Nicholas Njogu has been declared the national youth agripreneur of the year in the National Farmers Award scheme established to promote agribusiness concept as the new investment frontier. He emerged the winner under the Youth in Agriculture category in recognition of his efforts in setting up a profit-making farm in Murang’a.
Njogu, 34, has a thriving and profitable mixed farm, which has become a source of motivation and inspiration to the youth. The enterprise, based on a 2.8-acre plot near Murang’a town, includes dairy farming and growing food and horticulture crops.
The farm is located about three kilometres from the town along Kangema Road. “I embarked on establishing this project five years ago with a vision to initiate a profitable agriculture-based enterprise which could also create employment,” he said. With a little capital saved from a book selling business, Njogu directed his energies into farming from July 2013.
However, a host of obstacles stood on his way for he had sketchy information on agriculture. Initially, Njogu bought three ordinary cows from the neighbourhood, hoping they would contribute in setting up a dairy unit to supply milk to consumers in the nearby Murang’a town.
Unfortunately, the cows turned to be of poor genetic quality, with low milk production. Realising the project was bound to fail, Njogu sought advice and was directed to seek professional assistance at the local Ministry of Agriculture office.
“After discussing my challenges with the officers, I was advised to change my views on farming and guided to embrace agribusiness if I planned to achieve better results,” he remembers. Agriculture officers from Kiharu offices took him step-by-step on how to manage a profitable farm, which lessons are bearing fruit five years later.
Today, the cows have increased to 18, with nine currently producing over 130 litres of milk daily, with a litre retailing at Sh50 at the farm’s gate prices. Six cows are in calf and three heifers are about to mature.
The cows are mainly Ayrshire and crossbreeds of Friesian breed with ordinary stock in the farm. To ensure farming projects are conducted throughout the year, a drip irrigation system has been installed.
A water supply back- up pan reservoir with a capacity to hold 270,000 litres has been built which gets water pumped from a neighbouring stream.The farm has silage system which stores cattle feeds sourced during the rainy season.
To ensure farm efficiency, technology is applied to ease work delivery and cut down on labour costs. Animal feeds are prepared using chopping machines, rolled and stored in the silage for future use. In recent seasons, the project has earned income from sales of indigenous vegetables, which include terere (amaranth), managu, black nightshade, muhika na ihu and sukuma wiki.
He says good revenue is generated from sales of tonnes of green maize, tomatoes, watermelons, and courgette since demand for the crops is high in the market. The farm employs four workers including Njogu and casual workers occasionally.
Kiharu sub-county Irrigation Officer, Stephen Waithaka was involved in the installation of an irrigation facility at the farm, which aimed at enabling the farmer to irrigate the farm. “Njogu’s farm is a model of a smallholder profitable agribusiness,” he says.
Waithaka says irrigation-driven agriculture empowers the farmers to control, manage their timetable, plant crops when they want and get to the market when demand is high. “This farm is being used by agricultural extension officers as a training ground for the youth and groups of farmers planning to engage in agribusiness,” he said.
Agribusiness officer James Kariuki, who drafted the concept, says the farm has come on top for getting things right from the beginning. “Given a professional input, Njogu was able to initiate a process which has resulted in breeding high quality dairy cows,” he said.
The farm won in the competition because of better soil erosion management, technology application and conservation. Proper tillage and irrigated agriculture systems, which does not cause environmental damage and soil disruption, were also awarded good marks in the competition organised by Elgon Kenya (agro-chemical suppliers), Ministry of Agriculture and other partners.
The project’s business-oriented attitude and crop rotation patterns geared to tackle food insecurity issues also earned marks. Farm operations supervisor, Simon Gaithori, says welfare of the staff is well-taken care of and that they receive their wages on time.
He says technology in preparing cattle feeds has made labour easy and manageable. Some of the challenges the farm is facing include substandard and poor quality commercial feeds, fluctuating prices of farm produce, pests and diseases control and lack of adequate financial resources to move the project forward.