GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY: Farming is cool - Daily Nation

Get your hands dirty: Farming is cool and rewarding

Thursday October 13 2016

More and more young people are embracing agriculture, not as a last resort, but as a fulfilling and profitable source of livelihood. GRAPHIC | NATION

More and more young people are embracing agriculture, not as a last resort, but as a fulfilling and profitable source of livelihood. GRAPHIC | NATION 

By ROSE ODENGO
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Jecinta Ngina

 Jecinta Ngina checks on her French beans in her farm in Muranga. PHOTO | FILE

Jecinta Ngina checks on her French beans in her farm in Muranga. PHOTO | FILE

AGE:  32

COMPANY: Ella Farm Fresh

NO. OF EMPLOYEES:  Six

YEARS IN BUSINESS:  Four years

EDUCATION: Degree in Commerce from Kenyatta University

AVERAGE MONTHLY INCOME: Not less than Sh100,000

 

After graduation, Jecinta worked in the banking industry for two-and-a-half years, but found it “underwhelming”. She was unfulfilled and discouraged by the low pay, and knew there had to be something else in store for her.

She had seen the potential in agribusiness, and spoke to a cousin who helped her lease a two-acre farm in Ngoliba, Kiambu County.

It wasn’t an easy start, especially because she did not have much knowledge in agriculture when she began, so it was baptism by fire; crops would fail, and the climatic conditions would occasionally be harsh. It is only now that she fully understands her crop cycles.

She tried melons, chillies, baby corn and okra, and finally zeroed in on tomatoes and French beans, which she sells locally and to an international export company respectively.

She loves what she does, “A farm is like a baby, give it all the nutrients it needs, care for it and it will thrive and reward you. There is no feeling like it.”

The flexible nature of the business allows her to spend more time with her family, time she cherishes.

 

- Interview by Rose Odengo

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Laureen Aseka

 Laureen Aseka is a tomato farmer in Nairobi. Photo. PHOTO | FILE

Laureen Aseka is a tomato farmer in Nairobi. Photo. PHOTO | FILE

AGE:  24

NO. OF EMPLOYEES: 4

YEARS IN BUSINESS: 4

EDUCATION: Degree in international relations and diplomacy 

AVERAGE MONTHLY INCOME: Between Sh100,000-Sh200,000

Laureen grows tomatoes, growing her crop with all the love and care that it demands. For most of us, tomatoes are simply one of the ingredients we use to cook food, but for Laureen, they are her life and pride.

Her journey here began four years ago when she transferred from Mount Kenya University to United States International University-Africa, where there was more flexibility, allowing students more time to pursue other interests.

For some reason, Laureen had always been interested with farming, and decided to give tomatoes a try. The university allowed a grace period for payment of school fees, an advantage she used to fund her farming.

“I would use some of the money my parents gave me for school fees to fund my tomatoes project on leased land in Juja, in the outskirts of town, and then pay the remaining school fees at the end of  the semester after selling my tomatoes,” she says. Four years on after graduating from university, Laureen is a satisfied farmer. She however points out that tomato farming requires 100 per cent dedication, because the crop needs constant and careful care.

“Tomatoes are very demanding, you have to give them your full attention, with this crop, you cannot afford to do phone farming.”

She adds, “This is my passion; I even took evening classes so that I could spend more time at the farm.”

An acre of tomatoes, she says, will give you about Sh300,000 should everything go right for you.

Where many have given up, Laureen soldiers on in her labour of love. And no, she does not plan to look for a job, rather, concentrate on growing her venture.

 

Interview by Boniface Nyaga

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John Maingi

John Maingi, 27, a director of Food Africa Enterprises Limited at his farm in Nairobi on July 25, 2014. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA

John Maingi, 27, a director of Food Africa Enterprises Limited at his farm in Nairobi on July 25, 2014. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA

COMPANY: Food Africa Enterprise

EDUCATION: Degree in Computer forensics and cybercrime from United States International University-Africa

AVERAGE MONTHLY INCOME: From Sh100,000 onwards

John was only 19 when he was inspired by a story about young farmers in India on CNN. He began his research on greenhouse farming, and later on, with the support of his family, raised Sh350, 000, with which he set up two green houses with one crop - capsicum. It paid off.

