Like many farmers, James Ndung'u has tried several businesses and failed to be impressed by the returns.
He fell in love with agribusiness but the idea of setting up a greenhouse wasn't rosy. “Everyone is on it. I wanted to be different,” argued Ndung'u within himself.
So when he thought of mushroom farming, he seemed to like the idea because he would cut a niche for himself and target the growing middle class.
“My love for agribusiness runs deep in my blood. When I was a young kid, I was always fascinated about entrepreneurship. As I grew up, i developed a special liking for agriculture and that is when I decided to pursue it with the vision of solving food insecurity and also create employment opportunities,” says the illustrious graduate who holds a degree in Statistics and Computing from Moi University.
His mother gave him a piece of land thus jumping the first hurdle. “Leasing land is costly and then no land owner will accept you to build permanent mushroom structures on a leased property,” he says.
The second hurdle was information. “When I began, there was little information about mushroom farming in Kenya. What was available was not sufficient. Only a handful of small holder farmers were on it,” he laments.
Labour and capital intensive
Satisfied he could make it, Ndung'u sourced for a financial partner and together they set off. “I visited a farmer in Kikuyu and visited him for farming tips. I learnt and understood that it is a labour and capital intensive venture. There is a lot of work to be done and it calls for dedication,” he shares.
But that now is water under the bridge. Ndung'u is already reaping the fruits of mushroom farming. He prefers to farm button mushrooms because they fetch better prices in the market than their oyster counterparts. A kilo retails at an average of Sh 600.
“I am yet to make huge profits but am headed there,” he says confidently. “ I ploughed back the profits I got from previous sales for expansion purposes,” he shares.
He has employed one permanent assistant but on busy days he can employ up to 10 casual workers. “One a good day, I harvest up to 60 Kgs. That's about Sh 36,000,” he quips. Ndung'u's story is a classic case of a focused entrepreneur out to make a change in society.
“Going forward it will be a sustainable investment that will give me a fulltime employment and create more opportunities for others. I do not want to stop at mushroom but venture into other crops, processing as well as value addition,” shares Ndung'u.
According to him, Mkulima Young platform is a great initiative that has opened horizons for many farmers to interact, learn farming tips and market their produce. “I posted my produce and got immediate response. I have also learned a lot from the research materials and other data that have been posted online.”