1. Identify yourself as a small businessperson, not a farmer. A farmer grows fruits, vegetables, and grains and tends cattle, goats, chickens, and bees with a short-term sales outlook. A businessperson is someone who understands that these productive assets are cultivated, reared, and turned into quality consumer products that generate regular income. The key words here are productive assets, quality products and regular income.
2. Assess your strengths and build on them. Ask yourself how flexible you are to change; how amenable you are to using new methods. Can you utilise the space you have in a more productive way? Are you using organic manure from your own cows to fertilise your crops? Are you diversifying your product lines to establish different revenue streams? There is strength in numbers, get out of your small space and join others who are building the future.
3. Always associate with people who know more than you do and listen to what they say. Often your neighbours will know more about what is happening than you do. Ask others at church what is happening with irrigation systems, or disease prevention or crop rotation patterns; who is building processing plants that will ease the movement of raw materials into finished products. Always ask, how can I be involved in what is happening that will make a difference in my productive capacity?
4. Be aware of what is happening around you and be part of it if it fits your long-term strategy. For example, if you need to irrigate your land instead of relying on rain, find out how to be involved in an irrigation scheme at the ward or district level. If you need investment capital to expand your asset base, join a cooperative or a Sacco and learn from others. The only way to learn is to be aware of what is happening around you and to join in.
UNDERSTANDING THE RISKS
5. Understand the risks of farming and learn how to manage them. If unpredictable pricing is a risk, diversify into more stable product lines. If climate change is destabilising your seasonal production or reducing quality outputs, reach out to agribusiness specialists to learn how to manage these risks. Understand how research changes the dynamics of success in the field. This is the single largest issue confronting you now and everyone needs to be involved in finding solutions.
6. Get more field hands. Often seeding, fertilising, harvesting, processing, packaging, marketing and branding are limited only because of lack of help. Include family members and hired help but make it exciting for educated youth to be involved in solving the current issues related to agribusiness. This is a business, not just a farm. You are a businessperson, not just a farmer. Use college-educated youth and respect them for their brains, not their brawn.
7. Become your own brand manager. Does your farm have a name? Can the consumer differentiate your products from others? Can you get your story in the local newspaper? Manage your farm like a product.
8. Incorporate technology into all facets of your business. If you do not understand technology, get together with others who do. The beauty of technology is that once you learn, you can be as proficient as anyone else. Technology puts you on a level playing field.
9. Maintain detailed records of everything you do. Historical data allows you to analyse past mistakes and plan to take advantage of future opportunities.
10. Trust your instincts when doing anything.
Next week: How cooperatives stabilise prices and manage risks throughout the production and distribution cycle.
Ms Feller is an international small business consultant focused on agri-business; based in Portland, Maine, USA, she may be reached through her NGO Living With Peace Kenya at [email protected]