After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Health from Masinde Muliro University in December 2015, Dennis Kanyugo was buoyant about finally putting his skills to practice. He got placement as an intern at the Nyeri Provincial General Hospital (PGH), as he sought his footing in his dream career. Kanyugo interned here for a year, earning Sh30,000 a month.
Today however, his interest in public health is no more. At 25 years, Kanyugo has a newfound interest: farming. He grows Red Oratia, a variety of the tree tomato, and rears chicken in the family farm in Mathari, just outside Nyeri town.
During a visit to Embu with a friend, he met a farmer who grew the fruits. He was impressed.
“He had 300 trees of grafted red oratia on his small farm, from which he was making almost super-normal profits while also training other farmers on the various techniques of grafting. I was fascinated and inspired,” Kanyugo recalls.
After days of evaluation, he concluded that farming tree tomatoes would be a worthy go, one worth walking away from his career eventually. Though his parents were taken aback by his drastic move, they allowed him to use two acres of their three-acre parcel of land in Nyeri County.
“With the Sh100,000 I had saved, I was ready to kick-start this project – most people disregard the little money they earn from their first jobs, yet little as it is, spent prudently, it is enough.”
At first, he juggled the internship with his farming endeavours with some ease. Soon, however, it became difficult to offer the attention each deserved, and so he quit to concentrate on farming. Like with all startups, the ride sometimes gets bumpy. For instance, when he was starting off, he lost Sh75,000 after he was tricked into buying the wrong seedlings.
“Proper grafting is done when the seedlings attain the height of four inches. Some of the seedlings were as short as two inches, which affected their survival. I had not consulted or done thorough research, as a result, I was duped into buying poorly grafted seedlings. I still have them on the farm as a reminder of the blunder.”
After that costly mistake, Kanyugo was wiser. “I visited the farmer that inspired me to plant this fruit and he taught me the skill of grafting. I then began grafting my own seedlings.”
He explains: “I graft the fruits with a wild plant called Muthakwa, since it is resistant to drought and disease. This also quickens their maturity, cutting the time from 18 to nine months. The grafted trees have a longer span of production of up to 10 years.”
In May 2016, he planted 2,000 trees which have now matured and are due for harvesting later this month.
“The trees produce between 25 to 85kgs of fruits annually. A kilo of tree tomato fruits sells at between Sh80 to Sh140.”
He also keeps poultry – at any given time, he has 1,000 birds.
“Broilers take about six weeks to mature. I have split my birds into three groups, such that when I introduce new chicks, another batch is three-weeks old and the third one ready for sale. I transport 500 birds for sale at the City Market in Nairobi after every three weeks. This spacing ensures a regular supply of income.”
The young farmer has three farmhands, who he is comfortably able to pay with a monthly income of between Sh40,000 – Sh70,000 from his poultry business and from selling grafted tree tomatoes seedlings.
For potential poultry farmers, he advises: “The secret to successful poultry farming is getting the right breed of chicken, having the right feed, establishing a proper feeding schedule and proper housing with adequate ventilation. Broilers are tougher than layers and sleep after feeding. They are the best breed for starters because of their fewer demands.”
With decent success in poultry and a massive fruit harvest in the offing, one may be tempted to imagine that Kanyugo is now content. Except that these accomplishments have only whetted his appetite for more success in agribusiness.
“In two years, I plan to put up a fruit juice and jam processing plant on the farm. Value addition of the fruits will boost my income while creating more jobs,” he says.
He advises against being content with one’s first income and job.
“On landing their first jobs, graduates stop striving for better deals. Instead, they spend their money with reckless abandon and forget to invest. Sometimes the youth have incredible investment ideas, but fear losing their jobs; I have learnt that to make any breakthrough, one must be ready to risk what they hold dear.”