A bout fifteen years back, motorists to Othaya, Nyeri, and parts of Kirinyaga County avoided the Kenol- Murang’a town road like a plague.
Though shorter with minimal traffic jams, the drivers opted for the longer Kenol-Makutano-Sagana route to avoid toll stations by Mungiki criminal gang. The worst part was a seven-kilometer stretch between Saba Saba and Miharati markets.
By 2008, Miharati market was the second largest command centre from Kahuro market in Murang’a County. Heightened criminal activities were gradually crippling business activities along the road, at Saba Saba and Miharati markets. The situation was that bad that the then Maragua District Commissioner Maalim Mohammed gave leeway to members of the public to defend themselves in case of attacks as they wait for police arrivals.
The knives and machete-wielding extortionists imposed taxes on traders, commuters, and drivers making a stopover to buy fruits and vegetables. But that is now history and traffic jam has become a norm along the same stretch as commuters and drivers stop to buy green rich traditional vegetables. The vegetables sourced from neighbor farms are sold by tens of friendly young men and women selling who form part of the traffic jam.
It’s a well-structured business where some engage in seedlings which they sell to farmers who grow to sell to the traders. Motivated by the booming business, Murang’a County government has rewarded them by constructing market sheds at Mugumo-ini-Murang’a town junction. The shades are used by tens of vendors to pack, bundle and store the vegetables.
The place is increasingly becoming famous with traditional vegetables mainly amaranth (muchicha), African nightshade (managu) and black-eyed pea (kunde).
Mr James Ndung’u, a father of three has specialized in amaranth and black-eyed seedlings propagation and farming. The young farmer has set aside four small plots of one meter by 3 meters where he earns an average Sh2, 000 every week selling seedlings to other farmers, but his main business is in farming. He has a half-acre land planted with amaranth selling to the roadside retailers at Sh30 per kilo.
The traders will then repackage in 700-gram bundles to sell at between Sh50 and Sh60 a bunch to the customers along the busy Nairobi-Murang’a-Othaya-Nyeri and Mukurwe-ini highway.
“To get the best quality and quantity, I go for certified seeds, their germination is guaranteed, large leaves with higher yields,” said Mr Ndung’u. To plant the half acre, Mr Ndung’u requires 50 grams of the seeds at Sh300, a truck of manure at Sh14, 000 and land preparation at Sh5, 000 which includes furrowing and landscaping to make it suitable for the venture.
“The biggest challenge is in weeds control that must be done every two weeks, the other cost of production is irrigation in drought,” said the farmer. With five years’ experience in amaranth farming, Mr Ndung’u puts the average cost of production in the half-acre land at Sh24, 000. From this piece of land, Mr Ndung’u harvests an average of 400kgs of amaranth vegetables every week, selling to the traders at Sh30 per kilo.
“The most important thing is to ensure that the crop is fed with enough manure at planting, and irrigating at least once in a week in the dry season,” said the farmer. He says irrigation perform best when done the same day after harvesting. Harvesting is done three consecutive months before the crop flowers to produce the seeds.
The farm records show that Mr Ndung’u earns between Sh160, 000 and Sh190, 000 from the half-acre land, best returns coming during the drought season. Mr Ndung’u reveals that the biggest advantage with amaranth is the crop is normally intercropped with spinach, terming the spinach earnings as a bonus. He however insists that soil fertility and moisture must be observed and maintained when intercropping.
Agronomist Jacob Waweru says that with best farming practices, an acre of amaranth can produce up to 1, 900 kgs of vegetables per season.
“One advantage with amaranth and other traditional vegetables is that they have a ready market, you will hardly find them rotting in markets,” said Mr Waweru. Next to Mr Ndungu’s is Tom Kamande’s one-acre land planted with black-eyed pea, specifically for vegetable.
‘I like the black-eyed pea since they are faster to mature, less labor and minimal costs of production. The vegetable has a ready market throughout the year,” said Mr Ndung’u.
Grown for vegetables, the peas are planted in shallow furrows about five inches deep and six inches wide, with a spacing of about 30cm between rows that will require about 50kgs of the seeds.
Apart from the cost of land preparation at Sh5, 000 per acre inclusive of digging and farrow making, Mr Kamande says black-eyed pea grown for vegetables has no other production costs since they are ready to harvest three weeks after planting.
“They are the easiest type of vegetable to grow at minimum cost. The highest cost is in seeds which about Sh140 per kilo, a total of Sh6, 720 per acre,” said Mr Kamande. The first harvest which is more of a thinning process is done the third week after planting, followed by four weekly harvests.
“Harvest is by uprooting the mature plants, getting an average of 750 kgs per harvest. I sell at Sh60 per kilo comparable to Sh45, 000 per week,” said the farmer. With such a harvest, Mr Kamande earns a minimum of Sh180, 000 from the one-acre farm in less than two months. The farmer says that at planting, one must ensure that the seeds are evenly distributed.
“Peas are nitrogen fixers; the crop does not require additional inputs. The biggest challenge is water, we use shallow wells for irrigation during the dry season,” said the farmer.
At the market sheds constructed by the Murang’a County government, the traders complain of lack of toilet facilities and tapped water.
“We appreciated the sheds and the street lighting done by the government, but we are suffering for lack of toilets and clean water,” said a trader Jean Wambui.