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Want to start a farming side hustle, here is what to do

Friday August 19 2016
Interview

Managing Director of SMEs East Africa, Lydiah Njoroge. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By KINGWA KAMENCU

Leading business trainer Lydiah Njoroge this week dispenses a guide on maximising your returns. The Managing Director of SMEs East Africa spoke to KINGWA KAMENCU

You are a leading business trainer. What would you advise people going into farming?

If you’re going to be a farmer, you must hire professionals. All these graduates coming out of Egerton University are highly skilled and so it’s not that professionals are not available.

With a professional, you are working with a performance contract and deliverables. If you are paying them based on results and actual achievements, they will have additional incentive to work harder so you won’t have to micro-manage them.

You can predict your returns more accurately and have less headache along the way.

As investors, we invest too much in the superstructure- buying top grade cows and seeds- but we don’t invest in people.

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In the same way that you build a good house and employ the best security people to take care of it, if you’ve invested a lot and are making good returns of Sh200,000 per month, you can afford to pay a manager Sh60,000.

Following this then, it won’t be the normal case of you calling and telling them that it’s time to give the cow water or transplant the seedlings; now, it will be that professional advising you what needs to be done.

You have spoken of graduates of agriculture, but we don’t seem to see many youngsters studying agriculture now.

The Ministry of Agriculture needs to start thinking outside the box and come up with packages for farmers such as evening or weekend classes even.

Also related to this is the question of where the knowledge that is produced in research institutions goes and who it benefits. Most of the research stays in the computers in fancy institutions when it actually could be having an impact on farmers lives out in the rural areas

So information is critical?
Absolutely. It is what will help us get out of the traditional crops we have been doing. We need to challenge the government on this a lot more.

I don’t see people knocking on the government’s doors to inquire on what information they have.

When all is said and done, farming is all about information. Israel is a wasteland yet we import food from it. It looked at what it had, studied its land, equipped itself with the right information and technologies and worked a miracle by making a desert bloom.

Today, Israel exports food to us yet we have better climate and soils.

In a natural world, we should not be importing food from Israel, we should be exporting to it. Places like Kitui and North Eastern are wastelands yet there is the opportunity to grow sorghum, millet and aloe vera.

Sorghum can and does grow in Turkana.

EABL uses this sorghum, I’m not even sure if their supply is enough. The question then is, why hasn’t a county like Turkana adopted millet and sorghum for the breweries?

Aloe vera is another plant that thrives in arid areas and the global cosmetic industry needs a lot of it right now.

So what do we need to do?
We need to start moving away from the traditional. As a country that relies heavily on agriculture, we can also think of things that can be used in other countries’ industries, not just our own.

This aside, right now it’s a cool thing for city people to have a side hustle.

The media has helped people see the possibilities and opportunities in farming. You see magazines like Seeds of Gold, Smart Farmer, HortiNews and TV programmes, highlighting success stories, and people figure that they can do it too.

When you hear of someone with one acre making a million shillings, you ask yourself, “What am I doing with my life?”

What is the place of technology in all this?
The opportunities that could help farmers today are mostly found in technology so that’s one area that I’d advise farmers that want to be competitive to keep a close eye on.

There are applications and technologies that make ones work easier, keeps one informed and simplifies things.

Some mobile applications allow you to turn on the irrigation taps on at your rural farm while you’re here in the city.

There are also CCTV technologies which allow you to watch in real-time what is going on in your farm. You can find out how much the prices are in Maragwa market or in Turkana on a certain day and use that information to trade.

Your parting shot?
The most important thing I would advise those that have been thinking about going into farming is that they need to treat it as a business.

You need to plan it out in advance- what are your projections, what do you expect as your returns, where is your market, what is your distribution plan, what is your budget from start to end?

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