Retired educationist and a former Teachers Service Commissioner has found more joy in farming.

Jean Njeri is now a successful farmer and has become a motivation to scores of people who treat farming with contempt.

Success in farming has earned her a repute she never earned as a career teacher.

“Serious farming is no longer a preserve of men, we are all experiencing hard economic times, and women are more affected due to their important roles at the family level. They are more affected when a child is out of school due to lack of fees or goes to bed hungry and that is why I encourage and train them on modern farming practices and value addition,” says Njeri.

She adds “If you are not making money in farming, then stop and explore your luck in real estate or some other business. You can never do farming unless you have passion and an inborn interest. Once you love farming, it is like a hobby, you enjoy it, it is refreshing and enjoyable,” adds Njeri, who had an illustrious career in the civil service before she started banana farming.

Shift

Today she has over 3, 000 stools of tissue culture bananas in her six acre farm.

“Initially I was never interested in farming. I remember one day I had come home for holidays from Kangaru Girls High School in Embu when my father told me to join him in picking coffee. I refused and told him I will never farm but I will be planting flowers on my garden not potatoes, coffee, maize or beans,” recalls the retired secondary school head-teacher and later a commissioner at Teachers Service Commission.

Looking back, she believes she was bored by the monotony that characterised farming.

“Today it is different. Our parents only had maize and beans, if there was a banana it would be in a corner somewhere. Nobody cared about it, nobody even remembered it until it matured. It was purely peasant farming with no intention of making money. However, farming has adopted a different meaning for commercial purposes,” she says, regretting that many farmers are still stuck with farming for food up-to-date.

Her words are matched by the well-tended six acre banana farm, with the plants growing in a clean land with a mulching carpet that one can walk around the farm and come out as clean as before.

Njeri taught in many secondary schools among them Kitui boys in 1972, Kerugoya girls and Kambare High School before she joined the Teachers Service Commission as a commissioner for three years and retired in 2000.

After retirement, she ventured into farming and real estate, but gave up on real estate.

Challenges

In farming, she began with horticulture, coffee and piggery, where she got her good share of frustrations.

“At one time I had more than 400 mature pigs but there was no market and therefore I was forced to sell them at throw away price to concentrate in horticulture, but markets and costs of production were also a frustration and I settled for coffee, investing heavily in the seven acre coffee plantation including buying a pulping machine hoping I will be able to break even by making my own grades. But still the annual payments were a big discouragement, investing Ksh10 to get Ksh5 after a whole year of toiling,” she recalls.

She later met a banana farmer who took her through simple arithmetic comparing banana and coffee farming.

“I realized that for every acre of coffee I can grow as many bananas because both crops require same spacing. I realised that the returns in banana farming were much higher. Coffee is harvested once in a year but with bananas, you can harvest after every month. For coffee, you have to prune, pick, add both manure and fertilizer, spray and spend a night at the factory with unguaranteed income, that journey is too long,” she says.

After the lessons with the banana farmer, she went back home and uprooted an acre of coffee replacing it with TCB bananas, and the first harvest encouraged her to plant more bananas.

Earnings

Njeri earns an average of Ksh2250 from a single stool per year, which translates to Ksh1, 012, 500 for 450 stools in an acre.

She says joining Banana Growers Association of Kenya has guaranteed a ready market for her produce besides farming in groups.

She belongs to Ramini group that has 90 active members, growing the TCB bananas.

“Aberdare Technologies Limited has made it easy for farmers, they now have plant outlets here where we can buy a seedling at Ksh120, but the biggest advantage is that quality of the plantlet is guaranteed with some follow-up agronomy trainings,” she adds.

She has managed to purchase an Isuzu pickup from the proceeds of the farming which she uses to transport the bananas to the buying center.

She adds that due to improved production in Kirinyaga, the farmers are entering an agreement with a value addition buyer, who is putting up a processing machine in the county, and the machine costing Ksh9 million has already arrived, and a plot where it will be constructed bought.

The prices of banana vary depending on season, ranging between Ksh12 and Ksh18, and she is optimistic that farmers will earn even more once the processing industry becomes operational.

Most bunches weigh between 50kgs to 80kgs, apart from the latest PHIA17 Variety that exceeds 100kgs.The banana flowers nine months after planting, and is ready for harvest in 13 months after planting.

“With Ksh120, 000, a farmer can plant a whole acre of TCB bananas, a cost that covers everything including manure, land preparation, fertilizer, water and labour. This amount is recovered during the first harvest,” Njeri adds.

She advises farmers not to apply fertilizer when the plant is about to flower because fertilizer will be left in the soil and in the plant.

“When a banana has fertilizer, it shakes when it ripens; it is advisable to use composite manure not fertilizer. Do not use fertilizer other than when planting because we believe the banana consumes the fertilizer in 6 months thus there will be no residue at maturity.

Though she says she has no regrets having served as a civil servant, she says there is nothing to compare between the two, and would not quit farming for any job, citing constraints that come with employment.

She does not have to pay to attend any gym, as walking around the farm is enough exercise.

Njeri uses pruned matters from the bananas to do mulching in the farm, which is evenly distributed giving it a very enticing look.

She puts the cost of production per stool at Ksh200 per year, from where a farmer harvests between 3 and 4 bunches.

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