Thika vegetable farm finds niche in direct supply to schools, supermarkets and hotels

Thika vegetable farm finds niche in direct supply to schools, supermarkets and hotels

At a time when studies show that over 40 percent of Kenyan small scale farmers continue being buffeted by market vagaries like over supply and lack of markets for their produces, Peter Gathiru is struggling to meet growing demand for his produce thanks to an emerging trend where hotels, schools and supermarkets are preferring to buy directly from farmers.

Peter runs Gathiru Farm in Thika and supplies vegetables to feed schools, hotels and supply hotels, supermarkets, groceries and stores which offer steady and ready market as opposed to traders and one-off customers.

It is a new model that has insulated the farm from erratic traders and customers who had traditionally become unreliable even as the cost of growing the produce continues to skyrocket. The company also had to struggle with late payments which interfered with their farming schedule.

“When we started farming last year in September we used to harvest on order for traders who came from Thika Town and Nairobi. However, with time the buyers started becoming unreliable in terms of collecting the produce and making payments in time. This forced us to up our production standards something that has enabled us to acquire supply tenders with institutions and bigger retailers,” said Peter Gathiru, the founder of the farm.

The farm has now ventured into the farming and sale of a variety of vegetables among them spinach, kales, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, dhania, capsicum (green and yellow), lettuce and red cabbage. They also grow indigenous varieties such as manage black nightshade.

To tap into more buyers and sustain the existing ones the farm offers free delivery within Thika Town.This has worked to their favour as more customers flock the farm wanting to learn about its activities.

Gathiru has positioned his farm as a one stop center for farmers in search of knowledge welcomes guests from far and win to teach them on farming best practices.

The farm is also providing a free training opportunity for students both high school and tertiary level pursuing agriculture courses and upcoming farmers. He gets requests for trainings in advance and all his sessions are booked.

“I receive visitors every week and I share my experiences with them as a mixed farmer. Some churches from the area also bring youth to learn some of these practical skills in farming,” he said.

“In June, I even received a group of farmers and their leaders from South Nyanza who had come on a series of agricultural events and bench marking in Nairobi and my farm was one of their destinations.”Gathiru has his eyes fixed on expanding his farming business to capture more schools, health institutions and supermarkets where demand for specialist vegetables like Zucchini and lettuce continues to grow driven by a health-conscious middle class that is keen on what they consume and are willing to spend for the right quality of produce.

“The market for vegetables has been on an unprecedented rise and we cannot meet the demand so far. It is one of the markets I would encourage people to go into provided they can be consistent and ensure quality of what they deliver,” he added.

The rising demand for the vegetables has also meant planting them frequently to meet this demand. “I have never faulted on delivery. It is the biggest turnoff to clients, so I ensure that planting and harvesting is consistent. This has meant increasing my labour force to do the weeding, planting, harvesting and watching the farm. I am glad we are able to deliver on time,” he added.

Having a ready market has insulated him from market vagaries, where a glut has seen farmers sell produces at throw away prices. His greatest achievement however is the many jobs he has created since he started his farm.

I feel I have done my bit in making the world a better place by contributing in giving incomes to dozens of Kenyans at a time when Kenya is facing the worst unemployment figures in its history,”Gathiru said.

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