Daniel Gakuu’s parents wanted him to be an accountant. They worked hard to ensure that he pursued the course to completion. But that was never to be.
Instead of being called an accountant, 44 year-old Gakuu is popularly known as Farmer Number one.
This was after the farmer from Kinyaiti village in Kieni West of Nyeri County ventured into smallscale farming in 1991, specializing in onion farming.
He turned down all job opportunities that came his way. And whenever he got a job, he resigned soon after employment. Today, he is one of the most prominent onion farmers in the County.
He started with less than an acre until 1998, when he increased to one and a half acres.
“ This motivated me and together with my wife we resolved to expand the land under onions to three acres the following year,” says Gakuu.
But this year’s venture was not a walk in the park. Gakuu incurred a huge loss due to rains shortage which hit the country due to La Nina effects following the El Nino effects in 1997. This prompted him to seek employment as a farm manager so as to source for capital.
“I regard challenges as a chance to learn new things and so I used my stint in employment as an opportunity for exposure. During this period, I met many people who turned to be very educative to me. They included seed companies’ officials and agricultural officers,” he explains.
In 2009, Safari Seed Company conducted a research for the Red Tropicana F1 onion variety which turned out to be a major success. They requested him to be one of their marketing agents to be selling their seed to other farmers as he was a good witness and model to the locals.
This was his turning point. They sent him seeds worth KSh 200,000 from which he got enough capital and went back into onion farming in full force. He distributed the seeds in the entire County. Since then, seed companies have been using him to research for their new products before introducing them into the area.
In 2010 and 2011, Gakuu grew onions on a 4.5 acre piece of land, which had a bumper harvest. From this harvest, he reaped a net profit of Ksh 900,000 after spending KSh 200,000.
“Not many of my fellow farmers who grow onions ever harvested over 3,000 kilos in an acre due to various challenges. Consequently, this earned me the nickname farmer number one,” he reveals.
Through onion proceeds, he has bought a personal car and a pick up. He uses the personal vehicle for his other work while the pickup is used to transport workers to the farm.
The father of five has also managed to educate four children to secondary school. Two are his while the other two are his sister’s.
He is optimistic that he will educate them to university level. He has also built a decent house where he stays with his family.
His popularity has made him known far and wide.
The farmer is now an onion farming consultant in his own right, where he provides consultant services to area residents including some prominent personalities on onion growing.
He has also managed to employ over 30 casual workers.
“But we do have various challenges, where one is the issue of labourers who have been a headache to us. They are the ones who dictate charges during planting seasons where they demand between KSh 300 to 400,” he complains, adding that in other areas, labourers earn between KSh 150 to 200 in a day.
However he is quick to add that: “We are glad that many of our youth have ventured into onion farming which has brought down cases of crime in the area as it has drastically reduced idlers. They have been growing onions whose proceeds they use to purchase motorcycles (boda bodas) as well as raising money to pay dowry among other uses.”
Other challenges include high farm input prizes and lack of warehouses for proper storage of their onions. They thus sell them at a throw away prizes to avoid damages in the farm.
“But we are optimistic that most of the problems will soon be over, following intervention by a company known as Farm Concern International which came in the area in 2007. It brought most of the solutions to our problems,” says Gakuu.
According to the company’s representative in the area Gerald Watoro, it is a market development agency that focuses on empowering small scale holders to commercialize farming activities by assisting them to produce quality and quantity harvests as well as linking them directly to buyers.
It offers farmers technical advice on construction of storage facilities which has helped add value to their onions by prolonging the products shelf life. This enables the farmer to keep the produce and sell them when the prize improves.
It links the farmers direct to buyers eliminating brokers who earlier ended up with the lion’s share of their proceeds. The elimination of brokers has seen the prizes of onions improve from between KSh 3 and 5 to about KSh 20 to 30 per kilo.
It introduced a programme known as Domestic Horticultural and Market programme which uses commercial village model as a vehicle to empower the community to develop an economic block to achieve the desired volumes for markets and organization structure within farming communities according to Watoro.
Gakuu says that before the company came into the area, farmers used to plant the Open Pollinated Variety (OPV) onions which were a low yielding variety. The variety produced as low as 1,500 Kgs unlike the current hybrid varieties which is capable of producing about 10 tones of onions in an acre, thanks to the company’s advice.
The hybrid variety matures in four months compared to OPV variety which matures in six months.
Currently, Gakuu has put 10 acres under onions where he expects to reap about KSh 2 million.
The farmer expects to sell them at KSh 30 a kilo.
He is also preparing three more acres soon.
His future prospects are to open a consultation firm where he expects to help more people from the county to venture into Agribusiness.
The farmer says that he spent most of his time in people’s lands guiding them on how to grow the crop.
He also hopes that the current season will have a bumper harvest and intends to buy a more powerful transport vehicle which will thrive in the dusty areas of Mweiga.
By Joseph Mukubwa