The Bane and Boon of Commercial Agriculture.

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Since time immemorial, agriculture has always and is said to be the backbone of Kenya’s economy. It is the pillar through which other economic activities have been able to grow and achieve tremendous growth; for example industrialisation. Various industries have been able to grow and establish through agricultural raw materials. Subsequently, products and technologies developed by this industries and companies have been able to find market in the agricultural sector. Not to mention that thousands and thousands of the Kenyan population earn their livelihood through agriculture directly and indirectly.Directly through employment in government ministries, the private sector and NGOs.Indirectly through commercial farming activities such as agribusiness that gives one a source of income. Needless to say, one does not need rocket science to know what impact agriculture has brought on the lives of Kenyans and Africa at large.

Agriculture in itself is worth undertaking as an economic activity.With capital,the right market information, timing, and needed technical advice, the results do not always disappoint. I am personally a beginner in practising agriculture as an economic activity. My focus is on intensive production of horticultural crops such as French beans, onions, pepper, watermelon among others. I live in a country where the youth would rather ride motorbikes,record songs and sit in revolving office chairs rather than venture into farming as an economic activity. Some have been made to think linearly by our 8.4.4  education system that can be said to be as old as the Vasco da Gama days. A student  who has undergone through this system ( I for example) is made to think that the only way to make it through in life is to seek employment; get a permanent and pensionable job. On top of that if one is lucky enough ( in a country of ours where getting a job calls for more than meets the eye), you receive house and transport allowance. That in itself is not wrong. My attitude is not demeaning towards employment. All am trying to say is that our education system makes one to think that formal education and a white collar job is the only surefire way out of poverty and dependency. We are thus made to think linearly in such like a manner unknowingly.
Sad enough, there is a lacuna for mentors and role models amongst the present day youth. Mentors and role models are wanting across the board. Unfortunately, all the youths see among people meant to be their mentors are broken marriages, cheating spouses, backdoor deals in business, embezzlement of public funds, hate speech, poor parenting – (no wonder to the rising cases of dormitories being burnt down by students in public secondary schools), a people wallowing in debts, gamblers, failed dreams, drunkards, prostitutes, professionals with no integrity and work ethics, churches turned business hubs to milk dry the flock. Capitalism is on the rise and the few good left are busy chasing down up and up down their dreams and ambitions in the jubilee government  24/7 economic system to amass as much as is possible. As such the youth are left rudderless  with the immoral and manipulative social and Tv media as their mentor; thanks to the local and international news coverage though. For instance, how do you explain an incidence that happened recently in Kakamega county whereby spouses swapped spouses. So where do in-laws fit in, in this web of confusion?
It is against such a backdrop that I chose to do something worthwhile with the knowledge I acquired through the 8.4.4 education system. The good old saying goes that – The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I have taken the first step already; focus, persistence, research and patience is now key.  I have already encountered a failure even in my first step but I am not deterred because I know am gonna make beauty out of ashes. Farming in itself requires thorough supervision and the resources of land, labour,time and management. In my local area and county to be a little bit precise Onions have always performed well due to a favourable climate conducive for onion growing; this has made Bungoma one of the leading counties; in fact as per 2013, Bungoma was the leading producer by value in Onion production at 23% followed by Meru at 11% and Taita Taveta at 7% in Onion production in Kenya. As a beginner, what I have first learned is that the information you have about your crop is key to the success of your project. Gather as much information you can through research , consultations with experts, agricultural field officers and farmers who have been doing the crop over the years when you were still being trained to be a job seeker. This is because , insufficient information will leave you 3-4 steps behind doing the wrong thing thus the beginning of failure. Information to be gathered should include every single step of your farming project beginning with the first day you plant your seeds on a nursery bed to the very last day you will take your products to the market. The point to note here is that you have to work with the end in mind. What are my returns? What risks am I facing? Am I able to mitigate the risks or not? If not what is the alternative venture/project?

