From garlic to green beans, from growing corn to peddling and brokerage stints, Moses Githaiga is your true definition of a hustler.
Githaiga, 39, finished high school at Nanyuki High School, and due to lack of funds, instead of joining college, he chose to start doing odd jobs like sharpening knives in restaurants and hotels to survive.
He had a fee balance of 40,000 shillings and since his family could not afford the fees, he had no hope of getting his school leaving certificates back.
Githaiga, now a father of three, focused on sharpening knives in the town of Nyeri before moving to the slums of Manyatta in Kisumu where he settled.
“I lived in the slums and did all kinds of odd jobs to earn a living. My mother, a maize farmer, was always worried that her son would engage in illegal activities,” recalls Githaiga.
Tired of the struggle to earn peanuts, in 2007 Githaiga left Kisumu for Nyeri where he started growing green beans, with the help of his mother. It was his mother’s idea that he venture into growing green beans as it was popular in their village thanks to agricultural extension officers from a green bean buying company who marketed it properly .
From the knife sharpening business, Githaiga had saved up a solid sum which he was using to invest in a water pump and other farm implements for French farming. But agriculture was unprofitable because of the cartels that exploited the farmers.
“There were late payments and we could wait up to three months. Many times the product was rejected due to quality issues. It was very exhausting,” says Githaiga.
He quit and started selling garlic onions at Kiawara Market in Kieni in 2012.
The idea of venturing into garlic cultivation crossed his mind when he visited Kiawara market and realized that there was a void in the market as most of the farmers only grew regular onions, but there was a demand for garlic.
He researched garlic and got his first seeds from the same farmers who sold him onions at the Kiawara market.
Although he has made a lot of money growing garlic, Githaiga says it takes time to mature and therefore it takes time for him to recoup the money spent.
But nonetheless, Githaiga says he made a fortune growing garlic and even increasing the acreage to two acres.
“I made a lot of money with garlic. I even bought my first car, which grew from growing garlic. But it was very time-consuming and labor-intensive,” says Githaiga.
After hoping from company to company, he says he found his breakthrough with the chamomile plant, which is used to make a popular health drink.
He says that last year, during a field visit to Nyandarua, he was impressed by the beauty of some flowers in a farm. It was a chamomile plant.
When he spotted it, he became curious and asked the farmer who had told him more about the plant, its market potential and its health benefits.
The chamomile farmer also gave her some dry leaves to make herbal tea and sold her a glass full of seeds to plant.
“When I returned to Nyeri, I made tea with the dried flowers and was impressed with its sweetness. I also planted the seeds given to me in a seedbed and after that ‘they sprouted, I transferred them to an eighth of an acre. After a month, the plants started to flower,’ explains the farmer.
He bought a glass full of seeds and prepared seedbeds in an eighth of an acre and started, after a month the plants reached the flowering stage.
Generally, six to ten weeks after germination, chamomile plants will be in full bloom and will continue to produce new flowers. These flowers are harvested throughout the growing season for healing and relaxing teas.
According to Githaiga, chamomile is a plant with a short ripening period and yields more than garlic. When his crop was ready, the next challenge was the market.
“I only informed one customer that I had the flowers and he passed on the information. Over time the word got around and now tea processors and herbalists are making endless calls to research the products. That’s how I decided to focus on the flower that has good yields in a short time,” says Githaiga.
Chamomile looks more promising and he now plans to phase out garlic altogether and replace it with chamomile on a four-acre plot as he seeks ten more acres to grow it on a large scale.
Githaiga says that despite farming on a small plot of land, the yields outweigh what he gets from garlic on an acre.
“A kilo of chamomile costs between 1,500 and 1,200 Sh and 10 kilos of fleshy flowers are half of the dried flowers. We harvest daily and this is our greatest motivation,” explains the farmer.
Although he has good prospects, he says few farmers practice chamomile cultivation due to lack of information.
Because it is a plant-based product, it is grown organically, which means no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used, making it very economical to grow .
To generate interest in the plant, Githaiga took the initiative to raise awareness about it.
“I now educate farmers on the potential of flowers and train them on how to grow them. It’s pretty affordable to start with. You have to buy the seeds, prepare the land with manure, plant and then wait for the harvest.
How to grow it
On how to grow the plant, Githaiga says the seeds need to be dried for ten days, planted on the seedbed and watered regularly for a month to reach the flowering stage.
He says harvesting is the biggest challenge as it is done manually and therefore requires a lot of people.
The plant is harvested daily for three and a half months after taking a month to mature. Watering is done twice a month in a quarter of land that can accommodate 200 rooms.
Business is going well and he’s not complaining.
“Thanks to the chamomile proceeds, I managed to pay off my school fees at Nanyuki High School and even enrolled in a sales and marketing course at Dedan Kimathi University.
“I have also bought several acres of land to invest in and bought my mother a three acre farm where I plan to build her a house. I am also the proud owner of a Toyota double cab thanks to the chamomile,” says Githaiga.
He farms at Dry Kiawara which is considered an arid and semi-arid area drawing water from the Ngareng’iro River.
Every day, Githaiga hires around ten people to help harvest the produce.
Considering the huge potential of chamomile, the farmer wants the Export Promotion Council to help him get a direct overseas market.
Data from the Horticulture Directorate Statistics indicates that last year Kenya exported chamomile worth 1.6 million shillings in the six months of last year, out of the total herbal export earnings that reached 800 million shillings.
The plant is ranked in specialty teas in Ethiopia as one of the largest producers, producing a sweet, full-flower chamomile of exceptional quality. Kenya is lagging behind in factory production.
The increase in lifestyle-related diseases has led to an increase in a health-conscious population providing a ready market for chamomile tea.
According to Medical News, chamomile tea has long been used as a traditional folk remedy for a wide range of health conditions.
Nowadays, researchers are increasingly exploring its effectiveness in the management of diseases, including cancer and diabetes.
So far, research on the potency of chamomile tea has shown promise. However, studies vary, with some research proving clear benefits over alternative remedies, and others simply pointing to possibilities according to Medical News Today.
For most people, chamomile tea can be safely tried alongside other treatments, but it shouldn’t replace traditional medical treatments when people are suffering from serious illnesses, experts say.
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