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Ngeria, located off Eldoret-Nakuru Road, is a sprawling township in Uasin Gishu County.

The area hosts expansive farms covered in maize and wheat. It is here that Julie Barmasai farms on about two acres of her family’s 200 acres, not the cereals, but horticultural crops.

On the farm christened Garden Picks Produce, she grows over 30 varied vegetables and herbs that include cucumber, sugarloaf cabbage, night shade (managu), amaranth (terere), broccoli, lettuce, thyme and basil.

Other crops are garlic, celery, parsley, cauliflower, courgette, beetroot, curly kale, cauliflower, pepper mint, normal mint and, Indian spinach (paala), lemon grass and fenugreek (methi plant), all which she farms organically.

Fewer interventions

She began the organic venture in 2018 after quitting part-time lecturing at Moi University.  But before that, she had been farming conventionally on the side since 2014.

“I was struggling to get classes to teach,” says Julie, who holds a Masters in Development Studies and a Bachelor of Communication and Public Relations from Daystar University.

“I would be given three to four classes in a week which left me with plenty of time on my hands. Again, I was making little money since part-time lecturers are paid as per class taught,” says Julie, who adds low price of conventionally grown produce prompted her to turn organic when she quit her job.

She uses organic manure from sheep, chickens and cows, which she sources from the family farm, and also intercrops the plants with others like marigold that attract bees and curb pests.

To control pests and diseases, the farmer makes a concoction of dried chillies or garlic and water, which she sprays on the crop as pesticides.

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“But in most cases, organically grown crops develop their own defense system against pests and diseases, thus requiring fewer interventions.”

Demand of organic produce

The organic farmer also practices crop rotation, what helps in preventing diseases. After harvesting, she replaces a crop with one from a different family to help improve soil fertility and control soil-borne diseases.

She further engages in what she calls “companion farming” whereby those crops that support each other are planted next to each other while those that hurt each other are planted far apart. For instance, cabbage and white collards, since they are susceptible to the same pests, are planted far apart.

During the dry months, like from January to March, she uses overhead sprinkler irrigation, sourcing water from an adjacent swamp.

“There is a huge demand of organic produce in Eldoret. I sell mine to households, retail shops and groceries in the town and its environs.”

Julie sells to consumers or retailers directly for more income.

“I serve up to 15 households which consistently buy my various produce every month,” says the farmer who has employed three workers.

Rewarding venture

Together with other farmers, they have come up with an open air organic market that they hold every weekend at a space along the Eldoret-Kapsebet Road to tap into the growing demand for organically grown food.

But it is not all rosy, some crops such as French beans struggle to thrive under organic farming. Thus, she opts for controlled chemical use.

“For now, I want to concentrate on farming since it is a rewarding venture. My goal is to train more people to grow organic foods,” offers Julie.

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Patrick Kalama, a research scientist (entomologist) at the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation Kitale station, says onions, garlic and chilly contain allicin, an active chemical ingredient that provides natural pungent smell that helps repel pests.

“Besides spraying with organic concoctions, a farmer going into organic farming should intercrop crops. For instance, planting a perimeter or a few lines of onions, garlic or any crop in the onion family in a row to tackle pests,” explains the expert.

Traditional crops such as kunde and sagaa are tolerant against drought and pests and diseases but do not thrive well under wet and chilly conditions, he says.

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