Whereas many educated people seek for white-collar jobs believing formal employment is a sure avenue for success in life, that was not the case for a banker from Tharaka-Nithi County, who left his job opting to go farm.
Muriithi Musa has one of the most productive farms in Tharaka-Nithi, which yields crops, fruits, livestock and fish in plenty.
When he was still employed at a commercial bank, he started farming during his free time at his 6.5acre farm in Mwonge sub-location. Though due to the nature of his job he handled huge amounts of money daily, he still lacked adequate money to run his own projects.
“One time I approached a financier to loan me to meet my financial needs. I was required to do a valuation of my land so that they could assess if I qualified. I found out that my farm was worth several millions. It dawned on me that I had a high valued land that was not earning me anything. This inspired me to full time farming four years ago,” he says.
His farm is based on a relatively dry area but the presence of irrigation water and his application of modern farming technologies, such as greenhouses have enabled Musa to mint a fortune from a land, which was largely lied unused a few years back.
A visit to his farm floods a visitor’s eyes with the arresting picturesque of healthy orchards of strawberry and grapes, plantations of macadamia, Hass avocado, coffee, and tea.
These agro-aesthetics are enhanced by a medium-sized fish pond, an apiary, pedigree dairy goats, well-fed bulls and a big poultry house where chicken squawk incessantly. “When my passion to practice farming full time seized me, I took early retirement and I have never looked back. I have never regretted leaving a career in banking for agriculture. Farming is fulfilling and enriching,” says the 46-year-old farmer.
Musa prepared six fish ponds and started by stocking tilapia fingerlings in one of them. “I stocked 1,500 fingerlings and they multiplied fast. Fisheries experts advised that I introduce catfish which would prey on the tilapia to control their population,” he says.
The farmer adds that he now has the right population of fish, which attains the desired size that consumers want.
The fish-eating day for the county that was started by the fisheries department in Chuka town helps farmers, among them Musa, to find a ready market for their catch.
During the day, fish prepared in various methods are displayed for people to savor.
“Whenever I harvest fish, I put them in cold storage and take them to the venue. They are sold deep-fried the following day. This eliminates marketing challenges that farmers would encounter,” he says.
Musa also has an apiary with tens of beehives whose honey and beeswax sweetens the earnings of his enterprise.
He landed into bee farming in a rather intriguing and unexpected way.
“I had visited the Industrial Area in Nairobi to purchase a drip system for my greenhouses. A buzz across the road caught my attention and I swung around to see a swarm of bees hovering on the ceiling of a building opposite to where I stood,” he says.
Curiosity led him there only to stumble on a factory involved in honey value addition owned by a white man called Simeon.
“I struck a conversation with Simeon and he introduced me to bee farming. Once you set the beehives, further input is very little. It is only harvesting and benefiting from the sweet honey,” says Musa.
He has 25 Langstroth hives and harvests between seven and 15 kilograms from each beehive.
He explains that the yield quantity depends on how many bees have accumulated inside and the amount of nectar they gather.
Musa says the harvest from one beehive effectively covers its buying price. A kilogram of honey around Sh1,000.
“I sell the honey to neighbors and cakes makers. Cake makers prefer it to that sold in supermarkets, which they complain does not give the desired effects,” says Musa who has bought refining equipment and refines his honey by himself.
The strawberry in his greenhouses is ripe and tantalizing. Musa initially farmed tomatoes but he ditched them due to the high cost of production. He says labour, agrochemicals, and fertilisers cost a pretty penny.
He adds that deep fluctuations in price could have a farmer earn good money in one season only to increase acreage under the crop and incur huge losses the next season.
“The good thing with strawberries and grapes is that their cost of production is relatively lower compared to tomatoes. Their prices are also constant throughout the year hence a farmer can even estimate his income. Prices only rise but do not fall,” he says.
He sells the fruits to farmers in the neighborhood and the local market.
For dairy goat farming, Musa says he did his homework and realized that he should have adequate feed even before bringing in the goats. He has planted calliandra, Lucerne, mulberries and desmodium plants, which have a high content of protein lessening buying of commercial feeds.
He supplements them with Napier grass and yellowing banana leaves. His farm has a symbiotic mechanism where crops provide feed for the livestock, which in turn provides manure.
“In fact, I practise organic farming in that use of animal manure and greenhouses eliminates the need to apply inorganic fertilisers or spray my crops. After harvesting grapes, I cut the vegetative parts and feed them to the goats. The leftovers are eaten by the bulls,” he says.
Longer maturity period
Macadamia, mangoes, and Hass avocado are his long terms crops and they nourish his pockets every season.
He encounters challenges in marketing of goat milk as there is only a single firm that buys the commodity in the county.
Since his farm is near an untarmacked road, dust envelopes his crops and greenhouses and he was forced to buy a car washing machine to wash the greenhouses.
He says agriculture wields enormous job creation potential.
To give back to society, every year Musa holds an educational tour of his farm by form four students in neighbouring schools to encourage them to consider farming later in life as a part-time venture or full time.