One other thing to note is capital. It is of essence here and will contribute greatly to the success of your farming venture. Many youths have listed it as a number one challenge to any start up.Banks and lenders haven’t done much to support start ups in my opinion. Mostly they Fund already established businesses.; It’s only recent that the government came up with an initiative to fund the youth popularly known as Uwezo Fund. It is already alleged hefty  amounts of the funds have been embezzled. However, apart from this avenues that don’t seem to be so promising to the youth, one could use the power of leverage. Methinks your integrity and personality counts here. I believe anybody with money/capital/resources  could/can give it to you as long as you prove trustworthy, reliable and accountable to them. Besides, it should be a person you have already established a rapport with and have known each other for sometime. Not the stranger you bumped into on the streets. The point to note here is that character is key to any business venture, the success of your project and destiny. This reminds me of a story by Mr. Strive Masiyiwa, allegedly the richest man in Zimbabwe. During his presentation at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit here in Kenya that was graced by POTUS; he narrated how as a beginner he ventured into to the supplies business. Given that he was beginning and did not have much then, he approached an established businessman to lend him the goods he was to supply. On asking when he will pay back Mr. Masiyiwa honestly said ‘I don’t know’. That particular statement was enough to lower down any guards and misconceptions the businessman might have had of Mr. Masiyiwa. The businessman opened his heart to Mr. Masiyiwa and told him that of all the borrower’s that had ever come to borrow from him none had ever been so honest like Mr. Masiyiwa. All they could say was ,I will pay on this particular date only to fail. Needless to say, Mr. Masiyiwa got his supplies on credit. Needless to say, Mr. Masiyiwa received a standing ovation during GES because of the narration. The point to note here is that integrity is key in acquisition of resources.
Any crop farming venture will require a source of water to meet the crop water requirement , mix the chemicals among other things. With rainfall, timing is key, nevertheless, rainfall can also be erratic and unpredictable. Personally, I am grappling with the issue of rainfall that has been quite erratic and henceforth  delaying my schedule. The point to note here is that one needs an alternative source of water apart from rainfall in order to be safe from prolonged  periods of sunshine when the crops are at a critical stage that requires a lot of water such as flowering in beans. One could invest in an irrigation pump and drips or sprinklers. This enables all year round production due to water availability.If the water source is not from rain, then one should be sure to use water from a water source that is clean and not contaminated by disease-causing pathogens. It is advisable to use borehole water. Precaution should be taken not to wash used knapsack sprayers with chemicals near the borehole as the chemicals washed will sip down and cause contamination to the borehole water. Besides, boreholes that are near a particular crop plantation should also be handled with caution. For example tomatoes infected with bacterial wilt when washed down by rain water, the pathogens could  sip down and contaminate borehole water.

One other thing to note is the proximity of the nursery bed to the seedbed. This is to be observed in cases where the crop is first to be planted on nursery bed before being transplanted to seedbed. The closer the nursery bed is to the seed bed the easier the process of transplanting. A nursery bed that is far away from the seedbed may  make the work of transporting the seedlings tedious and time-consuming. Besides transportation of the seedlings could cause damage to some depending on how you carry them and also the means of transport. Chemical regime on nursery bed should be strongly adhered to. Many fungicides and insecticides companies usually sell their products attached with a leaflet of instructions on how to apply the given chemical.  Some recommend spray intervals of 7-14 days. This will help protect your crops against pests and diseases. Crops from the same family (i.e potatoes and tomatoes) should not be planted on a bed where one of the crops has been harvested previously. This will prevent pest and disease built up on soil for the same crops. Spacing and level of planting on nursery bed is very important for crops you plant on a  nursery bed as this will determine the vigour and the total population of sturdy seedlings that can be transplanted. Adequate watering should be observed in the first 2 weeks after planting in the event that there is no rainfall.
Land preparation depends on the type of crop you wanna plant. Early land preparation is important for the soil to be turned and exposed to sunlight for the purposes of killing and destroying any pests on soil. With onions for example, land should be properly tilled to a fine tilth ( primary and secondary tillage) and the seedbed cleared of every crop and weed debri remains. Harrows should be done shallowly using hoes or a harrower depending on the size of land. It is also important that one performs a soil test on his/her land to know the soil pH, know what nutrients could be  toxic to the crop and need reducing,know what nutrients are deficient and apply the correct correctional fertilizer. Some soils could be found to be too acidic. The acidity on soil could be reduced by addition of lime or gypsum raising the level of pH. Soil testing helps one know the macro-nutrients present on soil and those micro-nutrients that could be needful. There are cultural practices that support the development of healthy, vigorous root systems that result in efficient uptake and use of available nutrients. This include
– Diverse crop rotations.
-Reducing tillage -helps reduce erosion.
-Growing cover crops.
-Composting and using all available wastes or by products.
-Liming to maintain soil pH.
-Applying supplemental fertilizers.
– Routine soil testing and Plant analysis

Market access is very important in commercial agriculture. It is the determinant in determining whether you will make a kill or count losses. Many farmers have decried middlemen who buy their produce from the farm at very low buying prices and selling them at peak market prices. Timing is key here. One could plant the crop to harvest when demand is high hence fetching a higher price.There are also marketing platforms such as mkulima young that helps farmers in accessing markets; farmers could use this as a valuable tool in marketing their products.

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