Sowing Profit and Contentment

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By Derek Mutiso

Principles for Success In Small-Scale Agribusiness

Welcome to the world of accounting, where everybody counts…. literally! 

Accountants are a hard-working bunch! Most work more hours than they care to count. When you’re drowning in paperwork and overdue assignments, it’s easy to forget that another parallel universe exists away from computer screens and lengthy financial reports.

 You may be good at your job, but for most people to be pleased, feeling another sense of accomplishment is essential. There has to be an intersection between work and your personal life. 

Spending time in nature has been shown to decrease anxiety and anger significantly. Farming part-time lets you do this and make some money while at it. It is a great hobby and a nice break from your daily life. To farm and make money from it, there are a few basic principles that you need to abide by. You could rear livestock, grow crops, or do both simultaneously. If you work smart and stay focused, you will enjoy a steady income and gain inner fulfillment. Here are a few tips to get you started on your journey:

1. Make a written plan 

A comprehensive business plan is the foundation of a successful agribusiness venture. Outline your goals, financial projections, and operational strategies. This plan will serve as a roadmap, helping you navigate challenges and capitalize on opportunities. 

You can include simple diagrams of different structures you intend to put up for birds or livestock. It is good to draw a rough sketch of your plot or piece of land and split it into sections, indicating where you will grow what. Structure your plan so you have listed your short-term and long-term goals separately. Give yourself deadlines, and try your best to beat them. This will recenter your focus whenever you need clarification or guidance about what to do next. It will also allow you to prioritize your actions 

1.       Start Small

Begin your agribusiness on a manageable scale. This allows you to gain practical experience, minimize risks, and fine-tune your operations. Starting small lets you test your business model and make necessary adjustments before scaling up.

It’s easy to become over-ambitious in farming, particularly if inexperienced. Many people believe that they need to spend vast amounts of money to turn a profit. More often than not, such people end up losing their hard-earned capital within a season. The land has a way of humbling novice farmers. Sometimes, farming needs you to play the long game and exercise patience. You don’t need a massive wad of cash to start your first project, and you definitely shouldn’t be in a rush to invest all your capital at once. 

Rather than buying your first pawpaw seeds from an agro-vet, for example, plant the ones you saved from the pawpaw you ate last night, or visit your local fruit vendor with a bag and ask him to toss in some seeds rather than throw them in the trash. If you want to plant 3,000 bananas, start with 1,000 instead. You can scale up over time once you have perfected your maintenance model. Your 1,000 plants will soon give you enough suckers to plant out 2,000 more plants.  

2.     Visit Your Local Market/Secure a Market 

Understanding your local market is crucial. Visit local markets to gauge demand, identify potential competitors, and establish connections. Securing a market for your produce in advance ensures a steady revenue stream and minimizes the risk of unsold inventory.

When starting, you can target something other than supermarket chains or big cities as potential customers. Instead, visit your local market, talk to fresh food vendors and traders, and find out what they purchase regularly. Doing this will give you an idea of what is in high demand. It will also allow you to market crops you expect to harvest in a few weeks/ months. 

Depending on the local supply chain, some market traders would be willing to give you some money up-front to book your produce before it’s ready. This money could go a long way toward purchasing farm inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides. 

Once you have secured a local market for your produce, you can grow your customer base and seek better prices in nearby towns. 

3.      Identify a Niche

Differentiate your agribusiness by identifying a niche. Whether it’s organic farming, specialty crops, or unique varieties, carving out a niche allows you to target specific customer preferences and potentially command premium prices.

Different crops do well in other parts of the country. Find out what does well in your area, and focus on growing it. This will save you a lot of money, time, and effort. Just because your friend in Machakos County makes a lot of money growing pigeon peas doesn’t mean you will be successful doing the same thing at your farm in Kinangop. Suppose you’ve got enough money to carry out a soil test; even better! You’ll have an expert opinion on what nutrients your soil will need and which crops to focus on. 

The rise in synthetic, carcinogenic farm inputs has led many people to skepticism about what they put on their plates. This creates an excellent opportunity for organic farmers who grow indigenous food using only natural inputs. You could market your produce as 100% organic and appeal to health-conscious individuals.

4.     Avoid “Farming by Enthusiasm” 

While passion is essential, it’s crucial to balance enthusiasm with practicality. Make informed decisions based on market trends, feasibility studies, and financial considerations. Avoid impulsive choices that may lead to unsustainable practices.

There’s no shortage of “miracle” success stories in farming. If you have read Kenyan agro-publications, you’ve definitely seen articles with headlines like: “How I make 1,000,000kes per month from a quarter acre”. There is a lot of money to be made in farming; it just happens after a while. Like most businesses, you must be patient and conduct proper research before taking up any venture. You must also be passionate, resilient, and realistic with your expectations. Writers sometimes leave out details about a farmer’s multiple failures before they struck it lucky with a particular crop.

Stick to your knitting once you’ve worked out what does well in your region. If you happen to hear about some new “wonder crop” or farming venture from someone, there’s no harm in growing it yourself. But do so cautiously, and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble. Never test the depth of water with both feet. If you don’t believe me, ask a quail farmer! 

5.     Diversify

Diversification is a key risk management strategy. Explore various crops, livestock, or related agribusiness activities to spread risk and capitalize on market demands. Diversification also provides resilience against factors such as weather fluctuations and market volatility.

Another way to diversify your fields is by planting crops with different growth cycles ranging from short and medium to long-term. Your short-term crops will keep you afloat financially as you wait for income from your longer-term crops. Apart from your plants, having some chickens and dairy cows to cater to your daily expenses is also good. 

This, of course, is only some of what there is to know about farming as a business. At the end of it all, you need to enjoy the process. Passion is something that you can only learn from yourself. It is something that grows within you over time. As you progress on your farming journey, don’t be discouraged by blunders you may make along the way. Consider them as lessons to make you better. 

One last point; always remember this – the master’s eye fattens the horse.

Trust the process and know that there are actual benefits to be earned from your new undertaking. With perseverance and tact, you will soon be enjoying the fruits of your labour.  

The author is a business writer and project coordinator for the Omeriye Foundation. Email: [email protected]


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