Harvesting 500 kilogrammes of cucumber from one greenhouse at first attempt in 2012 was a massive achievement for Larry Keya a resident of Kapseret in Uasin Gishu County.
However, Keya was shocked when his bumper harvest was rejected by traders he approached at Eldoret main market, he had to watch painfully his yields wither in a home store.
“I was told the cucumbers cucumbers had done well but unluckily they had bent thus unsuitable for the market, I did not understand the concept and just watched the bumper harvest I had invested Sh150,000 youth fund loan in go to waste,” he says.
Keya a graduate of Agriculture Economics from Moi University says despite the painful loss, he learnt important lessons that have made him a happy farmer and has no plans of leaving the lucrative venture facilitated by high demand for food in the country.
“As I watched the cucumbers that I expected to pay the loan and reward my labour a thought coming up with a way to preserve the produce struck my mind. I did extensive research on the internet and discovered one can make cucumber and watermelon juice and committed myself to try,” he said.
Keya who had began farming capsicum and tomatoes in 2010 also in a greenhouse told The Smart Harvest he acquired a blending machine to process cucumber and watermelon juice but says since they were unpopular blends in the market the consumers’ uptake was very low at the beginning.
“I continued to popularize the juice in local markets working with several vendors in Eldoret but consumers were a bit hesitant to embrace the new blend. After further exploration to position my product in the market I settled on making cucumber and watermelon popsicles,” Keya explained.
In 2014 January, Keya purchased equipment for making Popsicles (chunks of flavoured ice or ice cream on a stick) worth Sh120, 000 to actualize his value addition idea.
“It is not very cumbersome to make the ice cream flavours provided you have the right machines, you just extract juice from the fruits, make and then mix the syrup of the juice with little additives then you freeze them on sticks,” he explained.
According to the young agribusiness entrepreneur he could make 700 pieces of the ice cream sticks per day and sold an average of 500 on wholesale to vendors at Sh5 per piece making Sh2500 every day with a 60 per cent profit margin from the sum total.
He added that he had to acquaint her wife with the procedures of making the popsicles so that he could equally tend to the greenhouses where he grows the cucumber and tomatoes key raw materials for the high-end product.
“The demand for the popsicles increased because the vendors used to come back by afternoon asking us to get more and this prompted us to get a high capacity production machine at Sh380, 000 that makes 7800 pieces in 20 hours making us manage the ever rising demand,” he revealed.
Keya explains that the machine is efficient as it molds the ice creams in nice shapes and different sizes that appeal to different consumer niches.
He currently makes bigger popsicles that trade at Sh7 per piece and averagely sells 900 pieces per day making a total of Sh6300 in the process and he had to outsource for watermelons and pineapples from other farmers to meet the rising daily demand.
“We have at least 10 vendors who get them on wholesale at Sh7 and sell them between Sh10 and Sh15, to fully utilize the machine we began making yoghurt on a stick using the same procedure of cucumber and watermelon popsicles and the product that sells at Sh20 on wholesale is doing pretty well,” he adds.
Keya who has developed literature from his farming experience for systematic managing of different crops like tomatoes, cucumber and capsicum and trains upcoming farmers says he is formalizing on certification by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) in order to begin fully packaging and branding his products for a wider market.
“I want to advance the business which to me is worth worth every coin, currently I have three employees and seven vendors from Langas and on expansion I can get more jobs for the youth to manage as I focus on training other farmers on proper agricultural processes for maximum output,” he added.
Keya says the problem with many youth is their conception that agriculture pays ten times the input immediately they venture minto the field, hence quit when things don’t work ambitiously within a short time.
“Like any other businesses there are challenges in agricultural production, I lost my first tomatoes to the blight disease and had my cucumber rejected in the market, but it takes patience and desire to advance. The first two years cannot give you optimum input but from the third year you begin enjoying the returns,” he said.
Uasin Gishu County Executive in Charge of Agriculture Dr. Cyril Cheruiyot observed that horticultural production is a great alternative to the conventional maize and wheat production that are faced with challenges like limited market, poor prices and climatic changes.