How she began
Like many youth, Elizabeth Okullow has borne the brunt of unemployment. She was enthused about going into business but did not have the prerequisite skills and capital. As she was searching the web for opportunities, she learned about the KCB 2jiajiri program through a Whatsapp group. In Kiswahili, ‘tujiajiri’ means, ‘let us employ ourselves.’ The KCB Foundation, through its program 2jiajiri and in partnership with the Miramar International College (MIC) was going to train young people on hydroponic techniques of producing food. Elizabeth recounts with excitement how her ‘aha’ moment dawned. “During my studies at Karatina University, a lecturer mentioned the use of hydroponic technology. I researched on it in the school library and discovered that this was a golden opportunity.”
An article by the ‘World Economic Forum titled, ‘what is hydroponics – and is it the future of farming,’ describes it as the process of growing plants without soil. Plants are rooted into a variety of compounds such as clay pellets and nutrient-enriched water feeds the plant. Through careful management of the growing environment such as temperature, amount of water, pH levels and the combination of specific nutrients, plants can grow faster making it advantageous over traditional methods.
They were trained twice a week for three months. She was driven by her love for nature as well as finding a way to employ others. “With a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, I have a broad understanding of bacteria and fungi that might affect plants. I am currently focused on tomato farming,” she adds. The biggest challenge Elizabeth confronted was the lack of commitment from other members as they had to register a business with 7-10 members. The program empowers the youth by giving them a loan that caters for a greenhouse, an agronomist who checks on the farm every week as well as other resources. The team must work on the farm themselves but some of them quit.
She gets to the farm before 7am as the ideal time to feed the plants is between 6am and 7am. She harvests the tomatoes after every three months. The program helps them to get market for their tomatoes. ‘‘A productive plant produces at least 25 kilograms of tomatoes with an average lifecycle of 9 months. In a good season, the total profit could go up to 1.5 million with a total of 1000 tomato plants suppose we sell at Ksh 60 per kg. However, we must repay the loan and thereafter we will be eligible for another one to run the greenhouse independently,’’ she elaborates.
“My advice for young people is to be prepared to work hard if they want to get into agribusiness as it requires resilience. You must be resourceful in terms of people and skills so that others can invest in your idea. You need not buy land to be a farmer as you can also lease it. Africa can feed itself, but we must innovate especially with changing weather patterns and infertile soils. We ought to change our attitudes towards farming and embrace it as a career for young people to solve youth unemployment and promote food security in Africa,” Elizabeth sums up.
Take a virtual tour of Elizabeth’s farm here: