Business

She is building an agro empire, one farm a time

She is building an agro empire, one farm a time
  • Lydia Mwariri started out with only four cows, but she has expanded her venture to include pigs, chickens and herbs for export.
  • She has planted thyme on three-quarters of her seven-acre parcel, and harvests between 450-600kg monthly, which she sells to an exporting company at Sh250 per kilo.
  • From the herbs section, our next stop is a greenhouse in which she has planted tomatoes. She grows the crop in nylon pots.
  • When she started out, she was working at a hotel in Nakuru as an accountant and was in charge of supplies. Lydia says she would struggle to secure steady milk supply deals.

The stylish black gate barricading the compound in Piave village, off the Nakuru-Njoro road, prepares one for what lies inside the farm named Trilly.

As soon as the gate opens, one can pick out what looks like a gazebo from far and then an aroma of herbs hits the nose, wafting from a farm on the side of the driveway as one moves along. It is certain that this is not an ordinary farm.

The Seeds of Gold team finds Lydia Mwariri, the owner, inspecting her thyme and chives herbs.

“I am relatively new to herbs farming,” she says. “And that is the reason I am paying close attention to these crops since I want to expand the acreage,” says Lydia, 34, who also keeps chickens, dairy cows and pigs.

She has planted thyme on three-quarters of her seven-acre parcel, and harvests between 450-600kg monthly, which she sells to an exporting company at Sh250 per kilo.

Next to the thyme farm is a net house sitting on three-quarters of an acre where she grows her chives. She has placed blue and yellow sticky traps inside the shade net to deter thrips and white flies. She also grows the crop in five greenhouses.

“From this crop I have already harvested 440kg for the first time, and sold at Sh260 per kilo to the same exporting company,” says Lydia, who is looking forward to be trained soon under the Market Access Upgrade Programme, which is funded by the European Union.

The initiative enables farmers like her to understand the horticulture export market.

From the herbs section, our next stop is a greenhouse in which she has planted tomatoes. She grows the crop in nylon pots.

DISRUPTED THE BUSINESS

“This is to curb diseases. The soil is first treated, mixed with organic manure and then seedlings are planted,” explains Vincent Omkiti, the farm manager, who has training in livestock production and works with six other employees and a host of casuals.

The tomatoes are currently supplied to supermarkets in Nakuru town at Sh80 per kilo.

Lydia in the chicken house in her farm together
Lydia in the chicken house in her farm together with an employee. She rears 1,500 Kenbro chickens. PHOTO | RACHEL KIBUI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“I have harvested the crop on the farm twice and got 172 kilos,” offers Lydia, adding that one of the challenges she faces in the business is the high cost of nylon planting pots, whose price shot up from Sh2 to Sh10 after the ban on plastics by the National Environment Management Authority.

Away from her crop farm, some 86 pigs are flourishing in a huge structure.

“I slaughter pigs after every four months and sell to a butchery in Nakuru town for Sh260 per kilo,” says Lydia, adding that one pig usually weighs about 41kg. She has set her sights on breeding the animals for more cash.

Next to the pig farm is a chicken house, where she rears 1,500 Kenbro chickens. She sells each at Sh800 when they 3-4.5kg to meat shops and households in Nakuru and Nairobi.

“Initially, I used to keep layers since I had a ready market for eggs, but an influx from Uganda disrupted the business.”Her dream is to start producing one-day-old chicks for sale to farmers.

“The cost of an egg is Sh12, yet a one-day-old chick goes for Sh100. I think the latter makes more business sense,” she says. At the far end of the farm she keeps dairy cows in a zero-grazing unit.

“This is where my farming journey started in 2014, with just four dairy cows,” says Lydia, who gets support from her husband, especially with marketing her products in the city.

MANURE FROM LIVESTOCK

When she started out, she was working at a hotel in Nakuru as an accountant and was in charge of supplies. Lydia says she would struggle to secure steady milk supply deals.

“I invested Sh250,000 to keep four Friesian dairy cows. Now the herd has increased to 24.” The fact that she was getting manure that she had no use for led her to expand into crop farming.

The farm's manager, Vincent Omkiti explains how
The farm's manager, Vincent Omkiti explains how they grow tomatoes in the farm (left) while another employee cleans the dairy cattle shed. Lydia also keeps some 86 pigs. PHOTOS | RACHEL KIBUI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“I am currently milking 12 cows and getting an average of 400 litres daily, which I sell to a processor in Nakuru, having left the hotel industry.”

Lydia notes the different ventures have enabled her to spread the risks. She now enjoys good earnings at different times of the year.

“At one point I lost over 1,000 layers to Newcastle disease, but I used dairy earnings to revive the business,” she says.Jeff Kahuho, a programme manager at Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (Pelum) Kenya, says mixed farming enables farmers to utilise their land maximally through the different ventures.

“This way, one is able to satisfy different markets and spread risks such that in case one venture does not do well, it gets support from the others,” says Kahuho.

Besides, he adds, ventures like crops make use of manure from livestock, lessening a farmer’s burden of disposing of the commodity.

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Mixed farming: The pros and cons

  1. While mixed farming is beneficial, a farmer risks burning out as he spreads resources such as time, money and labour to the limit, according to agriculture experts.
  2. One should, therefore, plan carefully lest this kind of farming turns out to be a burden as the farmer may be unable to maximise productivity.
  3. There is also a challenge with diseases, which may spread from one crop to another if not checked.
  4. To enjoy economies of scale, it should be done on a large scale.
  5. A farmer with less than an acre should specialise in two or three crops or livestock ventures.