Jeremy Musila was among the employees retrenched by Uchumi Supermarkets in January 2016. However, following the setback he ventured into French beans farming and he has never looked back.

Initially, Mr Musila worked as a cashier at the supermarket’s Capital Centre branch on Mombasa Road from 2014 to January 2016. He landed the job after dropping out from Technical University of Kenya — where he was pursuing a Diploma in Information and Communications Technology — due to lack of school fees.

“Opting out of school was never my wish but it was as a result of financial challenges, However, I no longer regret it as I have found a great opportunity over the years,” says the 27-year-old farmer.

After being retrenched, he tried in vain to get a new job. A friend of his, Eric Kioko, who was also faced with joblessness after leaving Tuskys Supermarket convinced him to get into French beans farming back at Ngoliba along Garissa Road, near Matuu where Mr Kioko’s family has a four-acre land that was not being fully utilised.

“The idea looked good after we both did some online research on the French beans market and possible production per acre. It was more feasible given many farmers in the area were also cultivating the crop. It would be easy doing consultations and learning from them,” says Mr Musila.

He used Sh10,000 from his Sh100,000 savings from the Uchumi job to lease an acre from Mr Kioko’s family. They also acquired another acre.

They then visited Phyma Fresh Produce firm, an agricultural fresh produce exporter located in Embakasi, Nairobi, to seek a production contract.

“To my amazement, the company offered us a one year contract each with good terms to produce and supply them with French beans. They also offered us agronomical support that would enable us choose the right seeds, chemical, fertiliser and irrigation methods,” says Mr Musila.

International markets

He used Sh20,000 to buy a 20kg bag of vanilla seeds variety of French beans, Sh3,000 on ploughing, Sh1,000 on furrowing and Sh7,000 on chemicals. He started planting in February 2016 targeting the mid to end of March market when there is high demand of the produce in both local and international markets. They obtained the market advice from Phyma Fresh Produce agronomists.

“French beans take between 45 and 50 days to mature and once ready the crop can be harvested for three weeks. This means continuous inflow of cash,” says Musila.

The first season saw him harvest 2.5 tonnes. This was, however, below his target of four tonnes that a farmer can realise from an acre of land.

Fortunately, his harvest came at the right time when the crop was fetching between Sh150 and Sh200 a kilo in export market. This saw him rake in about Sh375,000 gross and Sh220,000 net income from his first season.

“I remember there was a neighbouring farmer who harvested three tonnes from just a half an acre piece of plot,” he says.

Through further consultations he has since improved the quantity and quality of his produce from one season to the next. He has also found a way to deal with diseases and pests such as thrips as well as whiteflies, which affect the crop causing rejection of some produce by exporters.

“Of the two pests, thrips are the most dangerous. They attack the crop at flowering stage making the final produce look crooked, which is unacceptable for export,” says the farmer, adding that also failure to water the crop during dry season even for a week can lead to 50 per cent loss.

Today, he has four acres of land in different locations where he cultivates French beans on rotation. He has a two-acre farm at Ngoliba which he leases at Sh10,000 per acre, and another two acres at Kitengela which he leases at Sh100,000 each. Both pieces of land have a potential of producing 3.7 tonnes and 4.5 tonnes of French beans a season, respectively.

At Ngoliba, he uses free water from Athi River tapped through government-built canals. The canals supply homes and farms with fresh water via gravity while in Kitengela he spends about Sh15,000 on water per season during dry seasons.

He hires about 14 temporary workers during the harvest season.

Mr Musila also sells to other five fresh produce exporting companies on order. He has three seasons of production a year earning him about Sh1.04 million gross income and more than Sh500,000 net earnings a season.