Evans Gichuhi in his farm in Nyandarua where he grows wheat and oat. Oat and wheat, according to the farmer, require the same weather conditions to grow and mature. PHOTO | JOHN GITHINJI | NATION MEDIA GROUP
By JOHN GITHINJI & By DAVID MACHARIA
Dressed in a red shirt and a black trouser, Evans Gichuhi walks on his 32-acre farm in Nyandarua hosting a crop that one may mistake for wheat. “This is oat,” he says as he plucks one of the plant’s head. “When it is mature, having turned brown, it resembles wheat,” he adds. The farmer grows the two cereals, together with cabbages and potatoes, among others, each on several acres. Just like wheat, oat is a cereal crop although it is mainly used in dietary menus.
“I plant oat mainly for use as a livestock feed and for seed production. In Nyandarua, milk production is key to the economy, with many farmers engaging in this business. This has made the demand for animal feeds very high giving me good business,” he says, adding that as fodder, it is harvested green before the seeds are fully formed.
Oat and wheat, according to the farmer, require the same weather conditions to grow and mature.
To grow the crop, one ploughs the land to a fine tilth, spreads 25kg of fertiliser per acre over the prepared land and plants seeds.
“The good thing with oat is that it helps the soil to rejuvenate and increases humus. Once harvesting is done, I leave the oat stumps in the ground to increase the air capacity in the soil and transform into humus through decaying,” says Gichuhi, who gets a fortune from the crop, adding rust is the most common disease affecting the crop.
Once he has harvested the oat seeds, the stalks are turned into hay stacks to be sold to milk producers who will be stocking for the coming dry season, where there is scarcity of feeds. Away from oat, the farmer grows cabbages. “When I compare labour and input per acre for the crops I grow, cabbages give me good returns. An acre offers 1,600 pieces compared to 70 bags of potatoes from the same acreage,” says the 36-year-old, noting he sells each cabbage to traders at a minimum of Sh20 and has attended several agricultural training. Gichuhi, who now employs tens of people, says he went into agribusiness after taking Sh30,000 loan from the Youth Fund soon after it was set up by the Narc government in 2003. However, he did not venture into crop farming first. He started by buying and selling goats and sheep before leasing three acres piece to grow potatoes. He abandoned the crop and became a milk delivery agent for an Ol Kalou based dairy cooperative society, a business he later found tedious. He returned to crop farming some years later after seeing the potential in farming wheat and oat. When you meet Gichuhi on the streets of Ol Kalou, his current elevated status does not reveal his struggles.
His family suffered a huge loss during the 1992 tribal clashes in Narok and he had to spend several months in an IDP camp in Kamae where his father used to dig toilets to feed his family. The hard life forced Gichuhi to drop school in Class Six to ease his father’s burden of educating his large family. He then moved to Ol Kalou in 1999 where he was employed as a watchman at a local restaurant for six months and later moved to a better job as a butchery attendant. But today, as he takes you around his vast leased farms in Kidawa village, Rurii ward, where he grows potatoes (24 acres), peas (10 acres), cabbages (20 acres) wheat (32 acres) and oat (32 acres). Dr Daniel Gikara, the Chief Officer Department of Agriculture in the Ministry of Agriculture, Nyandarua County, says large-scale farming is more advantageous as compared to small-scale.
“Disease and pest control are big problems to small-scale farmers since it is harder and expensive to control pests and diseases on a small parcel of land as compared to a large one.”
But when it comes to storage, large-scale farmers suffer as they have to sell their produce on the farm placing them at a disadvantaged point in terms of bargaining power.