Catherine Kamanu encountered the shock of her life when she lost most of her farming investments. But all of that is water under the bridge. Instead, she has become a “smart farmer”.
It was in 2018 when former accountant Catherine Kamanu decided to exchange her heels for gumboots. “I love being on the farm as early as 6am. What I love the most is farm life and also knowing that you’re producing something that’s going to the market,” she says.
The 32-year-old Kamanu farms vegetables on eight acres of land in Murang’a County, a central region of Kenya. “I want to feed people and every day, I am trying to be a better farmer,” says the employer of 15 workers. “I am not planning to go back to the office job.”
She plants some companion crops like chillies and okra, but her specialty lies with capsicums and cucumbers. “People think the larger the farm, the more productive you are. But that’s a wrong perception. We should really focus on production per unit area instead of how many hectares you have.”
She walks the talk
She’s planted 7 000 trees of coloured capsicum across seven greenhouses. Beyond these, she has 30 000 more in the open field and 13 000 trees waiting to be planted at the end of the month in the propagation unit.
She also has a vertical garden where she farms more produce in a remarkably smaller space. Four times per week, Kamanu supplies her produce to markets such as the Marigiti, Ruiru, Githurai and City Park. “I went to the market at 3am to watch how the chain flows after the capsicum leaves my farm until [it reaches to] the consumer,” she says.
She discovered that the crops exchange moves along via seven people before they get to consumers. But she’s built a solid foundation with individual clients and wholesalers to reduce the exchange of hands.
Surviving the depression of being conned
Kamanu’s farming journey, however, hasn’t been this smooth. When she was a novice farmer, she lost 90% of her investments after someone she trusted, ripped her off. “I got this guy who was good with farming, and I trusted him fully,” she says.
She recalls that the severity of the loss led to depression and eventually landed her in hospital. But because of her love, passion, and determination for farming, she decided to soldier on with her gumboots. In light of her ordeal, she’s decided to dedicate a significant amount of time to train other farmers.
Usually, she doesn’t charge for virtual training, instead, she charges those who want to do farm visits or end up needing more of her time. “People need to give farming the seriousness it deserves and stop treating it as if it’s a job for illiterate people.”
Kamanu is a living example that farming is decent work. She hopes to convince more young people to follow suit, especially women. “Farming is no longer for the old, but who will tell people that? I am that person to tell people that you can farm and make a living out of farming,” she proclaims.
Living harmoniously with nature
She describes herself as a “smart farmer”, who is cognisant of farming practices that are in harmony with nature.
“You’ll find that I plant flowers that attract insects, and this means they go to the flowers instead of feasting on my crops,” she says. “I have grown sorghum so that the birds won’t feed on my strawberries or anything that I have planted. We are living in harmony with nature. They won’t finish the sorghum; they’ll leave some for me.”
She uses a mix of fertilisers and other organic methods. When she weeds, she uses the leafy parts for mulching. “I want to get better at how I improve my production, taking care of my soil and my environment,” she says. Her 180 chickens feed from some of the greens and in return she gets manure. The approach, essentially, creates a healthy soil and environment.
“I love the soil and I want to see a green society where people embrace farming. I want a country that has less hungry people. Food insecurity in Kenya is very high. We have a lot of arable lands, but they’re idle. People have not been farming. And for those who have been farming, they’re doing it the wrong way.”
Kamanu has exuded an indomitable passion and her future seems bright and beautiful.
“I want to expand to other counties and attend summits and preach about farming. In addition to that, I also want a food warehouse. I want to teach people how to healthily, feed themselves and the people around them,” she says jubilantly.