Carrying an iPad in her left hand, which she intermittently browses, Patricia Chepkorir Lagat cuts the image of one of those young executives working for big companies in Eldoret.
When she speaks on phone one realises that Patricia is not an ordinary young woman.
“Have you sprayed the fruits,” she asks the caller on the other end. “How are they doing? Are we going to have good harvest?” she asks as her face warms up, an indication that her crops are doing well.
The 29-year-old horticulturalist of four years standing took to farming after quitting the Moi University School of Medicine. She borrowed Sh200,000 from her father, a lecturer at the same university, to pursue her dream.
CROWNED MY EFFORTS
Patricia has grown over 1,000 passion fruit creepers on a 1.5-acre plot in Eldoret, under her company Horti Grid Limited.
“I sourced my first seedlings from Horticultural Crops Development Authority in Eldoret at Sh40 each. Seeds are booked three months before planting season to allow grafters to develop quality seedlings,” she told us.
In January 2012, seven months after planting, she harvested her first produce.
“It crowned my efforts and made me have no regrets of quitting medical school. I first harvested an average of 300kg a week. This continued for 78 weeks,” she recalls.
She has sold over 25 tonnes of the fruit to KenyaFresh Limited at Sh70,000 a tonne, which translates to Sh1.75 million. Over the years, Patricia has developed the passion fruits business and even diversified into tomato farming and making greenhouses.
“I diversified because I did not want to put my eggs in one basket. Besides, Horti Grid’s objectives are to cultivate, establish and manage horticulture in Eldoret and its environs.”
From the money she made from passion fruits, Patricia invested in greenhouses in August 2012.
“I recruited three expert staff; a horticulturist, a greenhouse construction technician and a water and irrigation technician. I then set up office in Tabain Plaza, Ronald Ngala Street, Eldoret.”
With the right staff, Patricia advertised for construction of greenhouses services. “Farmers flocked into our offices seeking the services. We focused on greenhouse horticulture production. We later partnered with Crop Nutrition Laboratory for soil sampling to serve farmers better,” she says.
“We would look at the recommendations made in soil sample reports and advise farmers on the exact location of greenhouses in their farms, suitable crops and fertiliser compositions and regimes.”
Proper greenhouses, she says, must be suited to individual farmers’ needs, and standardised to avoid reconstruction when farmers change crops.
Each greenhouse, together with soil sample reports, costs Sh150,000. Since she started, Patricia says, she has built 40 greenhouses, which has earned her more than Sh2 million.
“The greenhouse business is doing well, but it is labour and finance-intensive. I want to scale it down and expand my passion fruit and tomato business.”
Patricia grows tomatoes in two greenhouses. She started the business in January at a cost of Sh200,000 for seedlings and irrigation kit. She planted 2,400 seedlings. She sells the tomatoes at Sh30 per kilo. Each plant produces an average of eight kilos.
She has for far made about Sh550,000 from the venture. Her interest in horticulture and the need to uplift fellow farmers saw her organise a forum dubbed Horti-Business Coffee Hour last week in Eldoret.
“The forum offered networking opportunities for horticultural enthusiasts. Horti Grid co-hosted it with Intercept Kenya. The turnout was encouraging.”
The former Moi Girls Eldoret student, who scored A plain in KCSE exams in 2006, plans to venture into large-scale farming and establish a processing plant to add value to horticultural products.
“In the four years I have been in farming, I have realised that it is a rewarding business. Sometimes I look back and wonder where I would be if I had stuck to medicine. I am happy.”
Patricia says she quit medicine because she found it boring.
“I am an outgoing person and I always like to be creative and innovative. I found medicine too rigid.”