Caleb Karuga is the CEO and founder of Wendy Farms. He is a former TV reporter.
You quit a career in media to go into agribusiness, besides the money, what else prompted you?
My motivation stemmed from a personal concern. The food I was eating, especially exotic vegetables such as kales, were giving me severe heart burn. Their nutritional quality was also poor. Finding a regular supply of traditional vegetables and kienyeji chicken was also difficult. I shared my concerns with friends, only to realise that I wasn’t the only one who had made these observations. It is then that it occurred to me that I could solve that problem for myself and others by going into farming.
Have you experienced major setbacks; how did you bounce back from these challenges?
It is true I have lost quite a lot of money since I began farming six years ago, a loss of about Sh1.5 million. I once lost 1, 300 chickens in one week. Bouncing back from a loss of this magnitude is usually not easy since there is always the fear of losing again. I have kept going mainly because my motivation to get into agribusiness was not only to make money, but to solve a common problem.
Besides, I have a purpose, which is to change young people’s perspective about farming by being actively involved in it myself, and by practicing farming in the most effortless fashion.
If you could go back in time, what two factors would you want to change?
I wish I had gone into agribusiness earlier. I also wish I did not start by being penny wise and pound foolish. I was initially frugal with my expenditure, but when good money started trickling in, I started spending it in big projects hoping to mint millions quickly. The quail business is one of them, where I lost thousands of shillings. But you cannot thrive in business without a readiness to take risks.
Most young people don’t think working on a farm is ‘cool’. What attractive areas of investment exist in agribusiness for young graduates?
First, graduates must know that the world does not owe them a job. That said, opportunities abound in agribusiness. Start by identifying gaps in the agriculture value chain such as production, agro-processing, transport, logistics and distribution, and then plan how to plug these gaps.
Production of traditional vegetables, for instance, is one of the untapped areas the youth can exploit. This investment is less tiring, cheaper and fetches quick money. Most young graduates however lack the courage to get started. Making that crucial decision to be the solution, not part of the problem, without procrastinating, would change the lives of thousands of young graduates.
Do you have any obsessions?
Yes, I have a palate for good food, so I am a gourmet of sorts. I am not a perfectionist, but I am zealous about neatness in my work, something those I have worked with will attest to.
Kenya is a big importer of vegetables and fruits, sometimes from countries that are mostly desert. How can we maximise food production to be self-reliant?
Our problem is our over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture. The solution is to practice climate-smart agriculture, a form of agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience, while reducing greenhouse gases. This will help us achieve national food security.
Minimum tillage, crop rotation, drought-resistant crops and irrigation will see an increase in food production. We also need to rope in non-food producing areas to the agriculture matrix. Arid and semi-arid counties such as Turkana, Wajir and Mandera can also contribute to the country’s food basket.
What, specifically, should the government do to improve agriculture in the country?
The government should honour the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa, by continuing to set aside at least 10 per cent of the national budget to agriculture and rural development. Focused empowerment of small-scale farmers with market intelligence, subsidised inputs and extension services will also greatly boost our food production.
Do you read? Have you ever read a book that changed your perspective in life?
Yes, I am a bibliophile. The Richest Man in Babylon, From Third World to First by Lee Quyan Yee, The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs are some of the books that have fed my desire to engage in an activity that, besides improving my fortune, will positively change the lives of others.
Are there common lessons you have learnt as an events planner, a TV reporter and as a farmer?
Yes. You should respect time; do not procrastinate. Measure twice, cut once but plan, and plan some more. Then execute. Never be afraid of losing money; it is part of entrepreneurship. Whether you like it or not, you must go through the learning curve.
Successful people have a set of attributes that guide them in their endeavours. Tell us yours…
When it gets rough in business, and rough it does get quite often, I always say to myself: take heart and smile, it will be over, because God is at the centre of it all. My slogan is Ukulima sio ushamba (being a farmer does not mean you are not cool).
If you received a boost of Sh5 million today for your farming business, how would you spend the money?
As I seek to grow my own farming business, I am also passionate about empowering others as well. I would use part of the money to establish an agriculture-based foundation.
The purpose of this foundation would be to provide young agribusiness ambassadors across the 47 counties with seed capital. These model farmers would in turn convert fellow youth to become successful agri-preneurs, thereby starting a neo-Agrarian revolution.