WOMAN OF PASSION: In the organics business - Daily Nation

In the organics business

Friday September 5 2014

I set out to have a career in IT but my love for fashion saw me setting up a clothes shop. I dress the high and mighty and my clientele is majorly high-end including the political class

I set out to have a career in IT but my love for fashion saw me setting up a clothes shop. I dress the high and mighty and my clientele is majorly high-end including the political class. PHOTO| CHARLES KAMAU 

By JOAN THATIAH
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Marion Moon tells Elizabeth Merab about quitting the corporate world to be the managing director of Wanda Organic farming solutions.

It is a Monday morning and people are busy rushing to their offices.

Just like them, Marion Atieno Moon is heading to her work place. Her office, though, is different from a lot of other offices.

She has to wear gumboots, get comfortable with the whiff of cow dung and interact with farmers from all corners of the country, despite the language barrier, to impact positively in their lives.

This is what gives Marion satisfaction in life.

Having graduated from Australia with a degree in business management, getting jobs was almost easy in a country far from her home. Content with her then jobs, she gave her best at her work places and tried to be outstanding.

“I was young and eager to work and back then, jobs were almost readily available,” Marion says.

However, her ambition did not let her stay in one job too long. She was constantly looking for a more challenging platform.

“I learn quickly and once I know how to do something I get bored and get the urge for a new challenge.

So when a job got ‘boring’ I would get other thought-provoking offers and I moved. One day I realised that I was injuring my career.”

HELD MANY JOBS

In a span of five years, she had held as many jobs. After her graduation in 2006, Marion came back home and did her internship at the Kenya Tourism Board before shifting to Scangroup a year later as a media planner.

After a short stint, she sought a job in Uganda as a media consultant, but would soon get used to the routine and quit to join Aon Uganda as an executive assistant in 2009, where she lasted for two years.

“I was never feeling fulfilled,” she says. In 2011, she was at it again. This time, it came with the urge to come back home. She wanted to become her own boss. The need to take care of her mother overwhelmed her and the wish to make a direct impact on people made it worse.

“The lack of self-actualisation in my previous jobs was constantly haunting me and I felt that something was amiss,” she says.

“The urge to not only quit but also come home grew stronger each passing day and I could not stand staying one more day there.”

Determined to quit, she gave a one month notice to resign. But her boss was not too willing to let her go and even offered to transfer her to Nairobi office but have her retained.

After unsuccessful convincing from her boss, she packed her bags. However, her family was not too happy with her move and for months, none of them understood why she quit. “My family went ballistic on me and I just did not know what to do. But deep inside I felt I was going to do something big.”

With no job, she was only left with travelling at her disposal – and she made the most out of it.

A trip to Thailand gave her the niche she was constantly in search of. “I went to Bangkok where farmers use organic fertilisers, which greatly improved their yields through soil fertility.

It is then that I realised what I wanted to do – to start my own business that would make an impact.

This would definitely work by introducing the use of organic fertiliser to improve soil fertility in Kenya. It took me a few months to find the ‘Wanda idea’ and once I identified it, I registered and started,” she says.

Marion visited farms in Bangkok and Manila to see what was used for the preparation of the organic fertiliser, and later borrowed the idea to implement it home. However, it was not all rosy, as the initial cost for starting up the business was way too much.

Drawing her motivation from her father who is in the agriculture sector, she was still determined to succeed. “I sold everything I had, from my cars to my house and at 30, moved back home just to sustain my brainchild.”

Other than the financial constraints, piercing through the heavily patriarchal sector proved even harder for her, having to deal with critics who she says were not too accommodative.

“I remember attending meetings where stakeholders were pointing fingers and asking irrelevant questions about my marital status but one thing I will never forget was when one of them told me to make sure I went with my husband to the next meeting,” she recalls.

REGISTERED COMPANY

However, despite the challenges, the first born in a family of three has managed to register her organic fertiliser company.

Using USAID funding, she has been able to conduct trials with farmers in their 35 trial farms across the country.

Though she did not sit in a class to learn about agriculture, she has employed six technical assistances who assist her with the technical bits during field sessions.

“You don’t have to be an expert in the field. You can employ experts to assist you with that as you manage the smooth running of the business,” she advises.

“I fall in love with agriculture more and more every day. I love not having to dress formally all the time because gumboots are very comfortable and my interaction with the farmers always light up my days. I think I have found my niche,” she beams.

Advice for someone venturing into agriculture:

  • Have a mission and vision – know why you are venturing into agriculture and where in the value chain you want to place your focus.
  • Be serious and professional in the venture you have chosen, knowing that it is more than a hobby. Many people try to do things by remote control instead of being practical. Go to the field and interact with the farmers.
  • Agriculture has so many variables that one cannot always control like ever variable the climate. It is wise to be in touch with your business and be flexible and good at managing risks.
  • You don’t have to be an expert in whatever you do but be ready to work while learning at the same time. Better still, be an expert at managing the business and driving the vision.
  • It is always advisable to start small and grow by learning through experience and supplement it by reading and interacting with other farmers and people in the sector.