Emma Ndegwa used to work at a law firm earning Sh40,000 a month, until a chance visit to her matrimonial home in Kitale during the 2007 Christmas holidays changed the course of her life entirely, setting her on a new path to wealth as an agricultural entrepreneur.
When violence broke out after the 2007 elections, she found herself stuck with her 3-month-old son at Kitale for December and the better part of January, where she began to see her brother-in-law selling his tomatoes to brokers. “The brokers would buy a 64kg crate at Sh250,” she said. Rarely would they buy the crate at Sh500.
The tomato brokers, she learnt, would go and resell the tomatoes at Kitale town, 12km away, at higher prices. But when she visited Kitale to study the tomato selling, she found that any small-scale farmer who took his own tomatoes there was being pushed to sell at low prices, with stories of over-supply from the brokers, even during the peak pricing month for tomatoes of January.
So Emma decided to aggressively source for a market selling directly to hotels and supermarkets within Kitale town. She promised to deliver consistently 5 crates of tomatoes to her new clientele. She would buy the five crates of 100kg from her brother-in-law at a price of around Sh1000 per crate.
Each crate she supplied to her clients weighed 100kg; per kilogram she would sell the tomatoes at Sh40. That meant the five crates, or more, she supplied daily would earn her roughly Sh20,000 a day.
She had improved her brother-in-law’s earnings many fold, and found an income of her own too in setting up the market outlets and effecting delivery.
Her boss then sent her money for an air ticket to airlift her safely to Nairobi, to resume her work. Smiling, she narrates how she pumped the money into her now booming tomato business, and politely quit formal employment.
Six months later, she had made her first Sh1million from the tomato business. “Since I was born, it was the first time I touched a million,” she joyfully reminisces. By then, the will to return to Nairobi was waning, but her husband wanted her back.
However, her time in Kitale had taught her the importance to farming of greenhouses, especially in wet seasons when tomato crops get destroyed by rain. With her engineer husband they started developing low-cost greenhouses ideal for small-scale farmers.
Today, three years later, she and her husband have a greenhouse manufacturing company that in a week earns Sh1.6 million for them. They employ twenty six staff, six of whom are Emma former co-workers at the law firm.
“You can start anywhere if you are determined,” says the mother of two.
Her tomato selling venture, she points out, was begun with zero capital. It was, in fact, a business built only on an idea and legwork. But it became the launch pad for what is today a buzzing greenhouse manufacturing company.
Written By James Karuga for African Laughter
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