Peter Kimani Gitau is reaping the benefits of a government internship programme to Israel in 2016 that equipped him with cutting-edge skills in crop production.
Today, the 25-year-old farmer from Kiambu County has ventured into growing short-term crops — spinach, cabbages and carrots among others — that earn him Sh760,000 a season.
In early 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed an agreement dubbed “The Jerusalem Declaration” or the “Declaration on Collaboration in Water and Irrigation” that would see fresh graduates from institutions of higher learning attend an 11-month practical training course in Israel.
Mr Kimani was among the 101 students who benefited from the trip to the Arava International Center for Agriculture Training (AICAT) in Sapir, Israel.
“After applying for the free-to-undertake programme, I was pleased to get an invitation for an interview by AICAT Kenya. I performed well and got selected,” said Mr Kimani who holds a degree in land resources planning and management from Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology (JKUAT), 2016.
They were then awarded air tickets in form of loans which they would later repay during or after the internship which involved hands-on training. They were required to take part in on-farm production activities during the training.
“We would go to classes only on Mondays and the rest of the days we would spend time in the fields with experts who trained us on general crop production process from planting to harvesting. We were paid 30 shekels (about Sh900) per hour and we were working for 10 hours a day,” he said.
After the training, Mr Kimani was able to repay his flight loans from his savings, part of which he used to start his farming enterprise in Kenya.
“In addition to a certificate in Advanced Agricultural Technology from AICAT, I had also saved Sh500,000 by June 2017 when I came back to Kenya.”
He teamed up with a friend who owned about a two-acre plot in Thika and together they set up two greenhouses and one net house and started growing tomatoes and cucumbers by August the same year.
“We spent a total of Sh700,000 putting up the greenhouses and hiring two workers to manage day-to-day activities of the farm,” the farmer said.
They planted 1,400 Tylka F1 tomato variety plants and 1,000 Super Marketer cucumber variety in Thika. After three months they would start harvesting the crops.
Mr Kimani said one tomato plant produced crop worth Sh1,500, a cucumber plant yielded between 14kg and 17kg per plant. They sold a kilo of cucumber at between Sh45 and Sh60 in Nairobi’s City Park Market. They also sold to traders from Thika.
In their first season, the duo earned a good income, which motivated them to put more acres under production from season to season. They started leasing land in Keno, Sagana and Thika.
“We have increased our production and currently at our fourth season we have ventured into vegetables such as kales and cabbages,” said Mr Kimani.
Their farms are already attracting visitors and learners for benchmarking, and they charge Sh500 per head and Sh5,000 per group.
Mr Kimani is also a horticulture consultant to various agricultural firms and individuals. His services are charged depending on the amount of investment one has put into the business with the minimum amount being Sh180,000 per season for firms.
His future inspiration is to venture into value addition of tomatoes to curb the problem of rampant wastage that many farmers in the country always face during the crop glut in the market. “This is an idea which I have well thought of but lack of enough funds and facilities is still keeping me away from implementing it,” said Mr Kimani.