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Jul 23, 2020

Young, female and an agriculturalist

There are few young people you meet and they inspire you so much. One such person is Carolyne Mukuhi Mwangi. You do not have to take my word on it, take the President's word. She was recently the 2019 Youth in Agriculture Award by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Kiambu County Government also named her a Shujaa on the 2019 Mashujaa Day celebrations and made her an ambassador for agriculture in the county. Carolyne is also one of the incubates who recently joined the AgriBiz programme that is funded by the European Union (EU) in Kenya and being implemented by Kenya Climate Innovation Center.

"It has been a tough journey socially and business-wise," says the soft-spoken and self-proclaimed introvert, Carolyne. She is the Founder and CEO of Kimplanters Seedlings and Nurseries which is also KEPHIS certified. (Kimplanter means seedlings in Danish). 

The human resources specialist started as an administrator in 2011 for an international company and immediately started investing some of the money from her salary in passion farming. She got the idea from a friend who was farming passion fruits in Malaa. She started cultivating the fruits in 2012 on an eighth acre piece of land on the family plot in Kimbo, Ruiru. She asked her mom to look after the 250 passion fruit plants as her job was in another town. At this time she was only 22 years old. A media house covered her passion fruit project and one of the big passion fruit processors called her and wanted to place an order for one ton of passion fruits weekly but she only had capacity for 250kgs. It is at this point in 2013 that she got transferred to Nairobi by her employer. This being close to her parents' home, she started blending passion juice concentrate that she would take to work and sell to a juice vendor near her office.

Soon, people started asking her for seedlings of the passion she was planting but she did not have any. She would refer them to Murang'a where she had bought hers. The seedlings seller in Murang'a was not able to meet the demand from her referrals and she thus saw a business opportunity there. She started grading her passion fruits; The good ones would be for seed. She panted her first seedling in the ground, but the germination rate was low. She therefore went online to research on how to increase the germination rate.

Carolyne stumbled upon seed trays and their use in propagation as well as the use of cocopeat as a planting medium. Planting seedlings in the soil took 1.5 months to be ready while it would only take a month in trays in cocopeat. The germination rate was also higher in trays and there were less chance of diseases. She used to intercrop the passion fruit plants with spinach. Customers started asking for spinach seedlings as well. It happened that there were heavy rains that year (2013) and it destroyed her seedlings. It was at this point that she realized she needed cover for the seedlings in the form of a greenhouse. 

The young agriculturalist constructed a small wooden greenhouse. The demand for seedlings would however make her increase the size of her greenhouse a few months later. As her seedling propagation enterprise kept on expanding, she realized that the profits from her seedlings matched the salary she was getting at her administrator job and she decided to quit to concentrate farming. This was also necessitated by the need to create interpersonal relationships with her customers whom she only talked to on phone. The business continued growing until she started a credit facility for regular customers. This unfortunately turned out terribly as one of those big companies went bankrupt with arrears of Kshs. 280,000 worth of seedlings. This did not discourage her as she went ahead to open another farm in Makuyu in 2019 which is half an acre of seedlings. She plants capsicum, tomatoes, herbs, cauliflower and lettuce seedlings. She has two models of work.

The first model is where the farmer places the seed order, her enterprise buys the certified seed from the seed company, propagates and the farmer collects later when the seedlings are ready. This process takes four to six weeks depending on the type of crop. The advantage of this model is that there is enough time for land preparation. The second model is where the farmer walks in and buys ready seedlings. Her company has over time selected crops that perform well in certain regions and in different climatic conditions. The advantages of this model is that there is timely planting and zero wastage. Farmers are also able to get an assortment of varieties of seedlings. This helps the farmer achieve good market timing.

More about her business

Kimplanters Seedlings and Nurseries also offers a Kitchen Garden Pack that has an assortment of vegetables well selected to meet a family's nutritional needs. They also advice farmers on the best crop management practices to improve production, maintain quality efficiently and generate some income from the yields. This includes plant spacing, crop protection and post-harvest practices. Looking into the future, Carolyne plans to nurture the next generation of farmers starting with her four-year-old son who can tell the difference between different plants and how to water them. She intends to take her mentorship to primary schools.

"It is easier to change the mindset of young people before college age," says Carolyne. "The current state of affairs is that low performers pick agriculture as a subject in schools. We do not have professional people to farm because everyone wants to work in town," she regrets. Carolyne thus wants to show children that they can make money through modern agricultural practices and urban farming techniques. Once the children are passionate about farming, they will naturally want to take care of the environment. "You have to add value to the community," Carolyne says. "Money is not a trigger for me, it has to make an impact."

Edited by Solomon Irungu N.

 

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