Henry Bett and Daniel Lang’at run a fruit tree nursery seedlings outfit named Danhen in Konoin, Bomet County, which they started in 2014.
They grow purple passion fruit, avocado, mango, and tree tomato seedlings. They spoke to Nation about the venture.
Many farmers grow passion fruits in this region. Is that what informed your business?
Langat and Bett: Partly yes, because passion fruits do well in both North Rift and here in South Rift. Initially, South Rift farmers were sourcing seedlings from North Rift.
But before we started the business, we had received a three -month training on youth agribusiness by Technoserve, an NGO.
We raised Sh40,000 capital, which we used to construct 15-metre-long and six-metre-wide nursery. We then worked with extension officers from the county government, who showed us how to graft passion fruit seedlings.
We sourced the plants for grafting from the Kenya Agricultural Research Organisation (Kalro), Thika.
The business seems to have taken off?
Bett: Right now we are not doing badly. When we were starting out, we grafted 16,000 seedlings, but only10,000 survived, which we sold each to farmers at Sh40 after eight months in the nursery.
We ploughed back most of the cash to raise 32,000 seedlings. We currently graft an average of 35,000 seedlings in a season but sell at least 1,500 every month to farmers from Bomet, Kericho and Narok counties.
How do you market your produce?
Langat: We use social media a lot, especially Facebook and WhatsApp and pitch for business during various public functions, besides working closely with the Bomet county government’s department of agriculture, which also helps us market the produce.
Is your nursery certified?
Langat and Bett: Yes, certification is part of good farming practices when it comes to seedlings business. The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis) and the Horticultural Crops Directorate (HCD) are the two institutions that certify seedlings. They also carry out regular inspections.
Our latest phytosanitary inspection certificate from Kephis was issued the other day after the nursery was found “to be virtually free from injurious pests and diseases at the time of inspection”.
Besides passion fruits, we now produce avocado, mango, banana and tree tomato seedlings in accordance with the provisions of the Plant Protection Act; Cap 324 laws of Kenya.
What has this business taught you about youth employment?
In my case, I failed to secure a job after training in civil engineering at the Rift Valley Institute of Science and Technology. But what I have learnt is that you can become your own boss through agribusiness.
We employ at least two people on the farm and through a loan, which we have since repaid, we managed to buy a Toyota Probox at Sh700,000 that we now use to deliver seedlings to farmers and other farm business.
What challenges do you face in the business?
Bett: We had a problem with irregular supply of water, but we have since bought a 10,000-litre water tank that enables us to harvest rain water that we collect from the roof of the nursery.
For pests, aphids are troublesome as they suck the sap from the plant and when it comes to diseases, we watch out against woodiness disease, which makes fruits turn dark green and shrink.
Recommended spacing for passion fruits is three metres between the plants and two metres within rows.
They mature six months after planting with an acre hosting 700 plants. With best agronomic practices, they can be harvested weekly for three years, with one getting seven tonnes per acre annually. A kilo goes for between Sh60 and Sh90 a and some farmers export.
How does one cope with pests and diseases that affect the crop?
Bernard Mutai, agronomist at Kenya Red Cross Society South Rift branch: Aphids and woodiness disease can be controlled through crop rotation and maintaining high standards of hygiene.
Brown spot disease, which causes brownish rings and dead spots on the plants’ stems, leaves and fruits is controlled through pruning of the affected areas and burning of all infected material.
Uprooting and burning of plants should be used to control fusariam wilt, which affects the absorption of water and minerals by the plant causing yellow spots on the fruits.
It spreads upwards along the stem and mostly affects the purple variety.