Many people are not aware of the work and dedication that goes into feeding a continent as large as Africa, and African Farmers Stories’ aims to profile farmers who are doing this important work, to understand what it takes to be an African farmer and the challenges they face. In this interview, two farmers from Kenya share their perspectives. Boniface Ojiambo, Farmer and Thomas Owiny, Founder/CEO, Gem Farmers Centre
Boniface Ojiambo is a young farmer from Kenya, involved in crop production, dairy farming, and bee keeping. While working as operations officer for Youth Enterprise Development Fund (a state corporation that provides loans and development support for Kenyan entrepreneurs) and visiting agribusiness entrepreneurs on their farms, he realised real money was in agriculture. He could not access a loan from the Fund as that would be a conflict of interest, so he requested to use a small family-owned plot of 20 acres land to start farming. From an initial poultry farm with 10 chickens, Boniface now owns over 110 chickens with eggs incubated the traditional way, milk-producing cows with calves, and twelve beehives.
Speaking on challenges faced, he highlighted that of recruiting farm workers, especially since he is not always there. He emphasises the need to build a good relationship with employees by paying reasonable salaries, providing training and even salary-deductible loans. Along with proper background checks and seeking out people who are dedicated and have family in the area, these strategies have helped him build a strong employee force that have worked seamlessly on his farm for two years. Other highlighted challenges are the difficulty that many youths face in accessing government loans because the collateral required is twice that of the loan amount and in accessing a market for farm produce without employing middlemen, who take most of the profit.
In the light of the Covid19 pandemic, Boniface notes that business has been seriously affected because customers are now afraid of contracting the virus through his workers during deliveries. He is also restricted from visiting his farm in Makuru county, as movement out of Nairobi, where he lives and works, has been restricted. His farm is adapting to these challenges by increased sanitation and ensuring contactless delivery.
The biggest lesson he has learnt is that money lies not in sitting in an office for eight hours a day, but from what comes from the ground. He believes agriculture offers real opportunities for growth, and is now thinking of quitting his office job to fully pursue it. He advices interested agribusiness entrepreneurs that it is possible to start small, especially with highly valuable crops, to always have a market before starting, and to be willing to talk to local farmers about best practices to maximise profit.
Thomas Owiny, Founder/CEO, Gem Farmers Centre
Thomas Owiny is the CEO and founder of Gem Farmers Centre with the mission to transform communities in Kenya by working with farmers to change their lives, empower them and create wealth.
Thomas emphasises that agribusiness is the backbone of the Kenyan economy – it accounts for 65% of exports and employs a great deal of land in the country. Gem Farmers Centre began by drilling boreholes to provide water for farms, before moving into agroforestry within a network of farms in the northern and western regions of Kenya. Community engagement was carried out by tree-planting demonstrations and distributing 20,000 seedlings, before advancing to producing sunflowers and soybeans, as well as food crops. The centre is also involved in the blue economy through cage fishing in Lake Victoria, to capitalise on the fishing industry that contributes 4.5% to Kenya’s GDP. The industry has been made more profitable by making it more organised, introducing fingerlings and through fisher-boat fish markets that allow produce to be more accessible to consumers. Thomas notes that working closely with government experts and technical institutions has allowed them to get the best output from all their enterprises.
On challenges faced, Thomas spoke on convincing young people that agriculture is a lucrative and worthy business, and not only white-collar office jobs, and the importance of referring to the industry as “agribusiness”. To this end, farmers are advised and guided from the stage of providing seeds up to the market level, in order to build a profitable business model.
He notes that the government’s interest in addressing food security, the manufacturing industry, housing and health care in the country are all providing avenues for farmers to contribute positively by increasing crop production to feed the nation and keep them healthy, providing raw materials for the manufacturing industry and timber for housing projects.
Gem Farmers Centre also works closely with learning institutions to boost interest in agriculture, from kitchen gardens in primary schools to reintroducing courses in agribusiness and modern farming in tertiary institutions that help them generate income, such as the Nairobi Institute of Technology with over 150 acres of farmland.
The African SMEs Stories series is brought to you by Support4AfricanSMEs hosted weekly on Instagram by Uwem Uwemakpan. Interview edited by Oluchi Buchi-Njere.