Like many other farmers in central Kenya struggling with shrinking farming land, Daniel Thairu, knew his way out of this dilemma was being smart in making good use of the little space he inherited from his late father.
Unlike many of his neighbors who have thrown in the towel and sold their land to real estate developers, Thairu has turned the less than a quarter piece of land into an agricultural masterpiece where he grows strawberries and vegetables.
“All my life I have been passionate about farming but land scarcity has been one of the obstacles that have stood between me and my dream. I never gave up, I still continued to farm on my small piece but I wasn’t happy with the results,” said Thairu.
Back in 2013, Thairu decided to make lemonade out the lemons – he put an idea he had come across during research online into practice and from then on, his dream of being the farmer he had always wanted to be started shaping up.
“Since space was my main challenge, I had to be innovative to make the best out of what I had. During my research online and offline, I had seen people growing vegetables in gunny bags on their balconies, so I began by installing multistorey gardens on my small piece of land,” said Thairu.
Each of these gardens, he says, occupies approximately four feet and can hold up to 130 plants. Initially, a similar space could only take up to 16 plants.
Having dealt with his dilemma, Thairu set on a journey to make the best out of his innovation. He tried a few crops but settled on strawberries which proved the best with this kind of farming.
He said the least each garden can yield is one kilogram of strawberries per week and picking is done twice weekly.
“One of the advantages I have had with growing strawberries is that they are high yielding and with these kinds of gardens, they are very easy to manage,” said Thairu.
Since not many farmers grow strawberries in this region, marketing has not been difficult.
Most of his buyers are suppliers in supermarket chains and fresh produce stores in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
Having tested and seen his idea work, Thairu decided to spread the word to other farmers facing a similar challenge as his or those seeking new ways of farming.
So far, he has sold over 800 gardens to farmers from across the country. Depending on the size, a garden ranges between 25 – 35 U.S. dollars.
“I am impressed by the reception the gardens have received so far. Even farmers with big farms and tired of growing crops the conventional way are coming to buy. With the effects of climate change taking a toll on us, farmers are looking for workable solutions,” said Thairu.
As the gardens mimic a cylindrical cone shape, plants usually form a vegetative canopy minimizing the rate of evaporation which means the water used is twice less unlike the conventional way of farming where the rate of evaporation is high.
According to Thairu, the gardens are constructed using dam liner materials with a thickness of 0.5-1mm which are cut into different sizes and fastened using bolts and nuts at the ends to form circular rings.
These rings reduce in size by two inches upwards to make layers of stakes with a wider base and a narrow top forming a pyramid-shaped structure with terraces.
Each story garden, he adds, has six layers, each with terraces filled with soil while the top ring holds the topsoil.
Thairu also offers training on how to install and proper crop care at his farm in Central County of Kiambu.
“My dream is to educate as many farmers on how to make good use of their land and provide solutions to some of the challenges they are currently facing due to climate change,” said Thairu.
From my experience, it is clear one doesn’t need to have a huge tract of land to be a farmer, we can all make do with the little we have which is our best bet in solving our food security dilemma,” he added. Enditem