Breathtaking acres of rice paddy, lush green fields of tomatoes, green maize and watermelons and innumerable water canals define Patrick Njeru’s farm in Matandara area, a few kilometres from Kimbimbi market in Kirinyaga County.
To begin with, Njeru, 31, reckons that he would today be a village vagabond. He has no formal education, having dropped out of school at class two. But his successful farming exploits have made him a celebrity of sorts in his locality.
Njeru leases four and half acres of land from different people in the village. He currently has an acre of blossoming watermelon that will mature in a month and an acre and a half under tomatoes about to ripen. He also has an acre of one month-old tomatoes and another under maize, which he sells while green.
The area has black cotton soil and the weather is warm, a combination of factors ideal for the crops Njeru cultivates. If the weather favours him, he says, he expects to make about Sh1 million in profit by the end of the year.
But the huge profits he makes are a result of months of toil and a huge capital investment that could all go down the drain if the crops fail.
With no farming land of his own, Njeru leases an acre at Sh16,000 for a year. He has spent Sh300,000 to prepare his crops, money he has raised over the years through hard work.
“Having grown up in biting poverty and pushed by an urge to lead a better life, I did not indulge in money-sapping pleasures like many youths of my age. I rented land and planted rice which gave me 21 sacks,” he says.
With proceeds from the sale of rice, he decided to rent land in an area where he could plant vegetables and fruits as their returns were better than rice. That was four years ago when he ventured into tomato farming, which gave him good proceeds from half an acre. He invested back the profits and increased his acreage to an acre, ploughing in Sh200,000 and reaping Sh500,000. With the profits, he bought a plot of land at Sh150,000 and built a mud house, moved from renting houses and even got married.
The following year he grew even more tomatoes and green maize and was favoured by a good harvest. “I surprised the naysayers by buying a plot of land at Sh300,000 and building a Sh700,000 modern house from the proceeds of my farm,” Njeru says.
But the young farmer says the journey has not always been smooth. He incurred losses in 2013 when he spent Sh100,000 to plant baby corn but made only Sh80,000 due to poor prices.
He also incurred losses of Sh30,000 from tomatoes he had planted in an half an acre land that was attacked by a yellowing disease.
From his experiences, Njeru decided to try his hand on watermelons which he had been told have super returns. Tending an acre of the crop costs at least Sh50,000 per acre, with the bulk of it being on sprays.
“It involves a lot of labour right from preparing the land, applying manure and fertiliser, watering until rains come and spraying twice per week,” he says.
Agricultural officers recommend a spacing of 120X100cm for watermelon growing, which Njeru adheres to strictly. But due to the frequent watering, weeds sprout up fast and he is forced to weed frequently. Watermelons mature in two and half months and Njeru expects to harvest about 15 tonnes from his current crop in two harvests.
His main challenge? Brokers, he says, who offer as low as Sh10 and at most Sh20 per kilo of the melons.
“Imagine how much we lose because a direct buyer can offer Sh50 for a medium sized watermelon but the much a middleman can buy is at half of that price,” he says.
The father of two says he is motivated to work hard to ensure his children get what he missed – good education. His vision is to save and buy more land for farming in five years’ time. Njeru currently employs between four and 10 people on his farms daily, where he too toils just like them.