Martha Otieno gave up her job search after almost a year in the ever competitive Kenyan employment market to venture into agri-business.
The bachelor of journalism graduate from St Augustine University of Dar es Salaam retreated to her rural home in Homa Bay County in 2011 after her attempts to secure a job with media houses in Nairobi failed.
“I was putting up with a friend while depending on my parents for upkeep and you know how life in Nairobi can be expensive,” she says.
Back home, she joined a women’s self-help group that engaged in a variety of income-generating activities on a small scale; their undertakings mostly revolved around merry-go-rounds and collective investment.
Her participation in the group injected the much- needed exposure and fresh organisational skills since most members had ordinary education levels. She introduced them to small-scale banana and mango farming with the proceeds being shared among members.
After a few months of dealing with the group and having raised enough capital, she opted to go it alone after she realised she could reap big returns from farming.
“I did not want to restructure the group with my plans, that’s why I decided to chart my own path,” she says.
Armed with nothing but a determination to make money, Ms Otieno, 28, invested Sh40,000 —her entire savings— in an acre of watermelons.
She was eyeing a profit of Sh300, 000 from the leased parcel of land after just three months but barely three weeks before she could harvest, flash floods struck and swept away her entire plantation.
“We are in an area which is prone to flooding but I did not expect to come face to face with its devastating effects that fast,” says Ms Otieno.
She picked up the pieces and sought the advice of agronomists on the best way to maximise returns from the small pieces of land while spreading the inherent risks.
Ms Otieno started by leasing small parcels of land in different parts of Homa Bay County as a first step to spreadng risks as well as ensuring a steady income.
She specialised in fast-maturing crops like watermelons, tomatoes and capsicums as well as butter nuts that take an average of three months to be ready—with returns as high as Sh300,000 upon harvesting.
Her second attempt bore fruit as she broke even. Her subsequent harvest was even much better, giving her a foothold on her new-found job.
She says she was not new to farming because she used to make a little money on the side from growing rice while studying in Tanzania. But she never contemplated doing it full time.
“I would grow rice, harvest and keep waiting for a shortage in the market before selling, thus relieving my father of the burden of giving me upkeep money,” says Ms Otieno.
In just under three years since she ventured into agri-business, Ms Otieno is now the owner of a four-acre piece of land. While she cannot disclose what she makes, she clearly has no regrets.
An acre of watermelons, for instance, can fetch up to Sh300,000 while tomatoes and capsicums earn in excess of Sh250, 000 after three months and she can farm up to five acres in a season.
As her fortunes rose, her unemployed age mates approached her wanting to know her secret to success and being the business savvy person she is, she saw another avenue to push her ventures to another level while helping them out.
She championed the formation of a 20-member group registered as St Macharia’s self-help group comprising unemployed youths from Homa Bay County scattered in major towns across the country.
“We have members in Nairobi, Nakuru and Kisumu among other towns that help in co-ordination of sales after harvest,” says Ms Otieno.
The group can decide to collectively invest although it is routine that after splitting the profits from a harvest, each member should strive to individually invest in a farming project.
Thanks to Ms Otieno’s grassroots connection due to lengthy periods of interacting with local farmers, members willing to farm only need to send her money and wait for their harvest although occasionally coming to inspect their investments.
The initiative has completely cut the group members’ dependency on their parents for upkeep with others opting to further their education as they continue with job searches.
Brenda Anyango, 25, is one such beneficiary of the group. She is currently pursuing a degree course at a local private university using proceeds from the group. “I joined the group 10 months ago and already I have enrolled for a degree after two seasons of farming,” says Ms Anyango.
A few other members have since secured jobs but they remain true to the spirit of the group and use it to generate an extra income.
The group is structured in such a way that those in urban centres monitor the prices of agricultural commodities to enable it have a calendar of what crops are profitable and when.
“Most farmers incur losses because they fail to conduct a market research before embarking on farming,” says Ms Otieno.
Successful agribusiness, she says, must start with a study of the market so that one knows what to expect upon harvest since there will be ready market.
-ADOPTED FROM BUSINESS DAILY AFRICA
13 thoughts on “STORY OF KENYAN JOURNALIST WHO PUT PEN DOWN TO MAKE PROFIT IN FARMING”
I would like to start the project of watermelon i need some advice my No.0720986103
it is real interesting to get such ideas. I am Naftal a graduate in food, nutrition and dietetics from Kenyatta university and currently doing masters in the same field. since i graduated in 2011 and got employed with meagre salary, i ave been living on debts. january this year, i joined hands with another guy and started supplying fresh fruits and vegetables to venders and our produce we get them from farms. after interacting with farmers in meru and kisii we ave decided to start bananas and watermelon farming. it is good ideas and with agribusiness you will never go wrong
Thanks sana Naftal and wishing you all the best in your business
Kudos Martha. Keep it up
am realy touched by yr courage martha..keep it up and have clearly seen a person grows with others not alone.. I just want to know what r the subscription cost of investment in yr group..I do want to start my own watermelon farming in machakos ..is the enviroment good and enlighten me on the market source and price peak times…
first of all i would like to congratulate you for your effort,not only to make money but also to inspire others especially youth like i,actually i want to start a melon project so am requesting to get some advice from her on planting maintainance and most probably on market.my no. 0708863587
Hi Martha…am employed but thinking of resigning to venture into busines plz how can i get intouch with u
Martha, i have a passion for agribusiness but i really don’t know how to start off. How do i join your group? your assistance will highly be appreciated.
IAM FROM BOMET COUNTY GROWING TOMATOES AND ONIONS PLIZ ADVICE ON MARKET
thank you martha for your advice n having a generous heart to assist the youths and offer guidance and share your innovation with them..be blessed
how would one meet you.
Thartha you are such a woman living in your dreams. Please keep on mobilizing other youth by injecting self driven spirit. My wish is to see you becoming significant farmers in Africa. Who knows the Donors will consider you in their future plan to green the African Continent. I am an employee but am earning much from agribusiness.
Move forward never look behind .
Congratulation Martha, you are such a God sent to the group well one! How do I get in touch with you? My email is below.
very motivating. I also planted watermelons but lost everything to a disease just some few weeks to harvest. I’am requesting if she knows of any agronomist who can advice on the same. My no. 0723787880.