sam gathigiSamuel Gathigi, an information systems security engineer at a local airline, had what he describes as a light-bulb moment.

A visit to a 70-year-old woman growing tomatoes in greenhouses in Limuru ignited an agricultural passion he never knew he had. Seeing the financial windfall from the venture wowed him.

But what really gave Mr Gathigi a paradigm shift was her comment that she wished she had discovered it all at his age.

For the 34-year-old Gathigi that was it. He set about rehabilitating his 27-acre Gramonra Gardens in Tala, 45km from Nairobi, sinking a borehole and planting trees as the beginning of a vision to play a new role in promoting agriculture in Kenya.

His first step was a new business model leasing land or greenhouses, along with farm labourers and managers, to whoever wanted to grow crops there. The lease for the space costs Sh60,000 per year. With a permanent staff of five and 40 casuals to tend crops for tenants, he recruited a horticulture graduate to ensure best-in-class farming techniques, and now has seven greenhouses, each measuring eight by 30 metres.

“Basically we manage the farming for you,” said Mr Gathigi. The management involves advising clients on crops to grow, chemicals to buy, spraying, weeding, tending and harvesting.

Pooled funds

For the farm management, clients are charged Sh7,000 a month. To assess progress the farmers make fortnightly visits, but those who don’t get progress reports sent to them.

Farmers now leasing at Gramonra Gardens include groups who have pooled funds to raise the lease and monthly charges. Most grow onions, vegetables, potatoes, beans and tomatoes. “We have around 15 waiting in the queue,” said Mr Gathigi.

Though marketing is largely left to the lease farmers, after harvest Gramonra lists the products harvested on their website so that buyers can order online.

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“They send us emails, we give them contacts of the selling farmers,” said Mr Gathigi. The farm also sells produce straight to visiting buyers.

Gramonra has also launched an agri-consultancy service, advising farmers on the right crops to grow in different climates, and the right seeds to plant for optimum yields. Mr Gathigi says he has received hundreds of calls from farmers around the country.
However, he prefers doing the consultancy for farmers with around 10 to 15 acres of land, to cover the standing charge of Sh20,000.

His long-term dream is to replicate the Gramonra model in other parts of the country. To achieve this, he plans to end his six-year job tenure with the airline at the end of December and venture full time into agriculture.

“The soil and weather in Kenya are so favourable for farming,” he says. His other aim is to make Kenyans “see” agriculture as an investment vehicle and shatter the lifelong myth that it’s a poor man’s profession.

For the nearly one year he has been in farming, he has realised information is the biggest hurdle to successful agricultural. “It’s not disseminated as it should be,” Mr Gathigi says, adding that the Agricultural ministry often has great initiatives that Kenyan farmers never get to know about.

To counter this, Gramonra Gardens is also running initiatives such as agri-tourism — offering rural-urbanite and children’s holiday boot camps.

The camps encourage professional urbanites to learn about farming and turn it into a hobby or income generator. The children’s holiday boot camp trains them about healthy foods and farming as well as life skills. The boot camp also spurs children to learn entrepreneurial skills.
The farm’s next step will be to extend its leasing model into aquaculture.

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