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Office worker turns half-acre city home into profitable farm

Pauline Mwangi shows of part of her farm during the interview.

Pauline Mwangi shows of part of her farm during the interview.

At first glance it is easy for anyone to confuse her with a simple market lady.

It is Saturday morning and Pauline Mwangi is completely dressed down from her usual formal attire during the week and ready to work on her half-acre farm.

First she checks on the quails, her most recent venture on the farm, to see if they have enough food and changes their drinking water.

Her next stop is the kienyeji (indigenous) chicken, which she rears in a nearby poultry house after ensuring that they are in perfect health, she goes on to walk around the rest of her farm. She has 100 chicken at the moment.

One can be excused to assume that she is in her rural county and not her home in Nairobi.

Ms Mwangi represents a new breed of city women, those who can have an eight-to-five job and still manage to indulge in their farming passion.

“When my children were born, I wanted them to have a healthy lifestyle. At that time there were all these fears about the origin of most of the food that it was being grown around sewers in Nairobi so I planted some bananas outside my house,” she said.

Growing interest

Before long she began planting just enough kales, coriander and parsley for her family to consume in a bid to reduce the trips she would make to the market in Githurai and some tokens for those who called at her home.

“Whenever my friends and family would come visit they would always want to buy some fresh vegetables for their homes and that was when I decided to scale up my farming into agribusiness,” she said.

Today, she grows tomatoes, strawberries, cabbages, kales, pepper, capsicum, spinach, cucumbers, bananas and some maize for sale to her neighbours, other customers as well as the nearby hotels.

Up scaling her passion was not an easy affair, her husband had to finance part of the capital intensive investments which she supplemented with her savings.

She would deliver three crates of tomatoes to the hotels thrice a week at between Sh1,000 and Sh1,500 per crate while she sold a kilo of capsicum for between Sh120 and Sh150 depending on the market price.

The urban farmer has 600 quails which she purchased mid last year because of the growing interest many people expressed in the bird’s meat. She has even bought an incubator so that she can hatch the quail eggs and continue with a fresh lot even as she sold the older ones.

“Right now my farm is all inclusive,” she said. “Previously I would have to hire a lorry and go all the way to Maasailand to look for manure but now I just use the droppings from the poultry houses.”

Before she turned to the kienyeji chicken, Ms Mwangi tried her hand in rearing broilers. Although they matured faster they did not sell as much as she hoped because many of her clients preferred the local breed.

“Quails are like chicken, they even pick on each other so we separate the bullied from the rest of the lot. I first went home and brought some of the local chicken breed to rear but many of the chicks would die and soon I was forced to go back to the village and get a fresh lot,” she said.

She has two greenhouses one in which she has just finished harvesting the third crop of tomatoes and the other in which she is about to get her first capsicum harvest.

Each of the greenhouses is eight by 30 metres in size and cost about Sh250,000 to set up. On average she harvests between 200 and 250 kilogrammes of tomatoes per week and between 100 and 150 kilogrammes of capsicum weekly.

“This was the third time we were harvesting and the tomatoes were very small in size. Rather than have a crop that diminishes in size, I have chosen to uproot them and plant more capsicum,” she explained.

Since it is her first time to plant capsicum Ms Mwangi decided not to restrict herself in terms of looking for market for her crop advertising even on social media and agriculture oriented websites like Mkulima Young.

Daily duties

She has drilled a borehole in one corner and connected the whole farm to a drip irrigation system which makes it easier to water the crops in the mornings and evenings.

As she works as a marketer, Ms Mwangi has timed her deliveries to ensure that she makes them early enough before going to work or after 5pm when she has left the office.

The farmer has hired two people to help in the management of her farm — one dedicated to the poultry and the other whose work is to attend to the crops on the farm.

Getting the right farm help has, however, not been easy she admits as some of the people she hired in the past would not implement the daily duties that she had set out for them, especially after she left for work.

“I would get back home and find that no weeding or spraying had been done and at other times I would get workers who were not as enthusiastic as I am in farming and would have to let them go,” she said.

“But I have come to realise that the quality of work that they do is directly linked to the benefit they see deriving from their work. I, therefore, try to show them that the having good produce is mutually beneficial to us all.”

Even though she gets to deliver produce to hotels daily, her most valued customers are the neighbours who knock on her door on Saturdays to buy fresh produce each spending an average of Sh1,000 who encouraged her to go into agribusiness.

Her advice to working women who want to try their hand in urban farming is to look for more than one alternative, especially in buying greenhouses in order to get a more genuine company.

“The first crop of your greenhouse may not give you back your investment but the returns are definitely there in farming,” says Ms Mwangi. “It is an art that you keep on learning everyday you drop the crops that you find are hard to move and plant more of those that the market wants.”

-Business Daily

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