Joseph Boit, the 2015 BAKE Award Agriculture category winner is a graduate farmer in Eldoret who focuses on dairy farming , horticulture and runs Graduate Farmer Website and Magazine. We caught up with him to get the scoop inside his world.
You are young, trendy, with a serious degree and are a farmer. Your peers would ask, “Why did you choose this ‘tired’ career as opposed to flashy white collar job?”
That’s a great place to start this conversation...Getting a job in Kenya is not easy. I remember applying for more than a 100 jobs but got no response from employers. The interviews that I managed to clinch were not promising with most companies offering low salaries. I looked for a job for two years. I also tried a few odd jobs before I finally made up my mind to go back to our family farm to try my hand at farming.
Why did you settle on farming?
I always had a passion for farming since childhood. I got most of my inspiration from my grandfather Paul Kiplimo Boit, who practiced modern farming in Eldoret. I used to visit his farm frequently and learnt a lot.
How did you start?
Together with my brother, we got some finance from a family member and planted maize on 20 acres. The harvest was good and I was pleased. We made good money and that’s what inspired us to turn to farming full time. Now we are settled.
Business is good?
Let’s just say I’m not complaining...
The average Kenyan farmer is 58 years, and you are a 27. How does that feel?
It is a sad state of affairs. But it feels good that I am among the chosen few. We need more young farmers to feed the nation and achieve food security.
You have been a farmer for three years, how has been the experience so far?
I have had high and low moments, sometimes losing crops to diseases and poor timing. One of the biggest lessons I have learnt is the value of patience and optimism. Without those, it is easy to give up.
What is the biggest misconception about young farmers?
They are hustlers getting dirty on the farm. With the right market prices, good farm management and enough trials on the farm, a young farmer can reap up to Sh350,000 from an acre of onions in a season.
Some even get as high as Sh600,000 when the market prices are good. You can plant three times a year with irrigation and multiply those returns by three. That’s good money.
When you mention farmer, the picture that comes to mind is a dirty unkempt fellow, but you don’t look close to that...
(Laughs) Thank you for the compliment. You need to see me on the farm. You will run away! Anyway, fashion and farmers on the farm are not friends but away from the farm, they are best buddies.
Being a farmer is costly. It can even cost you a girlfriend as Smart Harvest reported some time back. What are some of the heavy prices you have had to pay as a young farmer?
You are right. Last year I decided to expand to three acres of watermelon, kales and onions under drip irrigation after getting more funds. The kales grew well but the market price dropped, the onions failed to reach an optimum bulb yield per acre.
The watermelons are still on the farm and hopefully all will go well. The expansion did not give me back the returns I expected. This was a huge blow to the amount of money I invested on the project. And that is farming for you!
Speaking of girlfriend, does the graduate farmer have one and if yes how does she take the fact that her bae is mkulima?
I am engaged to an amazing woman and we hope to get married in April. She is a nutritionist and understands the responsibility farmers have on their shoulders to feed the world!
During those days when you were still hunting, how was the introduction, “Hey I am Jose and I am a farmer”, or you saved that ‘dirty’ bit for last last....
That’s a tough one. You are making me sell my “farmers” vibe but all I can say she was impressed.
Is your degree in Business Management and Information Technology from Kabarak University being wasted now that you are a farmer?
Not at all. I am utilizing my degree in my day-to-day activities to practice modern farming. On the contrary, those skills have helped me to be a modern farmer who is tech-savvy and results-oriented.
What do you love most about being a farmer?
The freedom and flexibility it offers. When crops are growing you can have free time to chase other opportunities. If you are lucky enough to have employees, you can run other ventures and enjoy both. You also get the chance to grow your own healthy organic food.
For young people who want to be farmers like you, what warning would you give them before they go for the jembe?
Before you start, conduct your research well. There are many platforms out there which are very helpful to farmers. For instance, on Facebook there is Digital Farmers Kenya or Farming Kenya where all your farming queries will be answered.
You can also attend agricultural exhibitions and events. If you need a market for your produce, visit your local market and get phone numbers of the mama mbogas and update them when you are about to sell (they are usually very helpful). You can also sell on www.mkulimayoung.com. If you are looking for capital, check out www.farmdrive.co.ke or visit www.youthfund.go.ke.
When you are not getting your hands dirty on the farm, how do you unwind?
Spending time with my family, watching a movie, listening to music, going out for lunch or swimming.
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