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Why Limuru farmers love greenhouses

Doris Mwende started farming a year ago after her husband installed a greenhouse on their small compound.

Every space of their 50 by 100 metre plot is well utilised. On one side stands the family house while on the other is a greenhouse.

With no professional background in farming, joining Limuru Greenhouse Association provided Doris with the best platform for her venture.

The association, a brainchild of former Limuru Member of Parliament Mr Peter Mwathi, has helped many like her get the best value from farming.

The members, drawn from Kikuyu and Limuru areas, organise frequent training to keep abreast of matters farming.

During the forums, farmers are taught the latest trends and technologies. They also get to know the market prices for their produce, a move that acts as a measure for stemming losses. To become a member, registration is Sh500.

Information on the best market, best crop varieties, possible crop diseases and whom to contact when there is a disease outbreak is shared freely among the big family of farmers.

For instance they have an agronomist called Sammy Munyiri who offers insight on farming. 

“He has taught me valuable lessons in tomato farming, such as spacing, irrigation and tying them when mature,” she added.

Since they do not meet daily, the group communicates via SMS and their membership currently stands at 110.

Farming independently and not listening to the information that others in the field have has resulted in poor harvests and bad experience for some farmers. The group has helped a great deal in improving farming practices in the area. 

Good returns

Doris has planted tomatoes since November 2012 and they have fetched her good returns.

“The plant is manageable and can be harvested for up to seven months continuously,” said Doris, aged 32, during an interview on her farm in Kikuyu.

The mother of two harvests four crates of tomatoes twice a week. At current market rates, a crate ranges between Sh1,300 and Sh2,500 depending on supply. 

Anthony Mutua, the association’s chairman has six green houses on two farms. Four are on a farm he inherited from his parents while the other two are on another farm he bought with proceeds from the first green houses. 

“The first profits I made from farming enabled me to buy land valued at Sh1.2 million, I quit my job and now I am a full time farmer,” he added.

Since everyone he knew was going into real estate, he opted for agriculture. He takes care of his farm together with his wife Eunice Wambui. Both Anthony and Doris realise huge returns especially during the rainy season. 

“Tomatoes and capsicum do awfully outside the greenhouses making them rare during the rainy season and this translates into very good prices for us,” he said.

Empower youths

The chairman of Limuru Greenhouse Association has been very instrumental in helping and empowering young farmers. 

He said there was no formula in joining the group because they were eager to encourage more people to embrace farming. Food security, he explained, is prime now that everyone is going into real estate.

Anthony’s advice to those who wish to venture into farming is to do research on the type of crops to grow. Once that has been established, soil analysis should be carried out to check if there are any diseases present and the best way to treat them or to know what nutrients to add. 

Costs are also higher since government introduced a levy on greenhouses. In the past a greenhouse would go for Sh150,000, but the current retail price price is Sh192,000. 

Price fluctuations also affect the farmers. “My lowest moment is when I have to sell a kilo of tomatoes at Sh40 instead of Sh60 or Sh70,” said Doris.