Telephone farming in Kenya has not gone well for many people. If you were to randomly tell farmers to raise their hands if they had lost any money since last year, you will be surprised to see the results. Nearly 90% of the hands raised will be telephone farmers. Telephone farmers are guys who rarely step on the farm. They leave all the hard work to their “trusted” farm manager or Mtu Wa Mkono also known as the Farmhand. They are employed or have businesses elsewhere and send money to the farm via MPESA to buy farm implements, pay salaries, etc. They check up on the farm progress via telephone calls. hence the name, Telephone farmers.
Why are telephone farmers the victims? They do extensive research just like everyone else, have written down solid business plans and have good financial projections? The answer to this can be summed up into two things;
- Availability: Telephone farmers are not always around to handle the critical factors needed around the farm e.g sowing, fertilizer applications, water application, and harvesting. For those doing animal farming, they fail to know if an animal is falling sick, needs attention or requires a certain amount of food and water.
- Impatience: 1 Timothy 6:10 says; For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after. Most telephone farmers in Kenya get into farming to make a quick buck. Farming is not a quick buck-ing scheme. It’s hard work. You will be disappointed greatly if you get into farming with these reasons in mind.
These are unavoidable circumstances, you might say. I cannot gamble and resign my day job for the farm. It’s too risky. So what is the way out? What is the solution? How do you become a successful telephone farmer?
- Insurance: This is a relatively new concept for most farmers in Kenya. No one knows the process involved in taking an insurance cover for your crops. The only insurance cover that most people in Kenya know about is health and vehicle insurance. Insurance can save you from getting ulcers when you lose everything on your farm to floods, drought, accidents, etc. Talk to Acre Africa or APA insurance. They will guide you through this process.
- Choose the right farming activity: I am a farmer an I practice mostly maize (Mostly for silage), dairy farming and a bit of horticulture. I run a business in town and I have to balance these activities together in an organized manner. We have employees and structures in place who have been working on the farm for many years doing the farming activities I mentioned above. You can, however, notice that I said we do a bit of horticulture. This is because horticulture is a bit tricky. It’s very hard to balance horticulture with other things. The risks are too high and you need to be a very attentive person (or have vegetables in your system instead of blood :D). You need to choose a safe agribusiness venture like bull rearing, sheep or goat farming. I am not saying you should not grow vegetables. This is my personal take on the matter, I believe horticulture is too sensitive to work from a distance. Choose what works. Stop following catchy article headlines that promise you millions in 1 month.
- Experience: There is nothing better than getting hands-on farm experience. Take a month off and head to the farm. Get your hands dirty and learn the core things about your venture. Get to know important things like how to grow and sell your farm produce. This will help you later when your farm employees give you lame excuses on what going on at the farm.
These tips are not an assurance to success, they are merely guides to help you make smart decisions.