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    By George Munene

    George Muturi, a 26-year-old farmer has cut a lucrative niche for himself in offering innovative organic farming solutions through the rearing of redworms, black soldier flies and growing azolla. Ventures which net him about Sh50,000 a month.

    Lacking school fees after completing his secondary education, Muturi began rearing poultry and rabbits in 2013, he however changed tack in 2015. “Through internet research I found the rearing of redworms to be a novel and more promising business opportunity. ICIPE (International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology) was encouraging farmers to take on the venture by offering free worms, from them I got my first batch, starting out with an aim to propagate the earthworms as a source of chicken feed,” Muturi says.

    However, due to their low production rates he opted to use them for vermiculture –production of an affordable organic fertiliser called vermicompost (a product of the decomposing vegetable or animal waste using species of worms) that he sells to other farmers for crop production. From making just 100-150 kilograms of vermicompost six years ago the resident of Lari, Kiambu County, now produces two tonnes of vermicompost monthly for his standing clients. He sells a kilogram for Sh50.

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    The worms feed on animal manure (he opts for the more available cow dung) as well as dry and wet leaves. For his production of two tonnes, he uses 200-300kg of earthworms and 2.5 tonnes of raw material. Whilst he is able to source vegetative material from his home he has to buy cow dung from neighbouring farms. This he says, runs his total cost of production to Sh25/Kg. He rears his worms in a simple shed made out of offcuts and nylon paper. The basic parameters to observe in setting up a vermicompost unit are ensuring it is shaded from direct sunlight; ensuring temperatures within the unit do not exceed 35°C or go below 15°C. The moisture content level also needs to hover at around 40%. The worms can be fed at one go or intermittently—about once every week and the fertiliser is ready for harvest after 45 days.

    Muturi’s newest project is the farming of azolla, a water fern that is rich in proteins and serves as a supplement to feed for chickens, ducks, pigs, fish, cattle, sheep, goats and rabbits. Azzola has been in vogue amongst poultry farmers in the know for its high rate of growth in water without displacing existing crops and its ability to proliferate without inorganic nitrogen fertilisation. “Again, through online research, I got to read up on the benefits of azolla as a supplement to traditional chicken feed, I got the seeds from one of the pioneering farmers in its growth in Nairobi, explains George. Muturi propagates his azolla in a foot deep 1.5M*7.5M artificial pond. The azolla is ready for harvest after just three weeks. Every three days one collects up to 10-15 kilograms. One kilogram of azolla is fit to provide sufficient dietary protein for up to 50 chickens. Most of his azolla is consumed by his chicken, though he sells 10-20 kilograms of it at Sh1000 per kilogram every month to other farmers.

    Related News: How to set a simple vermiculture system for your kitchen garden

    He also rears black soldier flies in a setup that farms 100 kilograms every two weeks—most of which he feeds to his chicken and pigs. He sells 15 kg of BSF larvae at Sh2000 per kg every month to starter farmers.

    George Muturi: 0717411668

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    WhatsApp Image 2020 10 22 at 10.30.29

    By George Munene
    At NjabinI, Kinangop Samuel Mbugua has built a seven-acre flower farm that rakes in Sh5M per season.
    “Having spent most of my adult life working in the flower sector; I have been a supervisor at flower farms for five years. I mastered all things flowers—from their growing to the market dynamics and in 2014 I gathered the courage to strike it out on my own,” says Mbugua.
    The 34-year-old majors in the farming of craspedias with 3 acres of his farm under the summer flower. On another four acres, he grows alliums and purpurea on two acres each. On a smaller half an acre he is currently farming scabiosas on a trial basis.
    Whilst the big flower farms major on roses, smallholder flower farmers are making their fortune in summer flowers used to adorn and blend bouquets.
    Entry hurdles
    Starting out he says, the biggest challenge most farmers face is land—“the flower export sector demands high quality and quantities.” You’ll need a minimum of two acres to qualify as a small scale export grower. The other challenge is the cost of seedlings and the availability of unadulterated seeds. Most seeds are manipulated due to crosspollination.

