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Farming in the giant steps of legend Eliud Kipchoge

By Jonathan Komen and Hellen Miseda | July 18th 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Eliud Kipchoge's tea farm in Kaptagat, Nandi County. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Eliud Kipchoge, the world marathon record holder and the only man to run the marathon distance of 42km in under two hours, can be compared to the late John F Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America.

He is innovative, astute and blessed with a popular touch and a philosophical intelligence that’s a stark contrast to his humility.

Kipchoge was born and bred in Kapsisiywa village in Nandi County and an epic clash awaits him on October 4, when he takes on Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele – the second fastest marathoner of all time – at the London Marathon.

Within his maxim, ‘no human is limited,’ Kipchoge hopes to scale the heights of fame in farming too. In this exclusive interview with Smart Harvest, the legend shares the gems he has picked from the track and uses to thrive as a farmer.

Away from athletics, you are also a dairy and tea farmer. Tell us about your experience so far.

Yes, I am a dairy and tea farmer. I ventured into farming in 2013 and so far so good. I keep dairy cows in Uasin Gishu County and I grow tea in Nandi County. The environment in Nandi is very ideal for tea growing and the soils are also well-drained, deep and well-aerated. For me those two ventures make more sense given my background. I come from a community that treasures rearing of cows and growing of tea. 

Farming is a journey. How has it been like for you? 

Rightly so. Farming is a long journey that requires careful preparation and planning. Just like running a marathon, it requires passion, patience, dedication, hard work and commitment. For instance, dairy farming, the journey does not just begin when you buy your cows. It is a painstaking walk that requires patience and commitment despite the negative outcomes.

I have learnt that cows are very delicate creatures, the way you treat them determines the output. If you treat them bad, expect no milk. So as a farmer, you must feed your cows well and keep them in a clean environment. My wife, Grace, is the master of such and for that reason she takes a lead role in running the farm. She is the general manager at the farm. Under her keen watch everything runs smoothly.

Speaking of cows; how do you keep common dairy diseases like mastitis at bay?

Being the farm’s general manager, my wife is very keen on cleanliness in the diary unit. She ensures the place is cleaned twice a day; morning and evening, to keep flies and pungent smells away. Equally important, she ensures that during milking, the farm hands do it properly. Many dairy keepers are aware that improper and incomplete milking predisposes a cow to bacterial infections like mastitis. When milking, the person doing it must ensure that their hands are clean and dry. They also need to use a clean cloth to wipe the teats. 

Feeding is an important component in a dairy enterprise to boost milk yields. Talk to us about this?

We give the cows silage and nappier grass, and this has helped us maintain high milk yields. Given that commercial feeds are expensive, for an upcoming dairy farmer, it helps if they grow their own hay and store it for later use. Climate change is a big issue, and rains are unpredictable. That is why it is important to store silage for dry seasons. For feeds storage and management, you can start small and advance as you move forward.

Eliud Kipchoge with his children and a friend at his farm. [Courtesy]

What have been your highs and lows in farming?

I totally agree that there are good and bad days in farming. For me, there are seasons the cows give plenty of milk, but when you take it to the market, the prices are very disappointing. Same case with tea. There are seasons you get a bumper harvest but the prices this fetches are significantly low. Despite this, you keep walking. Never give up your farming journey. Every day is a learning opportunity and you pick each lessons along the way so that you make more informed decisions next time.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you have made in farming, and what lessons did you pick from the process?

Oh yes, I can relate with that. There was a time I bought some hybrid cows without prior knowledge and they were a big disappointment. The lesson I picked from this experience is that before investing your cash in dairy, do some solid due diligence. Some animals can look promising from the outside because they have an impressive structure, but if you dig out their history, you find they have issues and are historically poor performers in terms of their milk output. 

The average age of a Kenyan farmer is 58, and most youth say they shun farming because it is dirty and uncool. Your take on this?

I want to disagree with the notion that farming is a dirty and uncool venture. If you have passion, you can excel in agri-business and earn good income. To encourage more young people to take up farming, I think the State should allocate more incentives to make it attractive. Young people love technology and this is a good catch for them.

Speaking of technology, it has been known to revolutionise farming. What are some innovations you have adopted on your farm?

For now, there is nothing sophisticated on the farm, but plans are underway to modernise operations and processes. Technology boosts efficiency on the farm and helps to minimise cost. For those who can, I highly encourage them to go big with technology.

 As an avid reader, which books or philosophers would you advise farmers to emulate?

Every agribusiness investor should read ‘Who Moved My Cheese?' by American physician and author Spencer Johnson. The book talks about change; an amazing way to deal with change in your work and in your life.

What is your message to Government and how they can transform agriculture into an attractive sector?

The Government needs to sensitise and train farmers on new farming methods, especially small-scale farmers who make up 70 per cent of the farmers in Kenya.

Ten years from now, where do you expect to see Eliud Kipchoge as a farmer and also an ambassador for the less privileged?

I want to be crisscrossing the country teaching young Kenyans life skills and values that go a long way in making one a great citizen and even great farmer. That’s the only way to develop Kenya and improve the economy.

For those aspiring to venture in farming, what’s your take home for them?

Before you venture into farming, ask yourself whether you have the passion, love for the animals or crops, patience, consistency and management skills. Be prepared for change, expect uncertainties and challenges. Be willing and ready to embrace technology.

Covid-19 has affected many Kenyans, farmers included. How has it affected your farming? 

Like the rest of the country, my farm has also been affected by Covid-19 and we are doing our best to cope with this new normal.

In line with the directives from World Health Organisation and the Ministry of Health on social distancing, my employees have been forced to adhere to strict safety and hygiene measures while working at the farm. This has a positive effect.

I am also aware that many people have lost jobs and are trying out their hand in farming. I think that is a promising route to take. You can never go wrong with food production.

My message to young Kenyan athletes is this: Focus first on sports but prepare slowly by slowly on how to venture into farming as a solid retirement plan. And if you plan to go that way, you need a concrete plan. Farming is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Be ready to put in the hard work. 

Farming Eliud Kipchoge
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