It might have been a dream come true for many when PATRICIA JEPKORIR LAGAT, 25, got admission to pursue Medicine at Moi University, but she had other dreams — to be a farmer. HILARY WESONGA caught up with her at her Nakuru farmWhere were you raised?I was born and raised in Nakuru. My father was an Agricultural Economics lecturer at Egerton University and my mother a small-scale farmer.Tell us how your passion for farming started…It began in 2009 when my family moved from Nakuru to Uasin Gishu County. By then, I was still in campus pursuing Medicine. I noticed the huge difference in farming systems in Uasin Gishu with annual large-scale grain production taking centre-stage unlike in Nakuru County where farmers practised subsistence farming due to dwindling land parcels. This made me curious.Horticulture in Nakuru is synonymous with flower farms for export, but Uasin Gishu boasts of large tracts of land with wheat and maize, depending on the season. The small farms in Nakuru and its environs have better yields than the large tracts in Uasin Gishu, basically due to the green-house farms where produce is almost 100 per cent guaranteed, depending on maintenance.Did you receive help from anyone considering you were new in the field?Yes, I got help from extension officers trained by government authorities like the Ministry of Agriculture, Horticultural Crops Development Authority and my parents.What was your pilot crop and why?I started with passion fruit farming on our farm. I chose passion fruit for the local market because my father was in the field and knew much about the crop.Tell us a little about passion fruit farming…It requires one to get grafted seedlings to guarantee overall resistance to a myriad of pests and diseases. After sowing the seedlings, a lot is done concerning crop hygiene, plant training and nutrient boost to ensure a healthy crop. Harvesting is done after eight months, but the work does not stop there. Lots of crop maintenance, disease and pest control is carried out to keep yields high and guarantee good fruit quality.How did you manage to balance classes and farming?I had to make numerous trips from school to monitor my projects. The fruits did very well. This is what made me decide to quit Medicine even though I had a year left to complete the programme. I then started my company Horti Grid Limited.How did your parents and friends react to this?My parents were very understanding and supportive. Since my father was a lecturer, he saw that his daughter was following in his footsteps. However, some of my friends were surprised and thought I had gone mad.What was your motivation?I felt the need to introduce small-scale farmers, youths and women into green house farming to curb the problem of seasonality and low yields due to harsh and unpredictable climatic conditions. This was with the aim of filling an existing market gap in the practice of horticulture in controlled environments, which not only improves the quality of produce, but also the amount of yields. The money it generated was also a motivation.How do you improve your produce?My work bore fruits after I improved my education level in the field by taking up entrepreneurship in horticulture and attended several workshops organised by both government and non-governmental bodies. This helped me get practical skills on crop production and marketing techniques.Do you do the farming only in Uasin Gishu?From Uasin Gishu, I have spread to other parts of the country. I have erected green houses in Naivasha and Kitengela and just recently in Teso.Tell us more about Horti Grid Limited…Horti Grid Limited is located in Eldoret. We provide affordable tomato green house packages. We use locally available materials to construct the green houses and our soil and water testing and analysis are done by recognised government bodies. Our horticultural services are handled by a trained horticulturist.Do you sell your produce only to the local market?We have been targeting the local market, but we are now shifting to new packages to catch up with new technologies that create volumes for the export market.What is good about greenhouse farming?Greenhouse cultivation improves yields, quality of produce and reduces the huge loss incurred by farmers due to spoilt produce.What challenges do you face?This is a male-dominated field and some farmers still have the illusion that I cannot be better them. I also have to get new personnel and custom-train them to keep up with new trends for my expanding business.Do you ever regret quitting medicine?No. The output from the greenhouses are almost 100 per cent guaranteed with proper maintenance.Will you go back to finish your Medicine course?Maybe I will some day, but presently I am fully committed to horticulture. I will definitely go back to school and study something relevant to my business pursuits. Entrepreneurship in horticulture has made me see the need for financial and project management skills combined with a good knowledge of market trends and opportunities.Are you dating?Yes, and we are planning big things.What is your advice to the youth?They should learn to see opportunities in their immediate environment to earn a living. They should make use of their passion and talents, and not wholly depend on formal employment. Using creativity to develop new business ideas and a strong belief in one’s ability cannot be taught in any education curriculum. However, self-employment is not easy. It requires a high level of discipline and unyielding motivation to make things happen. Good time, financial and human resource management are vital, as are proper interpersonal skills.Read the original article on Standart Digital News.