While there are thousands of young people who don’t want to get into agriculture as they refer to it as ‘dirty work’, there are those who are limited because they don’t own land that they could farm on. There are others who land limitation did not stop them from their farming ambitions. Think of the uncultivated land in different parts of the country. Have you ever thought of leasing a piece with an intention to farm?
We spoke to four individuals who are so passionate about farming that they went ahead, leased land, some many kilometers away their homes and are reaping big. Read on.
FATUM ZARA & DALACHA WAKO
“You can have money, have ideas but if you have fear, you won’t get things started,”- Fatum.
In December last year, Fatum Zara, 23 and Dalacha Wako, 27 were just four months old into marriage when Wako got home one night with a proposal that they venture into Agribusiness. A request that according to Zara came as a fulfilled desire because, for a long time, she had desired to get into agribusiness.
“I work for a local university and while having my usual after-class interactions with some of the students, I shared my desires to get into farming and lamented of the high cost of leasing land in Nairobi, where we reside. One of the students said that he had a brother who could help me get some farming land in Loitoktok, Kajiado County,” Wako said.
With lots of hope and determination, he made a four hours trip to Loitoktok in a bid to familiarise himself with the area and meet the potential leaser.
“As if nature was giving us a go-ahead sign, I found farmers harvesting their crop and potential buyers on standby. That way, I had an opportunity to visit other farms and interact with the buyers. With the help of the student’s brother, we managed to secure four acres of community land. We resolved that tomatoes were the way to go so we started researching how to grow the crop,” offers Wako.
“For the period of one year, we leased the land at Sh 10,000. However, the price varies depending on the area or landowner. We also got a farm manager and two other people to live and work on the farm,” chips in Zara.
According to the couple, starting off the project wasn’t an easy task because, in just one day, they had spent about Sh 21,000.
“The amount was spent on clearing the farm, hiring tractors for ploughing and paying water levy to access it from the nearby water source – which we pay Sh 5100 every month. We kicked off the project in March this year,” he reveals.
Although the couple was excited to have started off the project, they reveal that the months that have followed have seen them wake up early and sleep late as they have to commute to the farm, 227 KM away at least once a week.
“It is a work of sacrifice. Sometimes we leave Nairobi as early as 4 am and get back past midnight - tired and sleepy,” says Zara.
Yet, for the duo, there is no relenting. While the workers are busy on the farm, Wako and his wife continue with their branding business in Nairobi which was their source of farming capital.
“After every fortnight, we ensure that we replenish foodstuffs at the farm hut and buy farm products such as pesticides,” notes Wako and adds:
“Although it hasn’t been easy for us bearing in mind that it was our first time in farming, we are happy with the progress. We expect to get at least a 1000 crates from the four acres. As at now, we have harvested almost 250 crates and these have been able to pay for the expenses incurred along the journey.”
To get here, Wako notes that they’ve had to do a lot of research and borrow notes from successful farmers.
“Thankfully, there’s a lot of information online about farming and we have also found magazines such as Seeds of Gold by Daily Nation to be very helpful.”
Although the couple agrees that farming is profitable and that you don’t need much capital to start, through it, they discovered that there’s no easy way to success.
“Most young people want an easy way up and don’t want to struggle. That doesn’t happen in farming. Another great realisation we have made is that a little can go a long mile because you don’t need a lump sum to start. In our case, we have spent almost Sh 200 000 on the farm but the fact that we didn’t pay it all at once made it very easy and manageable,” explains Zara.
You will be amazed to know that as they balance business and farming, education has been their first priority. Both are waiting for their graduation; Fatuma in a bachelor of Human Resource from Egerton University and Wako- Masters in Information Science from Kisii University, Nairobi Campus.
“I am a career woman. I intend to pursue my masters as soon as possible and get into the field of HR. However, I didn’t want to just sit there and wait. I will scale the professional ladder but continue farming,” says Zara.
According to the couple, information is key. What you read and the people you interact with matters a lot. They also believe that for one to start something successful, they need to have a strategy- and a strong one at that.
BRIAN KARINA, 27
“As a farmer, you need to take account of every coin spent”-Brian
“Last year, I was thinking of different ways to supplement my income and as I was researching, I realised that there are hundreds of people from different continents who come to Africa, rent land, farm and take the produce back to their countries. I also stumbled on another research that stated that even with its vast tracts of arable land, Africa cannot feed her people,” he says.
That, coupled with the need to earn an extra coin fostered the idea of farming. However, there was a problem. He didn't own a land.
“When I shared with my mother about my plans and the predicament I was in, she helped me get a land in Sagana, Kirinyaga County in December last year. However, I had started the research as early as in February because I didn't want to go into it blindly. Also, I had to make some savings to enable me pay for leasing charges and take care of other farming expenses,” he explains.
Brian is a professional marketer, working on a full-time basis for a marketing agency based in Nairobi, which means he had to be very strategic with his plans to ensure that he doesn’t comprise his main job.
“Even before I paid Sh 40,000 which was the charge for two acres -two seasons, I had to first seek the services of a farm manager. Luckily, I got an experienced farmer who was willing to move into the farm. Because of my busy schedule at work, I visit the farm twice a month, during the weekends,” he offers.
In March this year, Brian began the journey. To prepare the farm, he spent around Sh 100,000 which went to buying a water pumping machine, water pipes and tilling the land.