Fast forward to 2016, eight years later, he has now diversified his business model; not only is he farming tomatoes, capsicum and other horticultural crops, he also offers agricultural support services; helping farmers set up green houses, drip irrigation systems, fishponds and dam systems.

He is also a distributor of agricultural produce for farmers to schools and hotels.

Though satisfying, he says it has not been an easy journey, the biggest challenge being climate change, which greatly affects yield. He is optimistic though, “I have been able to offer several people stable employment, and I am playing a role, however small, in contributing to food security in the country.”

In the next five to 10 years, he targets to start exporting horticultural products.

Besides farming, John is also an agent of CIC insurance, offering farmers crop insurance against unexpected disasters.

- Interview by Rose Odengo

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Hansel Wangara 

Hansel Wangara is the operations manager at Ukulima Tech. PHOTO | COURTESY

Hansel Wangara is the operations manager at Ukulima Tech. PHOTO | COURTESY

AGE:  28

COMPANY: Ukulima Tech

NO. OF EMPLOYEES:  Four

YEARS IN BUSINESS:  1 year

EDUCATION: Diploma in Aeronautical engineering from East Africa School of Aviation

AVERAGE MONTHLY INCOME: Sh50-60,000

 

Hansel was always fascinated by innovation, and explored different types of mobile and web-based applications on his own. He then explored tech-based solutions for agriculture and saw that he could automate drip irrigation pipes remotely, allowing a farmer to go about other business, saving them time and money. Together with three friends, Elizabeth Onyango, Ronald Kemei and Brenda Anne, they raised Sh140, 000 and formed Ukulima Tech in 2015. It was an innovative way of turning home spaces into vertical farming and kitchen gardens. With these simple systems, one can grow strawberries, capsicum, pepper, spinach, and other leafy vegetables on their balconies. From as little as Sh18, 000, they transform homes and apartments into small shambas - 16 clients, including the Danish Refugee Council compound in Daadab, to individual homes in Kajiado, Kisumu, Nairobi, Kitui, Machakos and Mwingi counties have benefited from this ingenuous idea.

Currently, they are running an M-Changa campaign to raise Sh5million to create a fully-fledged green workshop which will reduce the cost to the customer by 40 per cent. The amount raised will be matched by their partners, UKaid, Climate Innovation Centre and Energy 4 Impact.

 

- Interview by Rose Odengo

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Sarah Itambo

Sarah Itambo inside her greenhouse vegetable farm.  PHOTO | RACHEL KIBUI

Sarah Itambo inside her greenhouse vegetable farm. PHOTO | RACHEL KIBUI
 

AGE:  28

COMPANY: Smart Urban Farm Technologies

NO. OF EMPLOYEES: 5

YEARS IN BUSINESS: 6

EDUCATION: Diploma in Tourism

AVERAGE MONTHLY INCOME: Sh30,000-Sh100,000 

Sarah’s company teaches and supports urban and peri-urban farmers on correct farming methods. She started farming when she was just 21, and seven years on, she describes herself as a successful entrepreneur. The type of agriculture she teaches is designed for town life, taking into consideration the limited space and time that urban dwellers have. This entails using space-saving techniques that make it possible for the farmer to reap a maximum harvest.

“I actually have a diploma in tourism but I have never used it a day in my life. Farming however, has opened numerous doors for me, including touring a number of countries and hosting visitors from all over world at my farm in Garden Estate.”

Her company also produces specialised equipment for the urban farmer to get started. As food prices skyrocket, urban dwellers are quickly picking up this type of farming, either as a business, or a money-saving venture. Though the pay is modest, Sarah is cashing in with multiple sources of income.

