Some 52km from Embu town sits an expansive 1,000-acre piece of land in Makima region with a unique crop that has changed the livelihood of this arid and semi-arid region. One thing that welcomes any visitor to the farm is a line of trucks at the gate. The trucks come for green stalks that are used for fodder after harvesting the crop.
According to Thiba farm manager, Dickson Chege, baby corn attracts the most care it deserves. Baby corn farming, he says, is as labour intensive as maize farming. For good harvest, the corn must be handled with utmost care to avoid poor harvest.
“Baby corns mature very first compared to maize. Greater attention is emphasized from planting to harvesting just as the name suggest,” says Chege. Land preparation for baby corn is the same as maize. The corn plant requires nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium soon after germination to initiate the growth of stems, leaves and ear structures.
“Corn must have adequate amount of nitrogen and phosphorus for profitable production. We apply 100kg of Dap fertiliser per hectare during planting and NPK17 after germination,” explains Chege.
After 45-50 days, the corn matures ready to harvest. Unlike maize, it takes around two weeks to harvest from the date of the first harvest. Chege notes that the farm grows Thai Gold and G-5414 varieties of the baby corn, which are very suitable for both fresh and processing markets.
Around 500 acre of the farm has been reclaimed for farming through overhead irrigation from the nearby river Makima. They harvest around five tonnes of corn but process one tonne for export through their marketer, Kenya Horticulture Exporters, while the rest goes to local supermarkets.
“The returns from the export of baby corns is promising, and we now plan to increase more acreage of the plant. One shilling of every kilo of exported products supports primary and secondary schools in Makima region,” Chege said.
After harvesting the baby corns, the branches serve as fodder to the dairy farmers. A truck full of fodder goes for Sh4,000 and the farm serves over 50 trucks during harvest period.
Chege says that the farm started growing baby corn in 2010 and the returns have been good, production per acre ranges from 10-12 tonnes.
“The return is encouraging because we get trucks from as far as Meru, Yatta Masinga areas. We get about Sh200,000 from selling the fodder alone,” Chege said.
Agnes Ngare, a dairy farmer from Makima region says the fodder has enabled them generate income from milk production even during dry seasons.
“I buy the fodder and store it for my cattle to feed during dry season. The flow of milk production is maintained even during dry seasons and this means good cash,” said Ngare. The farm, Chege says, also grows Demon, Bandai varieties of rocket chillies in over 40 acres of land that they export to Asia.
He says that the farm has introduced 82 exotic animals due to the suppression of tsetse flies.
“With eradication of tsetse flies in the region, we have also embarked on a breeding programme. Since this place has very harsh climate, cross breeds adapt easily to such conditions and that is why we have embarked on the programme. We also keep 372 sheep and goats (crossbreed Sahel and Toggenburg breed) for milk,” the farm manager says.
He concludes that they have created jobs to over 350 people from the community.