Our chama farming project is swept away by raging floods

Friday May 29 2015

 

By JOSEPH MACHARIA
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My reputation as a sane mind in matters of farming is in serious jeopardy. The recent floods are to blame. A friendship that started many years ago when I was in secondary school is on the brink of collapse.

It involves my former school mates, people I believe I am connected to by a very tight cord due to the many challenges we encountered and endured together as schoolmates.

It all started early last year. Gerrishom, the most techno-savvy of my schoolmates, created a WhatsApp group for us to chat away all our fond memories. But after the membership hit 50, Kirika, a serious guy who scored a Grade B and beat all of us, thought we needed not just to chat away all the historical injustices we faced at our school.

“Can’t we do some venture, an economic one to be precise. We have some valuable  synergy….,” He posted one evening. The responses were overwhelming. It is like everybody was waiting for this. Ideas started flowing in.

Kagema proposed real estate, Kinyanjui thought we should start contributing to buy land while the only active lady, Melissa, suggested we start an investment group and buy shares in a blue chip company.

QUICK MONEY

But guys, it seemed, wanted something to bring in quick money. “We can start a farming venture. If we do cabbages on a three-acre piece of land, we can have our money in four months. We can lease  land, not necessarily buy land,” I posted.

This acted like magic. “It makes sense. Mkulima get us some land to lease. Let us know what would be needed,” replied Gituro, nicknamed Jeshi in our school days.

Guys seemed to like the idea of an investment that brings back money in four months. I was appointed the chairman of the land-for-lease sub-committee with Kinyanjui, the land broker, as my vice-chairman. We hit the road running.

On the third day, Kinyanjui took us to a flat five-acre piece of land. Despite surrounding farms  having young crops , this one was fallow. The owner was ready for a deal. “I will lease at Sh2,000 per acre for a year,” he offered. “But you will give me all the Sh10,000 upfront because I am traveling for a long time,” he added. This seemed  a good deal.

Later that evening, we did our estimates and updated members. Only 20 were willing to chip in and the figure for the project came to about Sh8,000 for all costs. In return, we projected Sh22,000 as profit after four months. “It is a great deal,” Kantai, screamed in finality.

FULL OF CABBAGES

Three months later, our five acre land was full of  cabbages, the Gloria variety. An argument had been advanced that Gloria cabbages have a long market life because they can  withstand sunshine.

Group members took alternate days to visit our green orchard and would post pictures on our WhatsApp group. Several names were also floated for the farm including ‘Kingstone Veges Farm’, ‘Green Orchard Farm’ and ‘Whitney Fresh Produce Farm.’

The “new farmers” were excited. We started mounting pressure on those who had not completed their Sh8,000 contribution to do so by April 10. I posted a threat. “No one will get their profit unless they clear their contributions. We need to spray the cabbages before month end.  Clear your balances promptly!”

24 hours after the posting, all balances were cleared. The pictures of the cabbages were a great motivation. The only message we kept getting from our farm hands was that several hoteliers and market women were visiting the farm and making orders of the yet to be harvested produce.

“You see, Mkulima is a genius! This idea was great!” posted Melissa, making my blood race faster in my spine in excitement.
Then it started to rain. For seven days, no one was able to visit the farm. Then when the rains subsided two weeks ago, I led a five-member team to see how soon we could harvest our treasured crop.

Alas !! We were flabbergasted. The whole farm had become a lake. Although it was not raining that day, torrents of water gushed through the farm uprooting cabbages. Several were floating. Two farm workers who had reported for the final weeding were caught up in flooding and were forced to climb the only tree in the table flat farm.

“My God ! We are finished!” shouted Kinyanjui. Most of the cabbages had been uprooted and were floating in the man-made dam. We knew our investment would never fetch our returns. I posted the disaster that had just befallen us on the WhatsApp group.

As we stood there assessing the floods damage, a worker from a neighbouring farm passed by. “Oohh, when I saw you here with Kibunja, the land owner, I wanted to tell you that this land has remained unfarmed because it floods every rainy season,” he told us. “Pole you are the fourth farmers to lose all crops,” he said.

He continued, “That is  why Kibunja asks for money upfront and disappears,” he offered. We did not wait for more secrets about the farm from this lay-about. It was too late.

Lesson: Do more research on the topography of the land you are leasing. Don’t be too much in a hurry to get returns on your farming venture.

Consider crop insurance when investing in farming.