Forget the drama of small-time business where city traffic renders hopping around for day time transactions tiresome and arduous; farming is the new way to go. Innovative city slickers have been stealthily stepping out of the towns, swopping their sharp suits and sleek heels for muddy gumboots, unwieldy gloves and rough battered jeans, a few days a month.
As the cost of living rises and salaries remain the same, many seeking supplementary incomes may not previously have considered farming as a side option. There are different models they have been adopting too: working with a parent, working with a partner, or simply, going it alone.
WORKING WITH A PARENT
Dr Stan Mureithi Wahome has truckloads of energy. If you thought running one farming venture on the side alongside a job was hard, well this 27-year-old is running three separate farming projects.
And a fourth is in the pipeline.
A medical doctor based at Karatina District Hospital, Wahome keeps chicken, sheep and goats, and is in the middle of setting up a dairy unit. He also plans to start rearing bulls in a year.
“When I was growing up, my school fees was paid by money from farming and so I wondered how much more it could bring in if I went large-scale.”
Wahome started in July 2013 after his medical school internship, working with this father. “So far we’ve grown our livestock from 10 to 80. We have four heifers for dairy and 120 chicken in Karatina.”
Currently Wahome gets between three to four trays or eggs a day but hopes the number will rise to five.
“If you do five trays with each tray giving you Sh300, you could make Sh1,500 in a day, which would be Sh45,000 in a month.”
How does he ensure this side hustle does not interfere with his day-time job?
“I am up by 6.30am and done with feeding and watering them in an hour. This means that I easily get to work on time. And then I leave work at 4. If anything, I have a lot of free time by the end of it.”
Ms Maryanne Mugo, a market researcher with a multinational in Nairobi, has been farming with her mother in Molo for just over a year now. Maryanne is in her late 20s.
“Molo has a lot of rain, good soil and leasing land is pretty affordable. I thought it would be good to grow my county and at the same time increase my income,” she says.
Theirs is a 50:50 joint venture.
“My mother manages the shamba very well. We put some of the profits back into the farm and save the rest because we also want to put up some buildings together.”
WORKING WITH A PARTNER
Mr Peter Keregi, 29, is an accountant with the Kenya Forest Service in Elburgon. He lives 20 minutes away in Molo and his three-acre potato farm is an hour away in Kiptunga. He got started in June 2013, after a friend invited him to join in his venture. Keregi says that despite the loss made in the first harvest, he is optimistic.
“We invested Sh132,000 for labour, seeds and fertiliser the first time. We only made Sh40,000 from the harvest but things have been picking up since then.”
How has he kept the peace at work?
“I didn’t have to tell my boss but I did. It doesn’t take my time during the week so he does not have a problem with it anyway. I visit the farm on weekends.”
Mr Makokha Wanjala is in his mid 30s and has been in poultry and dairy farming in Isinya and Misikhu respectively for six years.
“The main drive was making supplementary income; it occurred to me that you can make more money by farming even as you work,” he says.
Apart from nine dairy cattle Wanjala has 300 layers. His initial investment was Sh200,000 much of it going towards construction of the chicken house. He harvests six to eight trays of eggs daily and with each egg selling at Sh15, he looks kindly upon it. “On a good month, it can bring in between Sh150,000 to 200,000. My ambition is for it to triple my income.”
Currently heading the strategy and treasury unit at the Institute of Certified Accountants of Kenya, Wanjala divulges that the experience has also had its down times. “There was a time I had an infection on the farm. I was away at the time and lost 300 birds.”
He explains that a way out of the challenge of needing to be on site sometimes is establishing a chain of networks of veterinary doctors and feed suppliers. “My farm is 60 km away. But just by using the phone, I can get people to go look at the animals if a problem comes up. At the end of the day, it’s about working with people.”
Mr Ezekiel Bose is an engineer with a financial institution in Nairobi. Like Wanjala, he started out cultivating maize in Western Kenya as an additional line of income.
He is optimistic about his farming project, describing the margins as exciting. Having invested Sh54,000 the first time, he got back Sh118,000. He has been lucky not to have suffered crop failure, and he attributes this to planning. “You have to plan as much as possible. Don’t get into part-time farming on impulse or just because someone else is doing it, do your research and planning.”
Does it interfere with his work? “It does not. There’s no conflict as such. In a month you work 22 days, if you are good at planning, you work with the seven days well to monitor the farm. If you are lucky to have a good farm manager, someone who has the same vision as you but is willing to work for you, it becomes easy. If you don’t have someone trustworthy, then you can be spread thin, because farming can be quite intensive and involves monitoring.”
These youthful farmers have different tips for you if you want to start out:
“If you are getting into farming, you have to forget about your status. It involves waking early, wading through mud and getting one’s hands dirty. If you think to yourself, ‘I am a doctor’, you won’t do it,” Wahome says.
Wanjala has some advice on the financial aspect of things. “I would tell people to have a separate bank account for their side business so that they can be clear on how much they are getting. Also, seek out information from professional sources along the way.”
For Wanjala, it’s attitude. “The first person to start with is yourself; you have to vigorously believe in your own dream and be ready for setbacks.”
Mugo meanwhile puts it in one word. “Patience. In your first few months you might make a loss, but don’t give up. It is never easy.”
Keregi says getting a good, reliable farmhand is the first step to peace of mind and huge returns.