Suspension from varsity catapults engineering student into farming
A students’ strike by University of Nairobi students eight years almost ruined the bright future of Kennedy Murage, but it turned out to be a blessing for him in the end.
The former Electrical Engineering student and some of his colleagues were suspended from the university forcing him to think seriously about how best to pick up the pieces and move on with his life.
The thought of staying idle for three years, waiting to be recalled riled him. He had to find something to do fast.
It is while he was still soul searching that Murage went to visit his aunt in Kiambu County. That visit changed his life forever. There, he experienced first-hand the benefits of farming and how it had changed the fortunes of the local youth.
It is here that Murage decided he was not going to waste his time and life lying idle and pitying himself. To gain some farming experience, he decided to extend the stay at his aunt’s home, helping the small farm.
The former University of Nairobi student later decided to relocate to his maternal grandmother’s home in Ururi Village in Usenge, Siaya County.
“I could not raise the KSh80,000 penalty the university slapped on us for the damages. With the little savings I had, I decided to help my grandmother in doing subsistence farming,” Murage recalls.
His inability to pay the fine marked the 34-year-old’s entry into commercial farming in 2008, when he decided to venture into farming full time. He has never looked back since then.
With more good returns from the farm, Murage is convinced that he made the best decision of his life.
“If I were to get a formal employment, I would not take anything less than KSh150,000 per month,” he says.
Now he makes an average KSh200,000 per season with a guaranteed market in Bondo town and extending to local consumers in Siaya and neighbouring counties of Kisumu and Busia.
Desperate to join farming, Murage and his wife were lucky to get jobs as clerks with Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and they ploughed back the money they were paid into farming.
“Farming has never disappointed me. I started with a 50 grammes of Sukuma-Wiki (kale) on half an acre land and I managed to make KSh40,000,” Murage recalls adding that he ploughed back KSh20,000 into the farm.
His interview with Reject team would occasionally be interrupted as he responds to phones calls from customers.
“I am running out of Dhania but I can get you from my neighbour’s here,” he responds to one of the many phone calls.
To start off, Murage approached his grandmother who had land along beach of Lake Victoria and requested for a portion of the farm to start an agri-business project. He was allowed to use the whole one acre parcel of land.
“When I got my first harvest, I knew my life as a farmer was taking course and I have since provided employment to youths and women at the farm as casuals,” he says.
A few months after harvesting, Murage felt he needed to try something different. Water was available and the land was fertile. He wanted to make more money from the farm, so he tried tomatoes.
“I made a big loss from the tomatoes project because I was still new in the field and I had little knowledge,” Murage says adding that this however offered him an opportunity to learn more about each crop.
He has never looked back and enhanced his capacity by attending short-term trainings and workshops organized by the government officials and other local non-governmental organisations in the region.
In 2013 Murage was invited to attend a two weeks’ training on organic farming and basic crop management in Juja Town, Kiambu County. This training propelled him and changed his life as a farmer.
Armed with that knowledge, he was picked as a model and contact farmer with the Ministry of Agriculture and he has been training farmers from Siaya County and beyond. However, being a model farmer did not get into his head. He has also been learning from those who have been in the business on what it takes to excel in farming.
Through his commitment, Plan International, a non-governmental organisation gave him a Green-House kit as a token for good work.
He notes that for decades many young people have been migrating to urban centres in search for employment and would only turn to farming as a last resort.
“This region is endowed with a lot of resources such as water and land but those who are in the farms are the elderly,” Murage laments but appeals to the youth to change their negative attitude and venture into farming instead of focusing on the elusive white collar jobs.
Another big challenge for young farmers is dealing with crop diseases. To overcome that, he is appealing to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in Siaya County to conduct field extension services to farmers and help them embrace technology and crop management.
Challenges aside, Murage says he has been able to pay school fees for his wife and two other siblings.
His work life starts at dawn every day when he sets out to meet customers at the farm and work at the farm until noon, before taking a lunch break. He then resumes at 3pm.
“I have to weed the crops and water them every day,” he says.
More importantly, the former Electrical Engineering student says he has learnt that farming presents numerous opportunities.
He grows capsicum, watermelon and bananas in his farm at a commercial level and the returns are something to be proud of.
In his parting shot, Murage says he plans to expand his farm and grow even more crops in future.