Born, raised and schooled in Kenya to college level where I graduated with a diploma in Electronics Engineering in 1998. Gardening has been my hobby all along and has been very interesting, I remember at a very tender age I’d try to dig with a hoe that might have been heavier than I was and this prompted my dad to buy me a small one which was easy to work with. My main areas of interest in gardening were flowers and a kitchen gardening. In 2000 I converted my kitchen garden at home into organic production.
I had no better reason for deserting electronic engineering in 2006 to concentrate in sustainable farming and technologies other than for:
i) Passion : Enjoyed preparing land, planting and tending seedlings to mature into beautiful plants
ii) Food security : fresh, plenty readily available and chemical free vegetables.
iii) Less start up capital: can start with only a plot of land, your labour and a few shillings.
I started very small growing step by step till now where I’ve acquired a lot of knowledge, skills and experience. (Think big, start small - Think globally, act locally).
In year 2003 Sustainable Agriculture Community Development Programme (SACDEP) Kenya started a project in Water, Livestock and Gardening (WLG3) with the local farmers in Githunguri Division and my work at the kitchen garden interested Doris Karambu who was coordinating the project by then. For this reason she requested me to join a local youth group that formed later, which I did and worked to my advantage .
Though SACDEP Kenya in my youth group I had a chance to advanced my knowledge in:
Organic production principles & practices
Organic crop protection
Intensive gardening principles
Rabbit production as a source of white meat for the family
Dairy goats rearing
Natural and fertility management
Marketing and value addition
In 2004 – 2005 at a function in SACDEP Kenya, Thika, FORMAT Kenya recognized my effort in value addition and processing of farm products to dried products and fruit jam, making of yoghurt from milk and also processing and packaging of honey from my beehives. http://bit.ly/cZ1AAz
In January 2005 I introduced yogurt making to my youth group as an economically viable project to be a source of income by value addition and processing of milk that we bought from dairy farmers within our community. The project picked up well but faced challenges within while some crafty farmers sold us contaminated milk. Later on I revived the project overcoming the challenges as I couldn’t let my vision die and it worked well and was profitable.
I also trained further with other organizations and N.G.Os in various fields involved in sustainable farming and technologies, some are:-
• May 2 005: Trained in mushroom production by Vihiga mushroom Project in collaboration with Nairobi Pentecostal Church – Valley Road
• Sept 2005: Trained on project Development and marketing by SACDEP Kenya in collaboration with SACRED Africa in Western Kenya.
• April 2006: Trained on windmill Technology for Rural Wealth by SACDEP Kenya.
In mid 2006 I joined Kenya Organic Agricultural Network (KOAN) as a member, which Networks Organic Stakeholders like farmers, marketers, processors, service firms and organizations. This gave me more exposure and a chance to be involved directly in the organic sector growth in Kenya through participation in workshops, seminars and marketing activities throughout Kenya. Also my participation in World Social Forum in Nairobi in 2007 courtesy of SACDEP Kenya and KOAN was an eye opener for me on opportunities world wide while networking with organic Technology enthusiast like Lucy Ngatia and others from different parts of the world.
Yes ,my growth has been a step at a time "thinking big but starting small" growing each season overcoming many challenges some extra ordinary. In 2006 I didn’t have capital to start big but there was piece of land 34×17m (100×50ft) and my manpower. I started by planting indigenous vegetables: Amaranth (terere); Black Night Shade (mnavu); Spider Plant (saka) whose seeds were cheap and readily available. Didn’t start with much but would buy seeds / seedlings worth a dollar or so.(70/=) at a time and plant. After harvesting I sold these vegetables at Githurai market in the outskirts of Nairobi weekly basis very early in the morning at around 5.00 AM. From the sale of indigenous vegetables I was able to buy ordinary spinach and sweet pepper seed which I planted moving another step in the value of crops planted. Also from the sale of these spinach and green peppers enabled me to buy better seeds of Italian Spinach and hybrid peppers to be sold as colored peppers, advancing further in purchase of hybrid seeds.
This far I had been using water from a deep well at home which I drew manually into 200ltr drums and later carrying it to the farm in 20ltr buckets. By now most of my produce was sold as convectional because the market demand for organic products was minimal. I wasn’t discouraged at all as organic farming was an exciting experience and a passion.
By now I had a trader who collected Italian Spinach and coloured peppers at the farm as convectional but buying at a better premium than the previous crops making it possible for me to construct my first green house in September 2007 measuring 8m× 15m (25×45ft). I used this green house to grow my second crop of coloured peppers and also hybrid tomatoes that would be stalked as high as possible (3m) with long harvesting periods about 6-12 months. On 12th Feb 2007 I registered my project with Kenya government as a business by the name Green Empire Farms. http://on.fb.me/hV4vyu
In January 2008 I got my first organic order for coloured peppers from the Organic Shop(green dreams) at a very good price. I also supplied them with tomatoes, Italian spinach, Chinese cabbages and assorted herbs and spices among other vegetables. As a result of these good sales in June 2008 I installed a drip irrigation system to the whole plot cutting down water volumes and irrigation labour drastically. All along I had been doing basket orders to consumers around the farm and this really encouraged me despite a difficult beginning and a lot of labour and inputs to improve the soil which was badly exhausted due to use of chemical inputs and poor farming practices.
