The onset of rains in Ukambani, as it happened two weeks ago, often brings so many visitors to the region

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Among those who visit are tractor owners and drivers, eager to plough farms for residents.

The four-wheeler machines a fortnight ago descended Makueni, Machakos and Kitui counties, with the drivers armed with their personal effects, pitching tent at trading centres.

They then enlisted local brokers in search of customers. Unknown to many, however, was that the tractors had travelled as far as Nakuru and Meru counties.

“We are always on the move, carrying our luggage and going to where the rains are about to fall, and leaving once farmers have sown seeds,” said Simon Gitonga, a tractor driver, who was ploughing Isack Nzioka’s farm in Kithasyu village in Kibwezi.

Nicholas Mwirigi, who owns three tractors, said his ploughing circuit starts in August and September in his Meru County backyard.

There, farmers hire his tractors at Sh2,000 per acre and plough their lands in readiness for the rains in October.

“Most areas in Meru have clay soils that cannot be ploughed once the rains fall, this explains the early preparations,” he said.

Afterwards, Mwirigi normally heads to Ukambani starting with Kabati, and Masii in Kitui and Machakos early October.

In late October and early November, the tractors spread to the larger Ukambani, especially the lowlands, where they till land at between Sh1,800 and Sh2,000 per acre.

“After Ukambani, we normally head to Narok County for December to January ploughing. Farmers there mainly grow wheat, maize and potatoes and hire the tractors at between Sh2,500 and Sh3,000 an acre for normal ploughing,” said Mwirigi, adding harrowing services go for Sh3,000 per acre.

And due to the vastness of the farms, farmers sow seeds using a planter mounted on tractors, a service that costs Sh1,500 per acre.

GROWING NUMBER OF INVESTORS
In February and March, the tractor owners move to various places including Uasin Gishu, Kilifi and Mombasa counties.

“In Chonyi, Kilifi County, almost 80 per cent of the farmers use tractors to grow maize and cassava,” said Mr Mwirigi.

Later in April, May, and June, the machines head to Malindi and Mpeketoni, in Lamu County, where an acre is tilled from Sh2,000 to Sh2,500.

Some of the tractors also head to West Pokot and Moroto in Uganda where farmers grow mainly maize sometime in May, and tilling an acre goes from Sh3,500 to 4,000.

And between June and July, the tractors owners head to Nakuru County where they are hired to spray insecticides to growing wheat fields.

“On a good day, a tractor tills up to 10 acres, raking in up Sh20,000. And in a good year, one bags between Sh700,000 and Sh1 million per tractor,” says Mwirigi, noting there are over 1,000 tractor owners in the business.

Nicholas Mwirigi poses next to his tractor in Makueni.

Nicholas Mwirigi poses next to his tractor in Makueni. PHOTO | PIUS MAUNDU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The tractors are mainly delivered to the areas in trucks while others drive in a caravan during the day.

Mwirigi acquired his first tractor in 2008 in a showroom in Mombasa. “It was going for Sh910,000. I paid Sh460,000 in cash and the dealer allowed me to complete the remaining amount in a year.”

Francis Kamau, who owns a fleet of tractors and has been in the business for 17 years, said that the farming cycle takes him to Nakuru, Machakos, Meru, Makueni, Kitui, Narok, Meru, Pokot, Kilifi and Kwale counties in different times of the year.

Last Saturday, he was ploughing a farm near Emali town in Makueni County.

The only challenge in the business is the growing number of investors amid slow adoption of mechanised farming, with charges going down.

The drivers and tractor owners too spend most of the time away from their families.

With his vast experience, Kamau comfortably compared the habits of farmers across various regions in terms of adopting the use of tractors.

RIPE MARKET FOR TRACTORS FOR HIRE
Farmers in Nakuru, Narok and Meru counties, according to him, are the big users of the machineries, mainly because of the crops grown that include wheat.

And in Kilifi, many farmers use tractors on even smaller portions of land.

“Once the rains fall in Ukambani, we see farmers acting on a whim. They rush to the next market to hire a tractor, and, using seeds preserved from the last season harvest, sow the seeds as the tractor ploughs,” noted Kamau, adding while this is not a good way of farming, it gives him business.

Regina Tende, a maize breeder at the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation Katumani centre, said that farmers who plant as the tractor ploughs cannot be sure on how much seeds they use, or how deep their seeds fall, and often times they get it wrong on spacing of the crops because in some cases they are forced to broadcast seeds to match the speed of the tractor.

According to Tende, the recommended standard spacing of maize crops is 75cm between rows and 25cm from one crop to the next one.

She reckoned that the market for tractors for hire is ripe. “The services are essential in making work easier and eventually boosting yields,” she said, adding that with good business, tractors are able to break even in less than two years after which their owners generate profit.

CREDIT: Seeds of Gold

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