2014 was a very interesting year in agribusiness as more and more people especially Kenyans started to acknowledge agribusiness as a possible game changer for the Kenyan economy. Especially in the fight against unemployment that is literally crippling our dear nation.
Through out the year, spent a lot of time visiting farms, reading and doing research and engaging in some farming of my own and through it all made several realizations that I would like to share with you today.
First and foremost, the Kenyan media is on a mission to promote agribusiness. Whether it is the realization that agribusiness could be good for the country or that there are an increasing number of Kenyans looking for agriculture/farming information. This has seen a number of TV stations start shows that focus on agribusiness. These include Shamba shape up from Citizen tv, Mkulima ni ujuzi from QTv among others. This is a good thing as it motivates and educates the audience. On the other hand, these shows can be misleading especially when they do not show the challenges associated with farming. This has seen a lot of young Kenyans eager to make money fall victim of poor research/education on the different fields of farming. One of the regrets that I have heard from young farmers is not doing enough research. This is especially painful when one makes a heavy investment in something like a greenhouse only to mismanage and get losses.
The truth of the matter is that farming is challenging. This is due to its dynamic nature and the many variables involved. This is not to say that it is impossible. Many farmers are making a living from farming and making it big. One thing that they will all tell you is that practice makes perfect. They all have stories of the mistakes they make when they started the trade and things that they could have done differently.
To avoid such, do your homework, learn from people who have already walked that path before and be patient. With farming it is always slow at fast but things get better as time goes on
The other thing I discovered about the farming industry in Kenya is the slow but sure springing of ‘Factory farming’ institutions. By factory farming I mean large scale fully commercial establishments. These establishments thrive on economies of scale. Producing in masses to drive down expenses. Last year I had the pleasure of visiting a 20,000 plus chicken farm. This was the first of its kind that I had visited. The chicken were housed in battered cages like the one shown below where each cage housed 4 chicken. It is in the same farm that I got to watch artificial insemination being carried out on chicken. Where as such an establishment is viewed as good business, some questions arise concerning the effect it has on small holder farmers because that one farm can easily meet demand that could have been serviced by over 100 small holder farmers. In the western countries, the large poultry farms have put the smaller family farms out of business and the only way that these smaller farms can compete is to market their products as organic. This is because the factory way of raising chicken isn’t exactly appealing to the human eye and people would rather eat product from chicken raised in a more humane manner. This could easily be the path that the Kenyan agribusiness sector follows.
One other thing I noticed in the mega poultry farm I visited is that waste management becomes more and more of a problem with increases chicken numbers. You can imagine just how much chicken droppings are produced by 20,000 chicken. This calls for proper waste management.
Maize farmers in my opinion had the toughest year in 2014. It all started with the irregular and delayed rains which caused a lot of losses, then came the lethal maize necrosis disease which pushed farmers to shred their maize for animal feed just to avoid total losses. Then the last nail on the coffin was when the government delayed buying of maize which exposed farmers to brokers who bought a bag at ksh1500. When the government finally started buying the maize, it was at ksh2300. This, considering all the challenges farmers faced was a big disappointment to many maize farmers. This could see the number of maize farmers go down as they seek alternative better rewarding crops to grow.
Dear Farmer, how was your 2014 like? Share on the comment section below.