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    For his first crop, he bought seedlings from a neighbour also engaged in the trade. An uprooted craspedia can give 20-50 rooted splits. This makes their propagation easier.
    Cultivation cost
    For an acre, you will need 30,000-40,000 seedlings, and each seedling costs three shillings. Machine tilling and ploughing costs for an acre of virgin land average at Sh15,000. He spends Sh7,000 on hiring casual labourers to prepare the flower beds and Sh3,000 on planting. He uses four 50kg bags of organic fertilisers at planting and two bags of NPK fertiliser at top dressing done at five months during their vegetative phase and the crops’ first harvest. If you have adequate manure you do not need to use fetrtiliser at the planting phase.
    Craspedia require little water and is capable of going to up to a month without watering. Though watering is crucial at the planting stage when they are their most vulnerable. Given the usually favorable Kinangop climate, Samuel mostly relies on rainwater, but has sunk a well and has access to piped water if need be.
    “Pests affecting flowers are largely limited to cutworms and aphids sprayed on a scouting basis with Duduthrin and Thunder respectively,” Mbugua explains. Weeding is done on a monthly basis.
    Craspedias take 90 days to mature and are continually harvestable for up to a year with proper feeding. One plant gives about 100 stems every year. “Harvests are done once every week, but if well-tended to you can have two harvests in a week,” says Mbugua.

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    An acre can give up to 500,000 flower stems.
    Mbugua exports his flowers mainly through Wilmar Flowers Limited. The prices vary depending on season peaking over the January to February window at five to 15 shillings per stem and falling to Sh3 per stem during off-peak months of August to September.
    Mbugua is working to increase his acreage and on getting an export license— this he says will enable him to sell his flowers at no less than Sh5 a stem throughout the year.

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    cactus img

    By George Munene

    Laikipia Permaculture Center (LPC) a community-based Trust has created employment for over 700 women in the county of Laikipia by engaging them in value addition of cacti and aloe vera by-products.

    Founded in 2014 as a partnership of four women groups from Laikipia, the center has helped women harness the economic benefits of this untapped venture through value addition and linking them to export markets.

    “At its founding, the trust sought to figure out ways of easing pressure caused by overgrazing in most of the country’s arid and semi-arid regions and also give the women in the area economic independence,” explains Joseph Lentunyoi, one of the group's founders.

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    LPC propagates aloe secundiflora variety seedlings, an aloe species indigenous to the region and sells them to the women at a cost of Sh80 each.

    “LPC has really aimed at fully utilizing cacti and aloe plants in this region. For instance, the cacti fruit is used to make wine. Through us, the women also export fresh Aloe leaves to the United Kingdom at $10 per kilo of leaves.

    Aloe value addition is done by sun-drying and grinding the leaves to make powder sold for Sh1000 per kilo, the gel inside is extracted to make aloe juice packaged in 500ml Sh400 bottles whilst the plant’s sap is also used as an ingredient in the making of cosmetic products such as soap sold locally at Sh100 per100 grams, cream and shampoos at Sh200 per 100 grams and aloe tea sold at Sh500 per 500 grams.

    Aloes are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora; the trust has partnered with KWS to acquire permits to grow and sell seedlings as well as export aloe leaves and their byproducts.

    The cactus is an invasive shrub that has been a thorn in the side of herders with their sweet spiky fruits causing the death of many of their livestock as well as reducing the quality and size of grazing land available. The women groups are however harnessing its nutritional value (low saturated fats, high vitamin A and C content, high magnesium and calcium and iron content making it an antioxidant that helps prevent cancer and other lifestyle diseases) of cacti fruits in the making of jams, juices, wine, yoghurt, honey and oils.

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    Cactus fruits are plucked and their spikes scrapped off, they are stored and sold to LPC at Sh500 a crate. At an agro-processing plant at Jua Kali, Laikipia, the fruits are blended and separated from their seeds. For winemaking, one liter of cactus pulp is diluted into three liters of water and pastoralized to 75 degrees, cooled to 45 degrees before adding wine yeast and fermented for 14 days. The wine is again pastoralized to before being packaged as a final product.

    With the success of Laikipia Permaculture Center. the trust aims to expand the scope of its partner to women in neighboring Isiolo and Samburu counties.   

    “Aside from value addition of the crops, we also get the women engaged in rearing kienyeji chicken and rabbits, bread making and in the construction of modern natural cob houses from sand, straw and clay,” adds Joseph

    Laikipia Permaculture Centre: 0727 845 123/0702 095 644/0726 787 085/0736053985

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