“You can’t put all your eggs in one basket; most agricultural products are cyclical, so you have to mix them up to avoid getting burnt. Full-time urban farmers make about Sh30, 000-Sh100, 000 a month, but if you want to farm for consumption only, you will still save a lot of money.”

- Interview by Boniface Nyaga

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Marion Moon 

Marion Moon is the founder of bio-organic fertiliser which is used to improve soil fertility. PHOTO | FILE

Marion Moon is the founder of bio-organic fertiliser which is used to improve soil fertility. PHOTO | FILE

AGE:  32

COMPANY: Wanda Organics

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 16

YEARS IN BUSINESS: 5

EDUCATION: Degree in Business Management in Hospitality from Macquarie University, Australia

In 2011, Marion was living the dream of most 28-year-olds. She had an apartment, a car and money in the bank. But that was not enough for her.

“I was doing really well, but to what end was it?”

In August 2011, she quit her job at a top insurance company in Uganda and returned home. For the next four months, she travelled in and out of Kenya and across Southeast Asia, including Thailand.

She was amazed by the generosity of the Thai farmers, who kept giving her fruits.

“In my village area in Kisumu, people ask me for food, school fees - it’s an endless list of requests, yet Thailand, a growing economy like Kenya, and with a larger population of Sh67 million, was more developed and the population didn’t seem to lack food.”

 Marion returned home and began to study what the Thai were doing right to be self-sufficient. A few months later in 2011, she traveled to Vietnam to research on what they did to revive their coffee sector. She realised that a lot of it included looking after the soil. After researching on the Kenyan situation, in December 2011, Marion registered Wanda Organic, a Kenyan startup providing Kenyan farmers with affordable bio-organic fertiliser called PLANTMATE, which improves agricultural yield. She raised her capital through the sale of her assets, friends, family and grants from USAID through their Feed the Future program, Village Capital, an early stage business incubator, and the World Bank Climate Innovation Center (CIC). This has allowed her to prove beyond doubt that she has a great agricultural solution for Kenya, one that smallholders and big farmers are ready to pay for.

- Interview by Rose Odengo

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Rahab Wanjiru

Rahab Wanjiru is a rabbit farmer from Maili Sita, Bahati in Nakuru County. PHOTO | SULEIMAN MBATIAH

Rahab Wanjiru is a rabbit farmer from Maili Sita, Bahati in Nakuru County. PHOTO | SULEIMAN MBATIAH

AGE:  30

COMPANY: Fundisho Farms

YEARS IN BUSINESS: 6

EDUCATION: Certificate in front office management

AVERAGE MONTHLY INCOME: Sh100,000-Sh500,000

“My parents had a farm in Nakuru, so I was exposed to farming at a young age. Unlike many young people, I was not put off by all the hard work that I saw going into the farm, if anything, it was something I wanted to try out myself,” she says.

With the basic knowledge she had, she started rearing rabbits in 2010, but only went into full time farming after she went through training offered by International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation, KALRO, and Kipango Farmers in Kiambu.

She also keeps goats, which fetch her between Sh100,000 to Sh200,000 every five months. Though farming is rewarding if done right, she cautions that just like any other business, it faces turbulent times once in a while. A year ago for instance, the rabbit market was flooded, so she barely made a fraction of what she normally made. To stay afloat, she turned to greenhouse farming, where she planted spices and herbs for sale. With some cash injection from her family, she set up Fundisho Farms, a joint venture that exports spices and herbs to Germany.

“To succeed, you have to be open-minded and ready to adapt to change, because it will come. Successful farming also requires consistency and continuous education. You also have to continually educate yourself and keep up-to-date with the latest technology in farming - attend as many forums as you can and interact with those who have been there before you, otherwise you will not be able to weather the challenges.”

- Interview by Boniface Nyaga

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