Also I upgraded my rabbits which were previously part of the kitchen garden project by buying hybrid bucks and in 2006 I was selling breeders to farmers around and as far as Muranga and Nyeri. With time I introduced a poultry project starting with free range chicken and later on ducks and turkeys. In 2007 I introduced dairy goats for milk production and in Oct 16th 2007 I was presented with a German Alpine buck which was a big boost to my project. Manure from the livestock pens was of good use at my compost pit although in small quantities. I collected a lot of green matter from live hedges around and roadside giving enough material to make an average of 1 ton compost per pit. I was also doing vermicomposting at the same time at the kitchen garden, although making small volumes of manure.
Good compost is the back bone of organic production and this improved the soil drastically giving me good quality produce that resisted pests and diseases well resulting in good sales in return.
On windmill construction I worked with Samuel Kamau a fellow artisan where we finished on a stalled project as a team of two with a third person assisting at Nyaga primary school, Ngewa in Githunguri in 2007 and in 2008 we worked on a fresh project from start to finish at Miguta secondary school in Githunguri.
This Sustainable Farming and Appropriate Technologies project has been a success story from humble beginning growing slowly and passionately, thus developing much interest within my local community and far away where many youths are now considering self employment in horticulture and value addition. This project has been considered as a demo farm by several Organizations and organic stake holders. In 2006 Joyce Njeri of SACDEP Kenya brought youths from Gatukuyu in Thika to visit my farm as part of their training and a month later she also brought 8 German students on internship to my farm.
In the same year Margaret Ikiara also of SACDEP Kenya brought some youths from Kilifi District of Coast Province to my farm for training. I’ve received so many visitors of all walks of life and ages who have witnessed this success story. In 2008 Green Empire Farms was recognized as the most organized and cleanest organic farm by Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) officials on a visit to the farm.
This positive response and appreciation has been my source of inspiration and motivation numbing away all the pain of victimization and exhaustion of hard work I’ve gone through to get to this point. More so, this projects has made it possible for me to meet some influential people among them Don Doering of Bill and Melida gates foundation in 2007 at SACDEP Thika where we discussed with other participants about viable projects for youths in Africa. I’ve had people who are graduating in varies levels of education in organic and technology sectors liaise with me on their projects like Jennifer Njaramba of Kenyetta university pursuing her PHD in India. At the same time I have been able to offer professional consultation services to individual farmers and Institutions like Mary Hill High School, Organic Health Response for Mfangano Island.
My contribution to food security was noticed and appreciated by Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of UN in conjunction with Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya by presentation of a certificate and a German Alpine Buck on World Food Day / Telefood 2007.
Also Peter Greste of BBC world service on his feature: Kenya Pays The Cost Of Bad Farming Policies: http://bit.ly/aaZYFm
on 16th Oct 2008 which has also been adopted by several other organizations. My work in value addition and processing technology was noticed by an officer working with Ministry of Agriculture in Thika District, Alice who gave me orders to construct solar driers for farmers in October 2007.
This Organic Project has helped me acquire a lot of knowledge in Appropriate Technologies:- solar driers and cookers; biogas digesters; windmill construction(water pumps and power generators), Sustainable Farming Techniques, Intensive Crop Production, Natural Resources Utilization:-solar; wind and hydro, Processing and Value Addition of farm produce, Business and Self Employment Opportunities and Networking. Also my voluntary service to the local community consulting on organic farming and training on two projects, namely:-
• Growing, value addition and marketing of bananas (2006 – 2008)
• Indigenous vegetables for rural wealth and health (2009 – To date)
This voluntary work gave me a chance of learning through their challenges, whereby I would try as much as possible to come up with solutions through research and networking with other experts in the related fields or professions.
Green Empire Farms gives 10% of its production to the less privileged in the society mainly the orphaned and elderly and we are working on a direct way of involvement with orphanages other than giving through second parties who at times take advantage. At times when production is more than the market demands, all the extra is given out ensuring nothing goes to waste or recycled to the composting site as long as it’s of good quality.
In early 2009 around March, I was forced to stop production on the family plot due to an unprecedented land dispute within my nuclear family where most of the time I was being summoned to the police station, sub-chief's chief's and D.O.'s office due to immense corruption within the local Administration and police who were bribed to intimidate and threaten me by false allegations. There was also direct confrontation between me and my siblings who had bee turned against me by their mother, so abandoning the project seemed the only option by then to avoid a violent situation which would have severe consequences.
For the reason that I’ve never been part of corruption, I wasn’t willing to contribute to corruption by also bribing my way through the chief, police, D.O. and the courts. It was so painful to see years of hard work go down the drain but for the sake of a bright future, I had to make this tough decision of relocating and starting fresh to prevent a violent ending to the situation. More so I need a peaceful environment where I’ll be far much more creative and productive.
Currently I’m trying hard to save some money while searching for financing to acquire a new and bigger piece of land for Sustainable Farming and Appropriate technologies projects, it will also double up as a training and demonstration site.
I'm also in the process of starting a resource center as I continue providing services to the organic sector.