Some 20km away from the Nairobi city centre, a farm in Ruai has been drawing visitors in big numbers. In 2011, Sanla Farm caught the attention of the United Nations.
During the celebrations of the World Food Day, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) recognised it with an award as the Best Farm among small-scale farms in Nairobi area.
While it would have been easy to ignore it in the din of the city life, it stands out. One, it is tiny. It is a half-acre plot that would be negligible in the era of mechanised agriculture and plantation farming. However, it has an edge in technology, an interview with the ownership reveals.
Sanla Farm, however, showcases what fortunes a small piece of land can yield. It has been recognised for careful use, modern techniques, and as a portrait of food security.
The farm houses 20 dairy cows which produce more than 500 litres of milk daily, three 50 x 100 feet greenhouses where tomatoes, cabbages and green pepper sparkle, a fish pond, a homestead, bore-hole and a biogas unit.
Nancy Karanja, the proprietor, says the farm rakes in an estimated Sh750,000 per month.
â€œI have been rated farmer of the year for the last three years by Njiri District Agricultural Office for organising my land efficiently to accommodate so many activities,â€ she says.
On entering the farm, one is immediately struck by how well-organised. Everything seems to be just where it should be in the small space. A safely secured cowshed with pedigree animals welcomes you into the farm. Each cow could be seen eating Napier grass comfortably in their rooms.
Next to the cowshed is a pen with five well-fed calves. Opposite the animals is a feed store filled with hay, silage and Napier grass. Near the cowshed is a newly-constructed biogas plant and a crop section.
The three greenhouses occupy a quarter of the land. But this is not all since a few metres away, fighting possible distraction by beauty and planning, one encounters lines of young strawberries and watermelons under drip irrigation.
The 5m x 6m fish pond is in one corner near the borehole and holds more than 300 tilapia fish.
The more one tours the tiny farm, the more curious they become to know about the owner and how the idea came to be. Mrs Karanja, a former accountant, says this kind of business was her childhood dream. She says farming is her passion.
When her husband David Karanja bought the land in 2008, she promptly started farming.
â€œI said to myself that this land would not be just a homestead as he had intended, but also a source of living,â€ the mother of three says while attending to customers.
â€œI started off with one cow, a Friesian that my mother gave me in 2008. It used to produce about 10 litres of milk. Today I have 20 Friesian cows that guarantee sound cash daily.â€ The farmer owes the success to â€œconstant support from my husbandâ€ who has been instrumental to the progress.
Mrs Karanja used to earn Sh20,000 monthly and is now content being at home, â€œunlike being in that hectic traffic to town every morning.â€
She has employed five people, who she says, have made the work lighter.
Having started the business with one grade cow, Mrs Karanja felt â€œan irresistible urgeâ€ to buy more and increased milk production from 10 litres daily to 500 litres today from 20 cows. Sanla sells a litre of milk at Sh50.
When she was laying the foundation of the business, Mrs Karanja tried her hand at greenhouse farming starting with a 50ft by 100ft structure at Sh75,000; she planted tomatoes. Now she has three in which she plants tomatoes, green pepper (pilipili hoho) and vegetables (sukuma wiki) and cabbages.
â€œI used to sell 10 crates of tomatoes per week at Sh800 each. Now I sell different varieties of vegetables including tomatoes, onions, carrots, cauliflower and green beans,â€ she says. Vegetables alone, she adds, earn her an average of Sh50,000 per month.
When she ventured into fish farming, she started with 70 fingerlings but now has more than 300 tilapia fish.
â€œFish reproduction is rapid depending on feeding. There is also high demand for fish. In fact, Iâ€™m planning to double the number in the next one year.â€ To cut down on the costs of production, she collects cow dung which she uses as fertiliser.
She also makes silage by mixing Napier grass, molasses and waste food products. Napier grass is shredded into half-inch long pieces, which are packed in polythene bags to ferment. This takes a week to be ready for use.
Patience, persistence and consistency are some of the pillars that Mrs Karanja says gave her the shine. Some of the challenges are hiring the right staff and getting feeds for the cows. She sums up: â€œLife is a struggle. but never give up.â€