Lessons from farming ventures started with less than Sh10,000

There is beauty in starting small and growing steadily to success. In agribusiness, starting with a small investment offers beginners room to make mistakes and to learn from them. It gives one an opportunity to decide whether or not to proceed with the venture. Humble beginnings are not always a reserve for people who do not have enough resources to invest.

Rodgers Kirwa, popularly known as Mr Agriculture for his farming-oriented Hashtags on social media, has been in the field long enough to learn that agribusiness ventures started big without proper planning tend to fail.

“Starting with a small investment is the best way to learn to do things right and grow along the way. It is more likely for agribusiness ventures that started big to collapse than it is for smaller ones,” says Kirwa.

He adds: “One of the mistakes that many farmers make is starting with many acres of a produce without identifying a market. In crop farming, starting small helps you to grow only for the market because you have plenty of time to do your homework.”

This week, we look at thriving agribusiness ventures that started with just about Sh10,000.

From one beehive to consultant in bee-keeping

All Peter Maina needed to start one of the biggest bee-keeping businesses in Kitengela where beginners go for lessons was one beehive that cost Sh7,500.

“It was a hobby. I just thought bees were interesting creatures and I bought one beehive to observe their activities. I placed the beehive in my garden in Kitengela,” says Maina.

Later, a friend of his advised him to consider taking his love for bee-keeping to the next level. In 2014, Maina started researching on better management practices in bee-keeping.

“The first thing I researched on was the type of beehives to invest in,” he says, adding that farmers go wrong for choosing cheap and low quality beehives. He says the price of beehives ranges from Sh4,000 to Sh8,000 depending on quality.

“The type of wood used to make the beehive matters most because the beehives are exposed to the environment and may be damaged if they are made from poor quality wood,” he says.

Additionally, the type of workmanship that goes into the design of beehives matters a lot since bees avoid beehives that have cracks in them.

It took six months for bees to come in his first beehive and an additional one year for Maina to make his first harvest, a period that he says would have been shorter if he had better management skills.

“I was patient enough and by the time I started serious bee-keeping, I had learnt a lot. I had even joined groups of other bee-keepers where I learnt a lot about bee-keeping,” he says, adding that he belongs to three national WhatsApp groups for beekeepers and three regional ones for beekeepers in Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Nairobi.

Maina is now an expert in beehives, designing the materials for those interested in beekeeping. He also has 50 beehives in his farm. In addition, he offers a management package for those interested in apiaries but are too busy to manage their bees.

“Some beehives take long to get their first colony of bees. For those who want to hit the ground running, we offer them a full colony of bees with a queen so that they start rearing their bees straight away,” he says.

The other shortcoming of relying on colonies that bring themselves in the beehive is the possibility that they bring along an ageing queen, he says.

“The lifespan of a queen bee is five years and sometimes the worker bees come with a queen that is three years old and whose production has gone down,” the Kitengela farmer says, and adds: “A young queen lays more eggs in a day than an old one.”

Maina’s journey in beekeeping where he had to wait for a whole year before harvesting honey has taught him the virtue of patience.

“It isn’t a get-rich-quick kind of venture. That is why many people give up easily. But for those who persist, it is one of the most lucrative and also the most under explored ventures,” he says.

A sheep farm built on gifts

In 2017, Nicholas Kibet vied for the Member of County Assembly position in Nandi County and missed the seat by a small margin, sinking into a life of debts. He had emptied his coffers in the campaign. To survive, he had to think fast.

“I needed to do something. I thought of all business venture that wouldn’t require a lot of investments and settled on rearing sheep,” says Kibet.

With Sh10,000, he bought the first two sheep, which he started rearing and made a commitment to grow the flock.

“I made a commitment that every month, I would set aside Sh5,000 to grow the flock. I have never defaulted in this pledge,” says the Nandi farmer, adding that part of the income he gets from his poultry farming goes towards purchasing a sheep every month.

Today, the 29-year-old farmer has a flock of 40 sheep that includes birthday gifts to his children.

