She was barely 18 when she started practising poultry farming in early 1980s.
With a lot of struggles, resilient and dedication driven by passion, Ms Wairimu Kariuki is now reaping where she has sown.
Her poultry farm in Kajiado supplies chicks to customers countrywide. This is still the same farm she started when she was a little girl.
Her inspiration is her mother who was also a force to reckon with in farming.
“I am walking in my mother’s footsteps, she was my motivator, a very well-trained farmer who introduced me to farming as I grew up.”
Her biggest hurdle when she started was getting the market. However, her hard work paid off as her list of customers grew longer.
“With time I developed huge client base loyal to my business,” said Ms Kariuki. “People had not embraced this trade back in the 1990s. The industry is now promising, and at least 30 counties now prioritise local chicken so the demand is increasing.”
She is shy to reveal exactly how much she earns but she said she makes hundreds of thousands of shillings monthly.
“I supply one month old chicks in batches of 500. I used to do broilers before but I narrowed down to indigenous (chicken),” she told Money.
By dint of her vast experience, Ms Kariuki has been appointed to head various agricultural organisations both locally and regionally. She is the chairperson of the Kenya Poultry Farmers Association (KPFA) and the Vice President of the East African Poultry Farmers Association (EAPFA).
She has also bagged a number of accolades. “In 1994, I won countless presidential awards for mixed small scale farming.”
Farmers from Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda elected her the vice president of EAPFA.
She urges young people to embrace agriculture as the opportunities along the sector’s value chain are vast.
Ms Kariuki said uptake of technology should be enhanced in farming to woo the youth into the sector.
“To attract the youth to venture into agriculture, we have to embrace technology” said Ms Kariuki. “ Agriculture is still largely manual, this is one of the reasons youth run away from the sector.”
TECHNOLOGY MAKES FARMING "COOL"
She said technology makes farming ‘cool’ to the youth adding that application of traditional methods is not attractive to them.
Also a huge challenge that prevents the youth from venturing into agriculture is the lack of land. She says for them to acquire money for renting land, they need collateral which in most cases they do not have.
Marketing, Ms Kariuki said, is another impediment that faces young people who have launched agriculture-based start-ups. She said many youths who venture into farming do not have the right skills set and experience to identify markets.
The entrepreneur said to unlock the potential of farming, mentorship programmes targeting small businesses should be initiated.
“All they (youth) need is more and more mentorship. Established farmers should hold their hands in the trade,” she said.
She is actively involved in mentorship herself and taking agriculture to the next level through value-addition.
Together with teams in the 47 counties, Ms Kariuki has been exploring ways of adding value to poultry farming.
She said the fortunes of poultry farming can go up manifold through value addition. To achieve this grand goal, there are plans to put up slaughterhouses in all counties and staff them with experts as well as equip them with technology to help farmers add value and package their products. They will also be able to make chicken bars and carry out home deliveries.
The key posts Ms Kariuki holds in various organisation make her a regional leader in agriculture. Through these organisations, she looks after the interests of farmers across East Africa, advocating for farmers’ rights and representing farmers in policy-making platforms. “I was made vice president based on our achievements within the national arm – KPFA, where I am the chairman,” she said.
She has been marketing Kenya through Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and guiding young and established farmers on how to leverage on the at least 400 million potential customers in the trading bloc.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE BACK AT HOME
Through the upcoming tenth Africa International Export and Import Fair set for September 21-23 for instance, a special segment, the Savannah Agro-Tech and Machinery Expo 2016, seeks to transform agriculture through technology. The segment showcases numerous technologies across EAC that drive farmers away from reliance on traditional rain-fed agriculture.
Savanna Agro-Tech and Machinery Expo, which is spearheaded by Ms Kariuki, banks on knowledge transfer and advancing agricultural technology to step up production.
Ms Kariuki went to school to the level of Form Six after which she immersed herself in farming. However, as she ran her farm, she pursued courses in community development and social work at the Catholic University of East Africa. She has also studied a leadership course at Platt Institute in new York.
Back in Kajiado, where she lives, Ms Kariuki is making a difference. She leads a group known as Nairobi and Environs Poultry Farmers’ Association. The group, which covers Ngong, Nairobi, Kiambu and Dagoretti, addresses issues on poultry farming, from feeds to vaccines.
“This group was formed because we were vulnerable yet the government was not protecting us,” said Ms Kariuki. “We realised that we could influence policy decisions through the group.”
It is the group in Kajiado that led to the formation of the KPFA which carters for over 80,000 farmers in Kenya.
“Through KPFA, we have interacted with counties engaging them on policies that favour farmers in regions such as Bungoma, Kisumu, Kakamega, Machakos, Siaya and Homa Bay counties,” said Mr Kariuki.