As world leaders and climate change experts converged in Egypt last year for the Climate Change Conference (COP27), already there were young people making their contribution to save the planet.
One of them was Caroline Mukuhi Mwangi, founder of Kimplanter Seedlings and Nurseries ltd, a company based in Ruiru, Kiambu County, and which specialises in horticultural crops and fruit seedlings raising and propagation.
Caroline was one of the 2021 YouthAdapt winners from the continent who were awarded at the conference last year, in which she emerged second, among ten contestants.
Her company operates from two greenhouses in Ruiru and nine in Makuyu, propagating seedlings for vegetables, fruits and herbs, and supplying seedlings to farmers all over the country.
“Some of the seedlings we propagate include cabbages, collard greens, tomatoes, capsicum, cauliflower, pawpaw, broccoli, tree tomatoes, passion fruit and spinach,” Caroline says.
Prior to her receiving this award, her contribution to farming saw her feted at the Nairobi International Trade Fair in 2019 by then-President Uhuru Kenyatta, and also appointed as the youth ambassador for agriculture in Kiambu County.
Her journey into farming generally began in 2012 when she started growing passion fruits as a hobby. This was just a year into her new employment as an administrator in a construction company, where she would go on to work for four years before quitting and taking up fulltime farming.
“It was two years after graduating from college with a diploma in Human Resources Management. My salary was considerably fair, especially for someone who had just left school,” Caroline says.
Unexpectedly, her hobby of passion for fruit farming was slowly morphing her into a farmer.
Ironically, in 2012, Caroline acquired CPA (accounting) certification and was looking to enhance her career in the corporate world.
However, while employed, she says, something kept reminding her that she needed to progress elsewhere, and thus she had to make the hard choice of pursuing her farming passion. “I had planted passion fruit in a quarter of an acre piece of land in Ruiru courtesy of a family friend who had allowed me to use it for a short term,” she says.
Her interest grew further when in 2013 she began posting her products on her Facebook timeline. Being a young woman, her interest in farming appealed to many, and soon the media too got interested.
“In 2014 I was contacted by two TV stations which profiled my farming.” The exposure she got culminated in admiration and she began getting calls from clients asking for seedlings to start their own farms. According to her, she referred them to the farmer who sold her hers, but then she learnt that he was no longer selling seedlings.
This showed the gap in the seedling market, and in the same year, she took this opportunity and began practicing commercial seedling farming.
“In my free time I began propagating passion fruit and vegetable seedlings for myself and the people who reached out with similar requests,” says Caroline.
She undertook total specialisation in seedlings propagation and running demonstration farms for seed trials and training.
But the demand began skyrocketing, as she started getting calls from juice production companies who were interested in her passion fruit produce. “My farm was, however, too small to meet the demand.”
This was in June 2016, and as the demand kept surging, she did the math and discovered that she could earn from selling seedlings. So she quit her job and directed her full attention to this.
Saying it has been a smooth ride would be a lie, she says, as she admits it hasn’t been easy giving up a stable job for something which can be unpredictable some times.
“It was the most fearful decision I have made. I was leaving a white-collar job into the unknown world. I was scared but determined. My self-motivation was …… ‘am still young and with little responsibility so let’s explore the options’,” she says.
She says her social life died a natural death within the first three months, as her nails experienced a culture shock. The green dustcoat became her favourite dress code. But luckily, she adapted very fast.
But while she was struggling to accept her newfound love, her father was worried. “His worry was that I had just graduated with my CPA-K and even before applying the skills fully in my job, here I was resigning for informal employment,” she shares.
Luckily, her mother quickly embraced her decision. “She was like it is a trial, and if I fail, at least I tried and learnt. But generally, my family has remained my ride-or-die, cheering me on even in the most challenging ventures. I think they trust my capabilities a lot,” Caroline adds.
However, her toughest assignment was to convince her peers that whatever path she was taking, was the right one. “Some of my friends thought I was being ungrateful because I was leaving a steady job for farming,” she observes.
And so it was inevitable that with time, as topical interests changed, so did her social life, and as time passed by, she says, natural sieving happened.
But she has no regrets. As for now, Caroline enjoys travelling for exploration adventure and learning, as well as doing mentorship programmes for the youth, as she watches her company grow.
This story was produced as part of the 2022 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organised by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.