The setting is a demo farm at Kilimo Biashara centre off the busy Meru-Nanyuki highway, and Gachara Gikungu is at the centre of it all.
The Seeds of Gold team finds him surrounded by a group of about 10 people, eagerly listening to what he is telling them.
“What does a good farm worker need to know?” he asks and proceeds to provide the answer. “He should know that he is not just taking care of crops or animals, but he is in business, a business that is generating his salary. He should also know that he will give back the cost of production and give the owner a profit of a certain margin,” he adds.
Gikungu, 60, continues teaching his attentive listeners, who are mostly farm workers, and they marvel at his wealth of knowledge.
The trainer notes that most farmers fail to make their workers understand that they are in business, and this costs them
“The farm worker should know that his salary comes from the milk the animal produces or the eggs that the hens lay. Thus, if this does not happen, they will not earn,” he says.
According to Gikungu, like the farmer, the farm worker should know that a cow should give birth to a calf every year for the farm to run profitably.
“He should also know that there is a peak period and a low season. The peak period is say after delivery all the way to the third month and he should know how to maximise returns during this time,” he says.
The trainer notes that a good farm worker does not need any supervision.
“He should know his duties and go out of his way to ensure everything goes right. Besides, he must understand the customer and observe high standards of hygiene. In the case of horticulture, the farm worker should know the chemicals to be sprayed at what time and at what intervals,” he offers.
Furthermore, the worker must know how to keep records, know the cost of production and make some profit to justify a salary increment, he says, adding that the worker should also be accountable and honest.
Gachara, an agricultural specialist who trains farmers and farm workers, observes that farm workers need to understand the market and plan for it.
NO CLUE OF WHAT FARMING ENTAILS
“Know when to plant so that you can reap maximally as sale of farm produce is dictated by market forces.”
For the farmer, he says one should always show leadership on the farm by knowing what to plant and where the market is. “Have a farm specialist, a veterinarian or agronomist who can be consulted when need be,” he adds.
“Everyone wants to do farming, but what kind of farming are they doing and who are they leaving on the farm to manage their investments?” observes Gikungu.
According to him, a majority of people entrusted with the animals and crops on the farm have no clue of what farming entails.
“Farming is a pure science that requires holistic, scientific and technical approach.” He asks farmers to harvest in bits if the produce can be picked in portions to avoid waste.
“Farmers need to know what is required, for instance, for a potato to get more tubers at lower costs? It’s not about the size of the land, but the production and management and entrepreneurial skills,” explains Gikungu, who started the centre in 2007.
So, once one gets the perfect worker, how do they know what to pay them? “Check on the cost, then do an enterprise budget which is determined by the market. Depending on the profit, decide on how much to pay and remember that for every shilling invested in agriculture you must get a return,” offers Esther Wambui, a private extension officer in Laikipia.
She notes that a farm worker is entitled to proper housing, quality food, health cover (NHIF) and one should also pay for their social security benefits (NSSF).
On most farms, however, a good number of workers are family members or relatives of the farmer. This often poses a challenge on how to pay or motivate them.
“It is difficult to work with a relative but in case you have employed one, treat them like other workers and pay them.
Also, clarify the terms as the business does not know that the worker is a relative or not, and profit has to be made,” says Wambui.
There are telltale signs that one should look out for to know if they have a rogue worker, according to Wambui.
“Watch out for the worker who is always complaining, and very particular with departure time and often wants to influence others negatively. When pushed to his limit, such a worker reacts pathetically and keeps making claims but when assigned any task he takes longest time – always delaying,” she says.
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Qualities of a good farmhand
Have some little mechanical and maintenance skills, especially on a large farm.
Have problem-solving abilities.
Be good in time-keeping and management.
Have some knowledge in best farming practices.
Have good interpersonal and listening skills.