However, he notes that the starting capital is much lower if one doesn’t need to buy such equipment. “I settled on farming cucumber on one acre because the soil was favourable and not many people were farming the crop around the area. Also, cucumber takes around 40 - 60 days to mature and the returns are quite good. On the other acre, I planted maize,” he explains.
Brian confesses that when he started farming, one of the biggest challenges he encountered was finding people to work on the farm.
“We would agree with the labourers on what needs to be done, set wages but they refuse to show up for work. Other times, they would charge me up to Sh 200 above the normal rate claiming that I wasn't from the area,” he explains.
The other challenge that almost made Brian give up on farming was realising that thieves had been stealing from the farm at night.
“I recall that on this particular day, I got into the farm and was very pleased that even the crops bordering other farms hadn’t been ravaged, only to be dismayed when I got deeper into the farm. More than 500 husks had been stolen! Also, when I started, some of the residents were very hostile alluding that I was an outsider benefiting from their resources. But with the help of some village elders and the chief, the issue was sorted,” he offers.
Challenges aside, Brian who aspires to get into large-scale orchard farming reveals that his June harvest was bountiful with a profit of about Sh 100,000. If you ask him, taking every coin into account and engaging marketers even before the crops had matured were his winning points.
“Immediately I was done planting in March, I started preparing a database of potential buyers. My background as a marketer was an added advantage and the fact that I had some acquaintances who work as vendors in Githurai market helped. Through them, I was able to get other vendors from almost all markets in Nairobi,” he notes.
According to Brian, lack of ready markets for perishable produce like cucumbers puts most farmers into losses. He, therefore emphasises the importance of having a plan B to avoid disappointments. Also, the need to have a proper book of records.
“In my case, I send between Sh 2000 to Sh 4000 every other week to the farm manager for his wages and other related expenses. It might seem little but I know that if I don’t keep records, I might end up making losses,” says the bachelor of Entrepreneurship graduate from Karatina University.
Currently, he is farming sweet potatoes on the piece of land before he resumes to cucumber next season. In place of maize, he intends to toss himself into tree tomatoes farming.
Also, Brian is into goat rearing and his livestock counts to 30, a number he wishes to increase to 100 by next year.
“My vision is to contribute in our country's food security by practising organic farming on large scale. Also, I intend to establish a company where we can make value addition to beverages using tree tomatoes and passion fruits. Someday, I will start a dairy company, an abattoir and butchery for my goats.
“Farming is not ‘cool’. It is a business that must be taken seriously and done professionally”-Gladys
“While in high school, I had to work on people’s farms to buy personal effects such as sanitary towels. Although the task of tiling and harvesting different produce was a hard task for a 14-year-old girl, I learnt one important lesson- that by farming, one could actually earn a living. At 19, I invested Sh 30,000 -savings from my job as a bank teller in rice-farming. It was my very first attempt in farming and I was excited at the thought of the profit I would make. Unfortunately, the venture turned out to have been a miss-informed idea. I lost all the money, including the starting capital,” she explains.
However, this did not deter her from pursuing her passion to farm. If anything, she was exposed to the various gaps and opportunities that exist in agriculture. Convinced that she had learnt from the previous venture, early last year she leased four acres to farm sweet potatoes. Getting land was a smooth process as her friend linked her to potential leasers.
“I took into account the amount of time commitment required and I thought that farming sweet potatoes was the best choice. The land is fertile and borders a permanent river. Also, I considered market trends, demand and supply. At the moment, I have a particular company that buys the sweet potatoes directly from the farm."
However, although she has managed to make an average of Sh 180,000 from the farm in just one season- which takes about three to four months, she has had her share of challenges.
“I was duped on the actual land size and again, the land owner let it at Sh 2,000 above the actual market rate. Also, it hasn’t been easy balancing my work as a development practitioner and the farming business. I have had to get the services of a farm manager who I pay an average of Sh 2,000 every week depending on what needs to be done on the farm."
Another challenge that she has faced is getting great farm workers, who know about different aspects of sweet potato farming, especially harvesting. Due to the poor harvesting techniques, they have lost some of the produce as some get damaged in the process. On many occasions, she has had to deal with middle persons who pretend to be the buying company’s field officers – who offer lower rates than the company does.
She advises that if you intend to get into farming, you need to take it seriously like any other business as you can easily lose your investment. Additionally, do a thorough research on the crops you intend to grow.
“It is important that you take into account the costs involved to get the workers to the farm. In my case, I am considering investing time and resources to train my workers to ensure that we reduce the damages,” she says and adds,
“Farming is great and youth should definitely try it. But NO, farming is not ‘cool’. It is a business that must be taken seriously and done professionally,” she notes.
According to young farmers who have leased land, here are some tips to take into consideration:
Ensure that you enter into a legal agreement with the land owner in the presence of witnesses, preferably neighbours and relatives. Ensure all details clearly stipulated.
Before you settle on a particular land, find out the history of the said farm- the last crop farmed, reasons why it is uncultivated and the type of soil.
Ask around the neighbourhood the market rate for land leasing to avoid being duped.
Engage the services of a professional surveyor to measure the size of the land and the property lines to avoid paying more for less or getting into unnecessary disputes with the neighbouring land owners.
Seek advice from experts, field extension officers from well-established agricultural companies, instead of individuals.
Ascertain that the crops you intend to grow can do well in the particular area. You can do this by taking samples of the farm soil for testing.
Carry out an extensive research before you start farming and ensure that you have a database of potential buyers and reach out to them before you start the harvesting process.
Consider your time commitment seriously before venturing into agribusiness.