Jecinta Ngina’s french bean farm is about 300m from River Chania. It equals 15-acres and has 17 workers, Jecinta among them.
The 34-year-old has been doing beans farming in Kenya for the last three years after she quit her job in banking. It’s the best decision she has ever taken, she says.
“Having worked in bank for two years, I felt poor even though I had a salary,” she says. “Banks pay earlier than most other employers but by 10th of every month, I would have exhausted all my money and wait for the next pay day. I borrowed from friends to tide me over.” Jecinta realised that only people in business did not have to wait until month-end to have money as he could see them banking regularly.
The mother of two says she had also learned through her work that farmers were doing well. Armed with hope, she resigned from her job.
She then approached her cousin and asked him to help her lease land in Mwea.
“But my cousin, Raphael Wangunyu, who had been farming for a long time advised me to look for land in Ngoliba, as the soils in Mwea had been exhausted due to years of farming.”
He helped Jecinta lease two acres in Ngoliba at Sh5,000 an acre for one year. Today, leasing has doubled to Sh10,000.
Her first investment was about Sh400,000, part of which came from her husband and the rest was a loan from the Youth Fund.
Beans farming in Kenya
“I planted French beans on two acres after doing research about the viability of the crop. When it matured in 45 days, I realised I had made a mistake because I had no market.” Jecinta called several people and companies to buy her produce.
“I was desperate. I have never been so desperate in my life because I was just seeing my investment going to waste. Luckily, my sister knew someone working with a company that was exporting French beans. She connected me to him.”
She sold produce worth Sh240,000 from her first crop. This encouraged her to soldier on. It took her about a year to break-even.
Today, she has leased 15 acres, where she plants tomatoes, French beans and baby corn.
Beans farming in Kenya for export
The French beans and baby corn are mainly for export while she sells the tomatoes in the local market.
“I make about Sh40,000 from an acre of tomatoes monthly, which goes to running the entire farm,” she says. “I get an average of Sh150,000 from an acre of French beans a month, which is my profit.”
A kilo of French beans fetches between Sh50 and Sh180 depending on supply and demand. She harvests an average of 2,000kg a month while a crate of tomatoes goes for between Sh1,000 and Sh2,000.
She sells the tomatoes to traders who come to her farm and pay in cash.
She plants baby corn on about three acres and also sells it to an exporting company at Sh25 a kilo. From exports through one company, she now has tens of clients and ensures she sources for market from them before planting.
At any given time, she has a young French beans crop, another awaiting maturity and a mature one ready for picking.
How to get beans farming in Kenya right
“Farming needs some knowledge and passion. I do not have a background in agriculture but I had the passion to learn and farm.”
She has attended several trainings organised by horticultural and chemical companies in Thika. Through the meetings, she has networked and roped in clients.
Jecinta has divided her farm into blocks of an acre each. She plants French beans for two seasons, then rotates with tomatoes or baby corn.
The exporting companies give her a list of chemicals she is allowed to use and those that are prohibited. The chemicals keep changing. She is also instructed on the pre-harvest intervals after spraying.
She grades the produce at a shed in her farm, to ensure only quality ones are delivered.
Problems facing beans farming in Kenya
But it is not all rosy. The erratic weather poses a problem. When it is dry, she uses drip irrigation and pumps water from the nearby Chania river.
“When the rains are heavy, my crop is destroyed. Sometimes clients fail to honour their promise to buy produce even after they agreed before the planting season.”
Her plan is to export her produce directly, but she says there are too many licences and getting them is rigorous and costly.
Jecinta’s work as a farmer has brought her fame and fortune. Last week, she won an award in a competition organised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Elgon Kenya for being the top young farmer in Murang’a County.
The award was for her unique contribution in horticultural farming. She received a trophy and a farm inputs voucher worth Sh20,000.
“The future of young people is in agribusiness as people will always need food,” reckons the 2007 Kenyatta University Bachelor of Commerce graduate.
She visits the farm at least twice a week because she has a full-time manager who runs it.
“Don’t wait until you retire to be self-employed. Do it when you are still young and energetic,” she advises.
She plans to buy her own land and install the latest irrigation technology in five years.
Lillian Jeptanui, a horticultural expert at Egerton University, says French beans ought to be weeded before flowering because if they are disturbed during this time, the flower aborts, reducing yields.
She recommends crop rotation between legumes and maize or baby corn because the two crops do not share diseases. “Legumes also fix nitrogen which is used by corn.”
The expert further advises that farmers who deal with export crops, whose earnings may take time to come, should have a crop that brings in regular income to enhances cash flow.