I studied to become a bio medical scientist but I am now a farmer
Farming in Kenya is slowly being revolutionized by graduates who are not satisfied with what formal employment has to offer. The mentality of being stuck in an office job and suffering from earning a low income are being shattered by this new group of youth. The salaries being offered in white-collar jobs are too little to cater for all the expenses this world has to offer and this is forcing university graduates to look for other honest sources of income. One of the youths doing this is Reuben Kiptisia Kiptui a 30-year-old young farmer from Uasin Gishu County.
Reuben graduated from the University of Nairobi with a degree in Biomedical Science knowing he would become employed and earn a lot of money in a white-collar job. He always pictured a comfortable life after campus but things did not turn out like that. When he graduated in 2011 he secured a job with PSK Kenya (Population Services Kenya) formerly known as Population Services International as a Research Quality Control Officer. However, he felt like something was missing. His job did not offer him enough income to develop himself as an individual. It is at this point that Reuben made up his mind to quit his job and look for greener pastures.
This search for more eventually led him to farm. Reuben had always known how profitable farming was but he had never practiced it himself. After graduating in 2012 he decided to give it a try.
“After graduating in 2012 I felt the urge of going into commercial farming, I started by growing cabbages and Managu (African Nightshade) in our residential plot in Nakuru. I used to supply 70 bunches of managu @ KES 30 to Naivas on a weekly basis translating to KES 2100 per week. This boosted me to increase my acreage from a small farm plot to another 5 acres which is based in Eldoret.” Says Mr. Kiptui
His success in farming has enabled him to start his own company called Cresent Green Growers which deals in produce supplies around Eldoret and Nakuru town.
Earning more than formal employment
Speaking to me at my office in Eldoret town, Mr. Kiptui proudly shows me pictures of crops from his last harvest. He had planted leeks, managu, lettuce, and spinach at his farm in Kipkabus Uasin Gishu County. I was impressed. I could see in his eyes that he had a lot of passion for farming. He tells me with a smile on his face that he is now earning more than what his job offered him.
Of course, all this progress and success had to have started somewhere, so I asked him where he got his land, capital, and skills. He paused for a minute and explained everything to me. I was listening keenly because I knew these were one the biggest challenges most young farmers face when they are about to start their agribusiness ventures.
“When I made the decision to start my own farm I approached my mother who gave me a small portion of the family land in Nakuru to start,” He says.
I was curious to learn more about how he made all this happen. So I reminded him of the follow-up questions about where he got his funding and skills.
“I was raised on a farm and along the way, I picked some of the skills there. I have also recently attended training sessions in County which have helped me improve my skills. I had saved a small amount of my salary which I used to purchase seeds and fertilizer. ” Reuben tells me.
Her mother is his biggest inspiration who he says has also provided financial support and mentorship as he started his farming business. He thanks God for how lucky he is to get such support from his mother because most youths in Kenya are always discouraged to practice farming by their parents.
While farming is profitable and one of the easiest ways the youth can earn an honest income and solve unemployment, the challenges out there are real. Kiptui tells me he faces many challenges on his farm ranging from labor, transport, and middlemen who interfere with prices and climate change.
Certain crops are labor intensive especially when it comes to weeding and spraying. During his first attempts at farming his crops failed miserably due to poor health resulting in untimely weeding and spraying.
“During my first attempts in farming I went out looking for 10 people who would weed and spray my crops but I couldn’t find anyone on time to complete this task. I did not know where to get casual laborers or where to begin. This resulted in a drop in production of my crops” He says.
With time Kiptui has familiarized himself with the local community and this has made it easier to get laborers to his farm. He advises beginner farmers to know the people (Neighbours) around their farms because they will be needed when there is work available at the farm.
Middlemen and Transport
Lack of transport has forced Reuben to sell his crops to middlemen who come to his farm to buy his produce. The middlemen come with Lorries/ Trucks and drop the crop prices because they know how desperate the farmer is. Kiptui tells me he knows the main way of solving this problem is to buy his own pickup and sell his produce directly to the market himself or transport it to other towns however this option is expensive for a beginner farmer.
Recently however he has managed to find a way of transporting his crops from his farm which is more than 30 Km away from town. He tells me that he has befriended matatu drivers who pick up his produce from the road and drop it off in town. When the vegetables get to town he then has a network of “mkokoteni” (Cart) guys who distribute them for him to various shops and supermarkets.
“Farming always seems to have issues all the time even after you have solved some. In June this year, I sowed spinach, manage, and lettuce on the nursery beds and waited for the rains to come as expected but I was disappointed when none showed up. My seeds failed to germinate and I lost my investment.”
Once again these are some of the common factors that also affect me on my farm. Especially the middleman and climate change problem. We laughed when we realized how much this problem affects us. Nodding my head with an understanding I asked him what other solutions he had in mind to help solve these challenges.
“All these challenges can be solved but the approach should be gradual. For instance, farmers can pool their funds together and build their roads together instead of waiting for the government which will take forever. Planting on time, taking care of the environment, and installing reliable irrigation systems will help counter climate change problems. Market problems can be solved by farmers coming together in groups which will link producers to retailers directly to prove commodity prices. These groups can even purchase their own means of transportation.” He added
Kiptui future plans to venture into value addition for his produce and export them. He advises young farmers to first come up with a solid plan before venturing into farming. This will help them know where they are going.
Parting Shots from Kiptisia
- Farming can be really profitable but it also has its own challenges as you have noted in the article above. Here are a few tips that you may need as a beginner farmer to help you solve some of these hurdles;
- Before starting a horticulture farm always ensure that you have a reliable irrigation system installed that will provide constant water to your crops. Remember that on a farm, water is everything so make sure you have enough.
- If you really want to start your own farm and you do not have little to no capital, you can reach out to your family or friends for help. Make sure that you have a business plan at hand because this will help as you tackle your objectives. It will also show how serious you are when asking for money.
- In cases where you cannot ask for money from friends or family members, you can form or join a youth group with individuals who share the same interest as you. You will then get to start a joint venture where everyone brings something to the table and jumpstart the business.
- Farming just like any other business requires skills. Make sure you attend agricultural training programs, tours, and fairs near you to get as much knowledge as possible.
- Always research before starting a farm. Do you your research well because this will determine your success or failure in farming. Farming is not something you can just see on TV or read in the newspaper and then try to implement. You need to have all the facts right and then proceed with your investment. You can get agricultural information from your county government, research websites online, or consult with expert farmers near you.
- Patience is very important when you are starting out in farming. If you are an impatient person then you need to throw that trait out of the window and calm down. If you ask any expert or professional farmer in Kenya they will tell you the same thing. You might fail during your first attempt, second, or even your third attempt but with time and patience, you will hit a continuous profitable streak that will have you smiling all the way to the bank.
- Have confidence in yourself when you get into farming because you will experience a lot of challenges along the way.
- Find a farmer friend who will help you as you start your agribusiness journey.
- Take free samples of your product to grocery shops to entice buyers. This will make them trust your consistency and take your product.
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