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Isinya farm creates more than 50 jobs supplying directly to restaurants

At a time when studies show that over 40 per cent of Kenyan small scale farmers continue to be buffeted by market vagaries, suffering over supply or lack of markets, Daniel Muiruri is struggling to meet growing demand thanks to an emerging trend where hotels and large stores are preferring to buy directly from farmers.

The farmer, who is the director of Jidan Enterprises, has a ten acre farm in Isinya Kitengela dedicated to horticultural farming and is one of the major suppliers of ArtCaffe, a leading upmarket restaurant group in Nairobi. In a relationship that has lasted for over six years, Muiruri says he has not only increased the area under cultivation and boosted his revenue, but added over 50 jobs.

Seeing a market opportunity in a notice board in 2009, Muiruri contacted ArtCaffe with a view to supplying the restaurant with fresh produce. The restaurant asked him to send a few samples of what he grows for testing. “From the communication we had, I knew this is a restaurant that was looking for constant supply and produce grown in the most responsible way, like not being laden with chemicals. But I knew I was equal to the task,” said Muiruri.

After testing the samples, the restaurant was convinced and got into a contract with him. But he also had a herculean task in maintaining a daily supply. “I had traditionally been involved in supplying on order. They wanted me to start supplying daily. I had to think fast.” And fast he was. He started by clearing more of his bushy land for cultivation, and began supplying small deliveries of about 10 kgs of potatoes,tomatoes and onions.

But a growing middle class with an affinity for spending and conscious of their health has seen the restaurant expand in its range of foods and also size, moving from just one outlet to now five, and with the expansion, demand for raw materials has equally increased. This has seen Muiruri delve into the cultivation of new crops to meet this demand. He now supplies, among other produce, lettuce, herbs, cabbage, red onions, green pepper and potatoes.

On average, he supplies around 80kgs of tomatoes,70kgs of tomatoes, 200 pieces of lettuce and other produce, depending on demand. “Sometimes I cannot even meet the demand because the restaurant needs these produces frequently. The market has really expanded for me. I attribute it to the long standing mutually satisfactory way of doing business. While I make every effort to deliver the produce in time knowing how important this is, I also love the way they are very prompt in paying me,” said Muiruri.

But the increased demand has also come with added responsibilities for him. The daily supplies has meant having produce ready every day, and in large quantities. “At the beginning, I had a small portion of land under crop cultivation, but with the rising demand it has meant me clearing more land for cultivation and rotating the way I grow crops to ensure constant and seamless supply.” But the venture now sees him earn more than Sh200,000 a month, with tomatoes, onions and herbs being his main earners. He sells a kilo of tomatoes at Sh80, Sh20 more than he can get in the major markets.

Having a ready market has also insulated him from market vagaries, where gluts see farmers selling produce at throw away prices.  His greatest achievement, however, is the many jobs he has created over the years. “Having started with only one car, and less than ten workers, I have grown my business to employ about 50 workers, both permanent and casuals, since I now supply to many outlets like ArtCaffe. This wouldn’t be possible if I never found such outlets. I feel as a child of the earth I have done my bit in making the world a better place by contributing in giving incomes to dozens of Kenyans at a time when Kenya is facing the worst unemployment figures in its history,” he said.

He has ten permanent workers and, depending on the season, up to 50 additional casual labourers. Jobs in the farm include planting, tilling, weeding, harvesting, packaging and the drivers for the now six cars he uses to deliver his supplies. He also has accounting staff who help him monitor his sales.  But business hasn’t been all smooth for the vanguard agripreneur. Seeds, at times, fail to germinate, especially those bought from certain agro dealers. This delays the planting and harvesting cycle.

The changing weather is also taking a toll on his venture as unanticipated rains wreck havoc in the farm. “Rains may come at a time when ordinarily we expect it to be sunny and are about to harvest. The damage caused by the crops wilting is catastrophic. There was a time my tomatoes were wiped out by floods. And then there are times when it will shine for months and the land is dry to the extent of cracking.”

However, he has learnt to insulate himself from these vagaries. Investing in modern irrigation techniques, like drip irrigation, and in greenhouses, has not only assisted him to produce more from the same piece of land, but allowed him to produce all year round without interruption. “When you enter into these kind of partnerships, you have to keep your end of the bargain to remain in business,” he said, an approach that has seen him win more clients, now supplying to schools and supermarkets, as well as the restaurant chains.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter

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