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Graduate takes up fruitful option after long job search

SMART HARVEST
By Mercy Adhiambo | January 30th 2016
Phylis Kanja 25,busy in her six acre farm Njoro near Egerton University where she gets good income from farming,the young lady says that she was once an employee in several banks before she decided to leave and start farming [PHOTO:BONIFACE THUKU/Standard]

When Phylis Wangari graduated from college three years ago; she had the enthusiasm of a young graduate ready to face the world.

She believed the Public Relations Diploma she had just attained would open doors for her, and put her in high professional places. That never happened; instead, she spent many days earnestly seeking for employment, or even a place to volunteer before a potential employer notices her for a job.

Wangari’s tale is what most recent graduates are so familiar with. The weary walk to many offices seeking not only for employment, but for someone to give them a platform to showcase their skills and talent.

She recalls many days she spent at cyber cafés, typing and sending job applications, and how she read many articles to understand the shifting dynamics of the job market.

“One day, I just got tired of the frustrations of refreshing my emails to see if potential employers had responded. I decided to try something different...” she tells Smart Harvest.

That is how Wangari summarises her entry into farming. She made the decision to become a full time farmer aged 24, and has never looked back.

With each drench of sweat she sheds in her farm, and every plant that sprouts from the soil she has ploughed, Wangari is convinced that she made the best decision.

Desperate to thrive

Now she makes an average Sh300,000 per season with a guaranteed market at Egerton University and her neigbouring market.

Her story begins from that of a young woman who was so desperate to start making money that at one point she resorted to selling paper bags to business people at Muthurwa Market; to one of a successful farmer.

“Farming gave me a cushion when the ground around me was spinning too fast. I didn’t think I would make it,” says Wangari.

She adds that her passion for growing crops and watching the fruits of her labour literally spring into life played a big part towards the nudge to quit the path of formal employment and pursue agriculture.

To start off, she approached her father who had a piece of land in Nakuru and requested for a portion of the farm to start an agribusiness project. Her father allowed her to use his 6.5 acre piece of land. However, there was one major challenge — Wangari did not have money to buy what she needed for the farm. Her heart was in dairy farming, but when she made inquiries on how much she would need to set it up, it was way beyond her budget.

She needed almost Sh500,000 to set up a zero grazing shed for the cows, then get into the actual costs of buying the animals.

“I was getting into the world of the unknown and I was not so sure I would succeed,” she says.

Fortunately, she had saved some money from the odd jobs she had been doing. Her parents also gave her some financial support and through that, she put up a structure and bought her first heifer.

“When I brought my first cow home, I knew my life as a farmer was taking course,” she says.

She did not make profit immediately, but within a short time, she was able to get milk from her cow. After a few months, she bought another cow when she realised dairy farming was lucrative.

A few months after she had walked home with her first cow, Wangari felt she needed to try something different. Her land was fertile, and she wanted to make more money from the farm, so she ventured into horticulture.

It all came to her one evening when she was walking round her farm and she thought about how different things would be if she planted a few crops.

She called her mother Elizabeth Kanja who stays in Nairobi and together they worked on planting green peas, carrots, kales, spinach and pepper.

On where she got the knowledge on farming, Wangari says before her project took off, she spent days bent on books and other materials touching on the subject.

She also talked to farmers in Nakuru and beyond, for her to learn from those who have been in the business on what it takes for a young farmer driven by nothing other than passion and desire to earn a decent living.

She adds that being a young farmer presents many challenges she didn’t anticipate when she sank both feet into taking care of her own farm.

When she started out, she says she never imagined that her potential customers would dismiss her simply because she looks too young to supply them with farm products.

“When I go to the market to sell my goods, most people look at me and ask if I am real farmer. It takes a lot of convincing for them to make orders,” she says.

For her, what is more confounding is when she shares her story on social networks and people flip through her photos only for them to comment that she looks ‘too neat’ to be a farmer. However, she says the fact that she is now running her own ‘show’ has reinforced her belief that one can do what they want, as long as they put their strength in it.

Other than the wrong perception her image evodes, another challenge she faces as a young farmer is dealing with crop diseases. To overcome that, she calls the Ministry of Agriculture officials in Njoro to come and help her identify the disease affecting her crops. Other times, she plucks part of the crop affected by the disease and takes them to an Agrovet for the officers there to tell her the nature of the disease and how she can work with it. Her other challenge is finding sufficient water supply for her crops.

To counter that, she plants to embrace drip irrigation towards the end of the year to ensure her farm is well watered.

Possibilities

Challenges aside, it has been slightly over a year since she plunged into farming, and Wangari says she has learned many lessons. Farming has taught her to be an early riser, and she has to be awake by 5am because the cows have to be milked.

The crops have to be weeded and watered at specific times, so she has also grasped the importance of time management.

More importantly, Wangari says she has learned that there are numerous possibilities and opportunities that farming presents.

She has big plans for her farm. She wants to expand and grow even more crops in the coming years.

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