The dome-shaped greenhouse is visible from a distance. It stands out, as the area near Timau Forest in Meru County is dry and very few farmers have adopted greenhouse technology. We find James Maina, 28, inside the greenhouse inspecting tomatoes and capsicum. He expects to start harvesting the tomatoes within the next 3 weeks in a process that will continue for months.
He started farming in 2007 after clearing high school. He is also working as a welder. Although he has also planted tomatoes, kales and spinach on his 3-acre farm under the open field, his pride is his greenhouse.
He had observed a greenhouse in the areas that Amiran Kenya had set up. The high cost of buying a similar greenhouse made him decide to use locally available materials to construct one.
His skills in welding helped him to construct a 20 ft by 60 ft greenhouse. Spending close to KSh 120,000 on the greenhouse has helped him to realise improved crop protection, reduced exposure to pests, timely and increased production and efficient use of water.
“I am able to grow crops any time of the year regardless of the prevailing climatic conditions,” said Mr. Maina.
His geodesic dome greenhouse is stronger than the traditional greenhouses and uses low-cost materials. In addition, it allows easier air circulation and they do not need internal support because the triangle shaped dome distributes weight evenly throughout the greenhouse.
James Maina at his greenhouse in Timau area of Meru County
Running across the greenhouse are metal bars that act as the trellis. They help strings that support the capsicums and tomatoes to stay in position. Trellising helps keep the crops off the ground. This helps to improve production, increase usable space, and prevent crop rotting.
He has erected a water tank stand with an elevation of 2 metres above the ground. This ensures that there is enough pressure for water to irrigate the greenhouse. He procured a water tank with a capacity of 3,000 litres. He has installed micro-drips, which supplies the roots of each plant with exactly the right amount of water.
He has used ultraviolet-treated Polyethylene paper to protect the crops from harsh and unpredictable external environment.
To improve his skills, he sought for advice from Syngenta Kenya Agronomists on greenhouse management practices. He learnt how to manage the greenhouse from land preparation to harvesting. He also works closely with Sokopepe’s Production Information Agent (PIAs).
Maina adopted Sokopepe’s Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS) in September 2016 after learning that it is an easy way of managing his agricultural enterprises.
Sokopepe has assigned him a PIA who visits his farm and greenhouse once a week. Besides record keeping training, the PIA also provides him with extension services, market information, and linkages.
“The beauty of Sokopepe is that I am now able to track all my enterprises and farm expenses. This has eased my decision making,” said Mr. Maina.
Bernard Mureithi, a PIA at Sokopepe said that adopting FARMIS innovation has helped many farmers in Meru County to determine profitable crops. He said that Sokopepe is trying to make agriculture attractive for Youth farmers.
“Our FARMIS innovation provides the evidence base that Youth farmers need to make an informed decision,” said Mr. Mureithi.
He is growing the tomatoes and capsicums in a raised bed. Roots in the bed have an easier time growing, as the soil is not compacted. They also extend the growing season as well as ensuring better control of weeds.
He has planted Tylka f1 tomato. The variety is high yielding, virus and nematode resistant and gives an extra 2-3 months of harvest compared to other varieties. It also has a longer shelf life compared to most tomato varieties.
Maina said that Youth should realise that they can earn a decent living through farming rather than searching for elusive white-collar jobs.