From breezy office to eking out a living from the soil

Tuesday, December 24th, 2019 00:00 |
Kamanu inspects a crop pumpkins on the farm. Photo/PD/WANGARI NJUGUNA

From her childhood, Catherine Kamanu was passionate about farming.  As she grew up, the urge to experiment in growing crops and keeping livestock for a living became irresistible.

Kamanu studied at Limuru Girls High School  and thereafter Strathmore University to pursue Certified Public. Accountants of Kenya (CPAK) qualifications.  She later joined the University of Nairobi for a Masters degree in Finance. 

“After that I secured a job in 2015 as an accountant in one of the financial institutions. I  also started farming as a side hustle. I worked for only a couple of years then decided to quit to explore farming,” she says. 

She had told her friends of her intentions to venture into large-scale farming and had requested them to let her know if they came across information land she could lease. 

Quick cash 

At first she got a four-acre piece of land in Nyeri county, where she engaged in mixed farming— growing cabbages, onions and French beans. The returns were impressive and this gave her the motivation to expand the venture.

 “For the four years I farmed in Nyeri, I got good returns and this gave me the urge to do more. I quit work to get into agriculture as a full time business,” she says.

Early last year, another friend tipped her on land available for leasing in Kambirwa in Kiharu sub-county, Murang’a county.  The 21-acre farm  was an opportunity for her a chance to explore more crops and expand her harvests. 

Having specialised in finance, she had little knowledge on agriculture but she constantly strived to obtain the information on good farming practices from online platforms. Her professional background, however, helps her in balancing income and expenditure.

At Kambirwa, she grows tomatoes, butternuts, spinach, managu, capsicum, cucumber and beans, among others. She opted for short-term crops to generate quick cash. 

And to benefit from economies of scale for every type of crop she grows, the least she plant is an acre, ensuring bulk production. So far, Kamanu say, she has no regrets after venturing into agriculture from a white-collar job as she now earns more. 

She now has a group of friends who are agronomists and they come in handy in case she encounters any challenges.

“One does not need to be an expert in agriculture as there is a lot of information available on the Internet, other farmers and extension officers,” she says.

Kamanu, has linked up with buyers who visit the farm regularly, an option she prefers to avoid the hassle of harvesting and taking the produce to the market herself. “My main markets are Kagio in Kirinyaga, Thika, Juja and Marigiti in Nairobi,” she says.

Monkey menace

She has engaged 11 full-time staff who are but when there is too much work, she looks for extra labourers. “When harvesting, I can engage up to 30 workers daily,” she says. 

Her venture has not been without challenges. The effects of climate change remain a major hurdle. “Last season, I had planted capsicum on one acre and they all dried up due to the dry weather,” she says.

And like many farmers in the region, the monkey menace has been thorn in her flesh; the primates wiped out an entire acre of cucumbers a some months ago. “The monkeys are now a real threat as they are making us incur huge losses,” she adds. 

Kambirwa residents who have for a long time left their land lie idle are slowly embracing farming as well. “This area of Murang’a east is relatively dry but very productive if well utilised,” she says.

Kamanu challenges the youth who keep lamenting over unemployment to consider venturing into farming to earn a living. “Agriculture pays and its one of the easiest way to generate money,” she says.

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