Listening to Alice Chuaga speak about her farms worth millions of shillings, one would be forgiven to think that she is an agronomist or a greenhouse technology expert.
But the greenhouse farmer from Nyeri says her passion and use of cheap materials is what has driven her to attain this kind of success.
Ms Chuaga says she opted for improvised greenhouses with lower maintenance costs, that uses water more efficiently and one that can be easily moved to cut on setup costs.
An average greenhouse unit of eight metres by 30 meters costs about Sh200,000. This cost includes laying pipes for drip irrigation. Ms Chuaga says farmers who are unable to afford the steel structures can build their own greenhouses using timber poles at a much lower cost.
“I set aside Sh16,000 to personally construct and install the pipes for drip irrigation for a single greenhouse unit and now I own three,” she says.
“I have two greenhouses on my a quarter plot in Nyeri where I plant tomatoes and capsicums,” Ms Chuaga says, adding that she has already erected the third one in her kitchen garden to grow passion fruits.
“My first Anna F1 tomatoes harvest from the improvised greenhouse in my kitchen garden was quite notable. I harvested 19,000 kilogrammes (kg) of tomatoes which I sold at Sh110 per kg.”
The tomatoes mature after 75 days and after each harvest she says she collects between Sh209,000 to Sh450,000.
Although prices fluctuate because of supply and demand, she says during low seasons she harvests 3,016 kgs of tomatoes with a kilo going for as low as Sh60 but on the higher side a kg would go for Sh110.
“I sell the tomatoes to hotels in town, individuals and some to my neighbours,” she says.
The mother of three also grows capsicums. She says any vegetable can be grown in greenhouses and capsicum has fetched her good profits.
“I got the idea from my friends in Nairobi. The first time, I managed to harvest 20kgs of red and yellow capsicums. Recently, I earned Sh160,000 from selling capsicums to ABC Place and Zuchiri hotel in Nairobi and Mombasa.’’
To cushion her from tough times especially during low production or market glut, she says has also planted sukuma wiki among other vegetables in her backyard and does not lack Sh1,400 from weekly sales.
Besides greenhouse farming, Ms Chuaga also keeps 180 indigenous chicken where a mature cock goes for Sh1,200 and a hen Sh600. The once impoverished farmer, Ms Chuaga is now reaping the fruits of her labour.
She now counts the millions of shillings that she has earned from growing tomatoes, capsicums, kales, broccoli, cauliflower and onions and from sale of chicken and eggs
“ I love to venture into other types of crops as a way of earning additional income ,” she says.
The success of her improvised greenhouses has attracted many people and has gained her slots in international trade fairs.
“I get quite a number of referrals. Hence, I have constructed 12 greenhouse units for other people. They always thank me,” says Ms Chuaga.
Despite the high returns, she doesn’t rest easy and has recently acquired a 115 acres land in Loitoktok where she has planted tomatoes on an open field as she focuses on large scale farming, although she prefers greenhouse farming.
“Greenhouse farming is the best as it prevents crops from human consumption. “It uses little or no chemicals despite people’s mentality that alot of chemicals are used in this form of farming,” she says.
Greenhouse farming has rewards, she says.
“These include higher and more consistent production per acre, which translates into more profits, protection from harsh weather conditions like frost and wind, limited exposure to damaging pests, natural sunlight and ventilation, longer growing seasons, and more economical water usage, especially in dry areas,” says Ms Chuaga.