“A number of the sheep are actually birthday gifts to my twins and presents from my friends. I have hugely grown the flock from gifts,” he says.

His aim is to improve his sheep’s breed and possibly go fully into zero-grazing to minimise costs of rearing the sheep and to grow a bigger flock. He also hopes that by December this year, he will have managed to venture into dairy farming. 

His lesson about starting small for those who don’t have enough capital to invest is, “Do not despise humble beginnings. No one became rich overnight. I started with Sh10,00 but today, I can make Sh200,000 if I decided to sell my sheep at the lowest price possible.”

From campus pocket money to thriving agribusiness consultancy

Many people know Rodgers Kirwa as one of the most vocal ambassadors of agribusiness whose hashtags on Twitter that promote youth in agribusiness have won him recognition in international debates.

The 28-year-old runs iAgribiz Africa, an organisation that he founded in 2016 after completing studies in Agribusiness Management at Egerton University. It is through this organisation that the Molo-based farmer provides training, mentorship and consultancy for big and international organisations.

But Kirwa had a humble beginning in 2012 when he farmed potatoes in his father’s farm in Molo, which he did using his campus pocket money. He would later expand to six acres after clearing college.

Kirwa has many points to his farming card. He was the OLX Soma 2016 finalist first runners-up. 

He has won a scholarship to study entrepreneurship at Michigan University under a global programme on advancing women in agribusiness and has also won the Young Entrepreneurs Awards in the agricultural category.

While he traverses the globe on his mission to promote farming among the youth, Kirwa’s own farming in Molo where he does open-field drip irrigation is thriving.

From his experience managing three greenhouses with different vegetables, herbs and spices, his advice to people interested in farming is to try horticulture.

“Grow vegetables. People will always want to buy vegetables, onions and tomatoes and so there is no way you will go wrong with them,” he says.

How a Sh1,500 investment created a solution for urban farmers

Dan Thairu’s multi-storey garden is the answer for people looking to maximise production of herbs, spices and vegetables in small spaces. It allows for growing of plants on different layers of soil that form a pyramid structure with terraces.

The innovation, which has gained popularity in urban places, is the brainchild of Thairu who started the idea as a hobby in 2013.

“All I needed was Sh1,500 to buy silage polythene paper with which I experimented the idea and piloted the first two gardens at my own farm along Kenyatta road in Gatundu, off Thika Road,” he says, and adds: “In no time, my close friends expressed interest in the innovation and I started making and installing the gardens for them.”

Thairu says he built on the weaknesses of the sack kitchen gardens to come up with the idea of a multi-storey garden.

“The biggest drawback I saw in the sack gardens is that the plants grown on the sides of the sacks and dry up within no time because they do not access adequate supply of water, nutrients and sunlight,” he says.

Additionally, multi-storey gardens allow for growing of more plants compared to any other vertical farming methods. In a space of about 4 square metres that allow for growing of 15 plants, a total of 120 plants can comfortably grow in a multi-storey garden.

The 57-year-old agriprenuer has since named the innovation Wonder Multi-storey Garden and patented it for protection.

Popularity for Wonder Multi-storey Garden has grown since 2013 by word of mouth and through social media. Today, he has fabricated the gardens for farmers in Nairobi, Thika, Kajiado, Eldoret, Kitale, Kisumu and in many other places within the country. Farmers from outside Nairobi who order for the gardens are sent the materials including instructions on how to assemble them. The innovator also has agents in major towns who help with installation of the gardens that cost Sh2,500 each.

Thairu also has 270 multi-storey gardens on his farm in which he grows strawberries, spinach and a variety of herbs and vegetables. It is also a model garden where novices in kitchen gardening go for lessons.

He says that officials from the Ministry of Agriculture have been to his farm to pick lessons on urban farming. 

Thairu says he has learnt that in agribusiness, the beginning has little to do with material investment.

“When I made my first multi-storey gardens for sale, I didn’t have anything, not even the market and I remember giving them out as gifts. Sometimes, all you need is a vision if you have nothing else to invest,” he says.  

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