City girl farmers: Farm trip north of Nairobi to see two women in their 20s

samfloy~23 February 2019 /East Africa/East Africa Business

Last weekend I visited a farm run by two pretty cool women.

Cate and Sylvia (both 28) were in office jobs until last year. Cate, an accountant, and Sylvia, working in HR, felt they wanted to get out and about more and so quit their jobs and got into farming.

Cate is a friend of my colleague who came around for dinner last year. We’d had it on the list to go visit ever since, and last week was the day to do it.

Cucumbers et al

We visited a plot of land of roughly 50 acres in size and about 1.5 hours north of Nairobi.

Cate showed us around the various plots she leases and the different crops she’s growing.

The key, she said, is to get relatively quick-growing vegetables in order to recoup the investment. Cucumbers and courgettes can pay back within a couple of months which is preferable, compared to longer-lasting stuff like potatoes.

Farmers? That’s a cute idea

She and Sylvia have 15 acres in total, scattered between plots owned/ leased by other people. 

Before they arrived, the place was not farmed at all. Skeptical locals looked on in sympathy as these two young girls from the big smoke tromped around in their gumboots thinking they could farm.

Unperturbed, Cate and Sylvia consulted Google and agronomists, and before long were renting tractors to plow the land, and installing pipes to irrigate from the local river.

Within a matter of months, market buyers started arriving and paying cash for crates of veg which, shall we say, got the villagers’ attention.

What’s that you’re growing?

Now the place is nearly full with rows upon rows of different fruits and vegetables being grown by the local people.

Cate employs day labourers (females: $3/ half day, men: $6/ day) ranging from 6-12 depending on what needs picking, sowing, tilling, etc.

She says most just copy whatever she’s decided to grow, so there’s now a boon in the courgette, cucumber and okra (the latter bought almost exclusively from (Kenyan) Indian customers).

A local champion

Despite only farming for a relatively short period of time, Cate has already been recognised a farmer of distinction. 

She now represents young farmers in the county, and is hosting a training event at her farm in a few weeks’ time, with 300 farmers from around the country to come and share best practices.

Importance of seeing that it’s possible

The big takeaway from the trip was how helpful it is to have someone show you that something is possible.

There will have been some learnings that the local villagers would’ve got from seeing Cate and Sylvia grow their crops, but it seems that overwhelmingly it’s the fact that it is possible to farm something on that land that motivated them to start growing too.

Cate still complains that other villagers are “too lazy” to work their land and wonders out loud why they won’t just let her farm for them. Alas, they won’t budge.

Back to the city

We left with a backseat full of kale, cucumber and capsicum (no ripe watermelons, unfortunately) and drove back to Nairobi with a lunch stop near the farm. 

Whilst the Nairobi lot had beans, veg and rice Cate and Sylvia tucked into pork, beef, and chips. “Since I’m out in the field all day I can eat what I want and it doesn’t make a difference!”

The next step for the farm is greenhouses so the two of them can cultivate red and yellow peppers. I’ll report back once they’ve started growing…

In other news…

The weeks have been going pretty quickly this year it feels (it’s March next week! Mental.).

This is a good article on how to slow down the feeling of time getting away from you:

Side note: I came across it via The Loop (which is my favourite email to receive each week).

This post originally featured in the newsletter I write. If you’d like to sign up to receive it at the start of each month, you can do so below: