Kenya: Journalist Switches to Farming

About a kilometre off the Webuye-Eldoret Road in Mwamba sub-location, Lugari, is Isaiah Lucheli's farm, which sits on part of his two acres that also hosts his home.

The former journalist is busy watering his vegetables when the Seeds of Gold team arrives.

"For about 17 years, I fed people with information, but now I feed them food," says Lucheli of his turnaround.

He bought the two acres in 2015 and divided it into two parts, one which hosts his house and the rest his farming activities.

"I farm various crops that include capsicum, which sits on three-quarter acres and the remaining farming land hosts bananas, sukuma wiki and traditional vegetables ," says Lucheli.

He has some 5,000 capsicum plants that he farms under irrigation.

"When I left journalism in 2015 following a restructuring process, I had worked six years as a reporter and 11 years as a correspondent in Kakamega, Eldoret, Nairobi and Nyeri counties. I felt that was enough as an employee. For me it was time to be my own boss and farming offered me that chance."

As many other households in the area, maize was his crop of choice as he grew others for subsistence.

But in 2019, a friend who runs an agrovet encouraged him to start commercial horticultural farming.

"He is called Wycliffe Oteng'o and runs an agrovet in Turbo. He advised me to try farming capsicum and parsley and I took his advice."

To grow the crop, he says one first plants them in a nursery for 45-60 days before transplanting. They mature in 75 days after transplanting.

But with capsicum, he says it has not been a smooth ride due to poor soil.

"My soil is murram, I need to improve it using manure before planting the crop. That is what I was advised by agriculturalists," he says, noting he has grown the crop twice.

Lucheli has since embraced pyramid farming, growing different varieties of traditional vegetables in the 40 gardens he has.

"I grow spider plant (saga), crotalaria (mito), Jute mallow (mrenda), cowpeas (kunde), coriander (dania), solanum (manage), amaranth, onions and collard greens (sukuma wiki)," says Lucheli, who adds he has invested Sh350,000 in the business.

The pyramid gardens sit on less than an eighth of an acre, but production is higher than growing on land.

Lucheli established the gardens in June 2020 with the help of his wife, Caroline Nekesa.

To make the pyramids, they mixed soil with organic manure then stuffed in a specially made polythene materials, which they stapled to end up with circular designs.

Pyramid gardens

"The pyramid gardens are advantageous because they accommodate a lot of crops. One garden, which occupies about a meter square hosts up to 120 seedlings of sukuma wiki as opposed to a similar ground garden that hosts 15 to 25 pieces."

He sells a kilo of sukuma wiki at Sh30, spinach fetches Sh35 per kilo while managu goes for up to Sh70 per kilo.

He uses solar power to pump water from several water tanks he has to irrigate his crops using the drip irrigation system.

"I have tanks that store more than 12,000 litres of water for irrigation. The water is pumped by solar energy so I don't incur any cost," says Lucheli.

While the irrigation system serves him well, he notes that the main demerit is high cost of installation.

"But I don't regret, without the drip system and use of manure, I would not have turned this land, which appeared parched productive," says the farmer, who also keeps geese, chickens and guinea fowls whose manure he uses to grow crops.

He hopes to break even in over a year. "I have given the farm all my energies and it is promising especially with the support which I get from my wife and two sons. When they are around, I do not hire workers."

Carol Mutua of the Department of Crops, Horticulture and Soils, Egerton University says horticulture is a productive business if practised properly.

"For farmers with small parcels of land, pyramids also referred to as vertical farming and sack farming can help to secure food supply. Sack farming allows people to grow food in places with limited access to good land and with little water while pyramid farms remain an incredible concept for the future of agriculture offering solutions in the form of a complete self-sufficient ecosystem that covers everything from food production to waste management," said Ms Mutua.

satnation@ke.nationmedia.com

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