Every farmer has a story to tell about their farm workers.
I guess you are now thinking of the usual lack of integrity or work ethics. You may also be concerned about theft by servant.
Further, you are probably thinking along the lines of failure to feed the animals, clean the coop or change the drinking water.
Well, I have encountered all that, and more that I have been left wondering if there is any farm worker who is professional and honest.
A fortnight ago, at about 8pm, I received a call from my worker and he sounded desperate. Most of the time when he calls, there is usually a problem.
If the call is at night, the problem is normally more serious.
“The feeds will be over tomorrow,” he said. I knew that already and had made plans to buy a few missing raw materials the following day to use for making feeds, I told him.
He hesitated a little bit and then murmured:
“There is something else I want to tell you. I am not at the farm right now. I left in the afternoon and I am now at my brother’s house in Huruma, Nairobi.”
I almost dropped the phone because he stayed on the farm in Njiru alone.
His explanation was long and tortuous to make someone feel dizzy.
My immediate concern was the security of the birds and equipment on the farm. I called my neighbour, Mr Matundura, and asked him to check what was going on. You see, we have a Nyumba Kumi initiative and he is our chairman.
He scanned the premises and assured me everything was intact. He also got someone to keep guard for the night at Sh500. Later, I got the real story. At about 2pm that day, a car pulled outside my farm. Some two men wielding guns jumped out of the car, entered my compound and blocked the door to the worker’s house.
They were shouting, “Where is he. Where is he?”
They were threatening to carry away my chickens. I am not sure whether the guns they carried were real or mere toys.
My farm is located next to Njiru Health Centre and human traffic is heavy during the day. The commotion attracted neighbours and passers-by.
At some point, an elderly man emerged from the car, and hobbled into the farm. He looked around but could not identify the person he was looking for.
During the incident, I learnt that my farm worker had gone to the shopping centre (he told me he had had a premonition of impending danger to his life that is why he left).
When he came back and heard what had happened, he quickly vanished fearing for his life. The following day, the worker called me early morning to say he was back to work. When I questioned him about what had happened, he was elusive.
I advised him to report the matter to the police but he refused. I did some investigations and the twist got more bizarre.
Neighbours informed me that sometime in December while I was away for Christmas holiday, the worker was co-habiting with some girl. This seemed the most plausible explanation for the drama. I have since dismissed him.
Well, at this point you must be asking, where did I get the fellow? When looking for farm workers, I have come to learn a few things.
It is certainly a very good idea to get references from friends, family and trusted neighbours.
In my case, the worker was referred to me by a trusted friend of over 30 years. Now, I normally don’t bother about previous experience. In most cases, one can easily learn on the job.
THERE ARE GOOD WORKERS OUT THERE
However, supervision around the clock is important. I have a trusted manager to oversee the day-to-day farm management, although he works part-time, meaning things can go awfully bad when he is away.
That said, all these does not mean there aren’t good workers out there. Now, when you get a good worker, ensure he is happy pay-wise so that other farmers don’t poach him.
Apart from the agreed salary, it helps to ensure they have NHIF cover and they are enrolled with NSSF. The problem is that sometimes you start the process of formalising these and the workers don’t even last.
Here are the qualities I look for in a worker. Honesty, industry and able to work with minimal supervision. Most workers I have had are very hardworking but often they require constant supervision.
One challenge I have had with virtually all is they do not give the birds drinking water when required (birds require water all the time).
Obwogo is a farmer and a medical doctor. He works as a senior quality improvement advisor in health policy and systems strengthening with an international NGO.