The Rise of the Agripreneur: Modern Farmers Find Profit and Fulfillment

· @MwihakiMithamo ·

For many Kenyans, farming is for retirees or a poor man’s job. But that’s changing — in a big way. The media is awash with educational farming programs to sharpen the skills of Kenyan farmers. Even social media is punctuated by phrases such as ukulima sio ushamba and kulima ni kujitegemea, meaning “farming is not an outdated activity” and “farming sets you on the path of self-reliance”.

Agriculture is making a comeback, particularly as young people realize that it can be profitable. These modern farmers are merging entrepreneurship and agriculture to create lucrative and fulfilling business opportunities. Meet the agripreneur.

The modern farmer.

One advocate of agripreneurship is Caleb Karuga, the proprietor of Wendy Farms Limited.  Karuga resigned from a lucrative job as a broadcast journalist in one of Kenya’s media houses after realizing that agriculture held more money-making potential than his journalism career. Several years later, Karuga has no regrets whatsoever. He even urges other young Kenyans to embrace agriculture and has popularized the hashtag #UkulimaSioUshamba on Twitter.

Why now? 

The agripreneurship movement could not have come at a better time as Kenya grapples with rising unemployment. Young people are waking up to the reality that not everybody, regardless of how educated they are, can secure a white-collar job.

They’re also recognizing deficits in Kenya’s agricultural market for products such as strawberries, edible mushrooms, onions, honey, garlic, and Chinese cabbages, among others.

They know that modern agriculture doesn’t have to conform to traditional farming, where one had to deal with dirt, scorching sun, and poor market prices. Instead, they are encouraged to use modern farming technologies like greenhouses and irrigation systems. Further, youthful farmers are encouraged to consider hired labor and unexploited niche markets. They’re also tapping into market potential within and outside the country to get better returns from their produce.

‘There is no microwave success in agripreneurship.’

Karuga started his agribusiness venture on a leased plot of land, where he reared indigenous chicken breeds. With time, he has switched to improved chicken breeds from the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute, a move that has enhanced the growth rate and productivity of his brood.

He has also diversified Wendy Farms Limited to include dairy farming.  Despite his achievements, Karuga says “there is no microwave success in agripreneurship”. He urges young and would-be farmers to be prepared for “the learning curve” and to take calculated risks, just like other entrepreneurs do.

Celebrities get on board.

Karuga is not alone in popularizing agripreneurship among young people. Kenyan musician Julius Owino, known by his stage name Juliani, is part of the “Do AGRIC” campaign. The campaign is sponsored by ONE, an organization co-founded by Bono to end extreme poverty in Africa. Owino popularized the phrase “Farming is Cool” among his followers and has helped demystify some of the myths that discourage young people from taking part in agriculture. Owino is on record urging African youth “to really rethink how they perceive agriculture and to get familiar with its amazing potential as a business”.

Finding fulfillment in farming. 

Thirty-five-year-old Alexander Maina, another young Kenyan, quit his job as a veterinary technician to take up commercial fish farming. Just like Karuga, Maina has no regrets about his choice to become an agripreneur.  According to Maina, he enjoys the double benefits of earning more and doing what he loves. Additionally, he’s not stuck in the routine of his previous job and is thinking about diversifying his agriculture to include strawberry farming. The stories of successful agripreneurs are repeated across Kenya.

Agripreneurship isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Agripreneurship offers young people in Kenya, and elsewhere in Africa, a chance to liberate themselves from the frustrations of joblessness. Apart from Africa’s ready food market, agripreneurs can also export their produce to the West and East. Kenya’s horticultural sector, for example, has for years benefited from the export market.

Despite the boons of modern farming, it’s important to note that the agripreneur can only rise if he or she is willing to research the market, do the hard work (both physically and psychologically), and reap the benefits thereof. Agripreneurship is by no means an undertaking for the ignorant, the impatient, or the faint-hearted.

Want to learn more?

Check out blogs, such as Smart Farming Kenya (written by this author and agripreneur). Or join an organization, such as Young Professionals for Agricultural Development. Even better, contact a local agripreneur and ask to volunteer for a week or two to gain hands-on experience.

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