurseries also offers a Kitchen Garden Pack that has an assortment of vegetables well selected to meet a family’s nutritional needs. They also advice farmers on the best crop management practice to improve production and maintain quality efficiently and generate some income from the yields. This includes plant spacing, crop protection and post-harvest practices. They are also KEPHIS certified.

Looking ahead into the future, Carolyne wants to nurture the next generation of farmers and she is starting with her four year old son who can tell the difference between different plants and how to water them. She intends to take her mentorship to primary schools. “It’s easier to change the mindset of young people before college age” says Carolyne.
The current state of affairs is that the poor performers are the ones who pick agriculture as a subject in schools. “We don’t have professional people to farm because everyone wants to work in town” she regrets about the way things are. She thus wants to show kids that you can make money in agriculture but only through modern agricultural practices and urban farming techniques. Once the kids are passionate about farming, they will naturally want to take care of the environment to safeguard the means of production that is land.
“You have to add value to the community” says Carolyne. “Money is not a trigger for me, it has to make an impact” she says about farming.

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