My name is Susan Chesyna. I became a farmer 10 years ago after I relocated from Baringo to Nakuru County and settled at Kiamunyi, in Rongai.
When I arrived in the county, where I had earlier bought land, I could not stop marvelling at its beauty. The land was fertile and the crops were growing well unlike in Baringo, where erratic rains and drought were regular.
I began with planting maize on about five acres of my 10-acre farm.
Seven months later, I harvested 30 bags. I was happy then, but I later realised I had incurred a huge loss.
After deducting cost of seeds, labour and fertiliser, I realised I had made about Sh80,000, yet I had spent over Sh100,000.
I did not despair. In fact, I thank the loss because it opened my eyes. It made me realise that I should not depend on maize alone.
So the next year, I decided to diversify into tomato farming. I took a Sh100,000 loan from a bank in Nakuru, built a greenhouse and prepared it for growing tomatoes.
Construction of the greenhouse took 80 per cent of the loan, but it was not much compared to seeking the services from a company.
I built the greenhouse myself using ordinary poles and some polythene materials I bought from a shop in Nakuru.
I was working under the direction of an agricultural officer.
Many farmers believe they must go for the commercial greenhouse, which costs upwards of Sh300,000. You can build your own as long as you get the design right and the materials. My greenhouse measures 12 by 24 metres. I first planted tomatoes.
Tomatoes do well in greenhouses because you control the temperature, protect them from pests like butterflies and when you apply pesticides, they are effective.
I harvested the tomatoes after three months and took them to several supermarkets in Nakuru town, about 10km away.
I could not believe it when later the cheques I collected from the supermarket added up to Sh450,000.
I was selling 2kg of the tomatoes at Sh200. I had harvested over 2,000kg. I remember clearly when I went for my cheques after the supermarkets that include Ukwala and Gilanis in Nakuru called me. I was shocked.
As a teacher, I was earning Sh15,000 per month, which translated to Sh45,000 in three months. But here I was getting 10 times that amount in three months. I was encouraged by the money and decided to build more greenhouses where I planted capsicum, carrots, onions and cucumber.
My produce increased and so were my clients and earnings. From the sale of my produce, I am now earning between Sh10,000 and Sh15,000 each day. I have also ventured into dairy farming, where I have 10 cows, which produce 200 litres of milk.
I normally ferment part of the milk and make mursik, the popular Kalenjin traditional drink, which I sell at between Sh60 and Sh65. This earns me between Sh4,800 and Sh5,200 per day.
Not a smooth ride
Farming, however, is not a smooth ride. During the rainy season, the supply of fresh vegetables surges, which leads to low prices.
Another big challenge in Rongai is lack of adequate water. This has forced me to construct an underground water tank with a capacity of 400,000 litres to irrigate the crops. This tank cost me Sh800,000.
Before I constructed the tank, I was spending up to Sh5,000 on water in a day, which I would buy from vendors.
One of the things I have learned from farming is that certified seeds are key to better harvest.
When you plant seeds that are not certified, you are likely to end up with losses since they are prone to pests and diseases.
My advice to anyone who wants to go into tomato or vegetable farming is to use greenhouses.
With greenhouses, you are assured of a good harvest as long as you use quality seeds and protect your crops from diseases.
To cushion myself against a low season, I keep birds. I have 3,000 Kari Kienyeji chicken, which upon maturity, I sell to supermarkets at between Sh700 and Sh1,000. I have a plan to extend to flower farming as the area is favourable for the venture.