I always describe my 500-acre farm as an oasis, because it is located in Yatta plains, one of the driest regions in Ukambani.
Sometime back, the place was dry, like others in the region, but I managed to turn it into a lush garden, where various horticultural crops flourish.
I grow mainly French beans and tomatoes for the European market. I have been exporting the crops since 2002.
Right now, more than 5,000 farmers are worried about the fate of their exports as the European Union has threatened to ban their produce because of higher than recommended pesticide residue.
I share in their plight because the export market is lucrative, but it is very sensitive.
Getting into the export market, however, is not an easy task.
You have to go through several certifications.
I started with EuroGap in 2002. The certification allows access to the European market only.
And in 2011, I earned the Global GAP, which allows me to export to any country of the world.
Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) is the collective word for the processes that embrace farming systems that are globally accepted as most-effective for optimal production.
These practices consider the chemical, environmental, economic and social sustainability of the farm.
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Initially, there were Sanitary Regulatory Instruments of Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Health Organisation (WHO), which only dealt with food contamination from agricultural practices, but GAP provides measures of how the sanitary conditions can be met on the farm during crop production.
GAP is location specific. It’s a tedious process to get the certification, but it is manageable.
Right now I have 12 greenhouses where I farm the French beans and tomatoes. Each greenhouse is 2.5 acres.
From a single greenhouse, I get five tonnes of tomatoes from two harvests a day, while I harvest eight tonnes of French beans. Each kilo of tomato goes for Sh65 (grade one) and Sh60 (grade two) and French beans at Sh130 a kilo.
I have a nursery from where I propagate the tomatoes for 21 days before transferring them to the greenhouses.
In the greenhouses, we have a team of scouts who walk around daily checking whether there is any disease and record other things they observe.
The French beans are normally ready for harvest after 50 days while the tomatoes take two months.
From the farm, the harvest is taken for sorting at a grading house where the products are classified as grade one or two depending on the shape and the length.
No plant that is bruised, scratched or not straight is accepted.
We then put them into creates which have an eight digit code. The first digit being the crop, the second and third the farm where the produce originated, the fourth and fifth the week the crop was planted and the sixth seventh and eighth being the day the plant was harvested.
If you fail to comply with the GAP standards, you would be excluded from export market. One cannot export unless the whole chain of planting, packaging and marketing of the produce has been passed from pre-harvest to post-harvest.
The buyers are strict in ensuring the adherence to these rules because consumers have become conscious of the food they consume.
Some of the guidelines appear petty, for instance, you have to mark and name parts of the farm but they are crucial.
Yatta receives a minimal of 10 to 20 inches of rainfall (250 to 500mm) annually. This means that this rain cannot sustain my farming.
I have found a way of harvesting water. I drilled dams and water pans where I store water when it rains.
This water is then pumped to the farms about 2.8km away. Even with the water, you must not let even a millimetre extra of a mineral component in the irrigation water.
To deal with the chemical requirement in water, I have invested in a digitised irrigation system where the computer controls the molecular components of the water that is periodically let into the greenhouses.
The water must have major minerals such as nitrogen and potassium in the right quantity. This also applies to as chemicals like manganese and copper.
You can 0nly achieve the accuracy needed if you are using a computer.
The farm manager normally programmes the irrigation system to water the plants depending on the temperature, the age, and other stimuli that are detected by the greenhouse sensors.
I have a refrigerated cold house for storing the harvested products as well as a grading site.
GAP has conditions for farm workers too. You have to demonstrate the positive impact of all production practices on the environment and on workers by ensuring fair employment practices and talent development.
I had to train them on first aid, their safety when applying chemicals on the farm, set aside a specific clean place where they would eat as well as pay them as GAP guidelines dictate.
The workers are supposed to cut their nails and always wear protective gear.
They have to wash their hands before getting into greenhouses, and they should not be allowed in the farms when they have flu or any other disease.
And more importantly, the workers must have the right education qualification. Some of my employees have Masters degree.
You must certify all these conditions because they have someone who comes to check. If they find you have a toilet, for instance, with the door facing the farm, they can cancel your licence.
POVERTY AND HUNGER
I scored 10 per cent in my first GAP examination in 1998.
I improved on the areas they pointed out and in 1999, when they came for their second examination, I scored 60 per cent.
Some of the mistakes were as minor as failing to record a single agronomic practice.
I did not lose hope, and finally in 2002, I scored 90 per cent, therefore, earned the certificate to export to Europe where I have been taking my products to Germany and Netherlands.
Through this farm, I have been able to sustain the 2,500 orphans and destitute young mothers under my Mulli Children’s Family home, which is part of the farm.
The children are among the reasons I went for the export market. I wanted to have a project that would not only bring in enough money to support them, but also transform the lives of the people of Yatta, a place that is despised in Ukambani for poverty and hunger.
I did not want to provide the children with basic needs and rely on donations for them to have quality healthcare, education and other needs.
To date, the total capital that has gone into the farm and home is about Sh282 million.
I am happy about it because my 2,500 children and I export food as well as donate to neighbours. I believe in the 65 years I have lived, farming which I started doing in 1970s, alongside my transport business, has helped me achieve my goals.