Lenah’s work has not only impacted her and her family, as her farmers have become knowledgable on agribusiness, have increased their yield and their earnings have improved substantially.Alex Ngetich, CGA/FtMA Agribusiness Coordinator, Nakuru County.
Many children in rural settings grow up knowing that farming is a way of life. There are those who take it as a chore that has to be done like any other in the home, while others view it as punishment – when they do something wrong at home or in school, they are punished by being asked to do farm work. Then there are those like 29 year old Lenah Mwangi, who are passionate and are thriving through farming.
As we settle in for an interview with Lenah, she sounds a bit on edge at the beginning, but soon eases into the interview when she introduces herself as a farmer and a Farmer Service Centre (FSC) from Njoro, Nakuru County. The wife and mother of one takes us through her journey in farming, her interactions with other farmers and farmer groups, the challenges they experience, how they overcome them, the joy they get after a bumper harvest and the reason why she signed up for a Master’s degree in Agribusiness Management at Egerton University.
says Mrs Mwangi.
I admire my parents because even though they were peasant farmers and did not earn much, they were able to educate the six of us and meet our basic needs. After high school, I decided to take a degree in Accounting from the University of Nairobi, in order to help them increase their yield so that they can improve their lives,
While still in university, she was engaged in virtual farming on half an acre, gifted by her mother.
Virtual farming was not easy and when I finished university, I decided to go back home to Njoro, to concentrate on the farm. I also took the initiative of interacting with successful farmers to learn what they were doing right, and in the process learn what my parents and I were doing wrong. I went further and interacted with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Ward Agricultural Officer, and it is here that I was introduced to the Cereal Growers Association (CGA), when they came to look for farmers to train,says Lenah.
She began as a trainer of trainers (TOT) when she joined the Farm to Market Allaince (FtMA) in 2018, training farmers in the maize, wheat, beans and sorghum value chains on the best agricultural practices as taught by CGA and FtMA. The training enlightened the farmers as to what they had been doing wrong, which affected their production output.
I obtained most of my hands-on skills from demonstration farms and visiting other farmers in neighbouring counties like Narok, then we would benchmark and see what can be improved in our own situation,”Mrs Mwangi adds.
From her interactions with farmers, she learnt that having the right inputs at the right time and getting a reliable and sustainable market for their produce was a big challenge. This motivated her to begin an enterprise where she would link them with the right inputs and markets for their produce, and this is where her first business, Inuka Agrovet, grew from.
“I started by buying pesticides which I would sell to my neighbours and my mother’s friends. I got my customers by word of mouth. I also introduced my mother to the modern way of farming, though it was difficult at first because she was used to the traditional methods, she began embracing it as she saw my yield was better. This increased my customer base as neighbours also wanted to learn modern farming methods as they had seen the benefits from my farm.
FtMA also trained me on how to use agrochemicals, and out of this, demand grew for these products and services.
In March 2020, I entered into a co-financing partnership with FtMA through the World Food Program (WFP), to refurbish and restock my agrovet shop. I contributed KES 20,000 (USD 200) to the required KES 120,000 (USD 1,200), and the rest came from FtMA. I was thus able to restock my shop with the desired agrochemicals,” says a gleeful Lenah.
In 2019, FtMA introduced the FSC model, where these centres act as key hubs in the farming community, run by rural entrepreneurs, aggregators, farmer groups or cooperatives and serving approximately 200 farmers each.
From daily sales of KES 2,000 (USD 20) to KES 30,000 (USD300)
In 2019, my best daily sales would range from KES 2,000(USD 20) to KES 5,000 (USD 50), and I would feel I have really achieved a lot. However, after my interactions with FtMA and CGA, my daily sales grew and today I clock in around KES 30,000 (USD 300), and this grows to KES 40,000 (USD 400) during the peak planting seasons. This year has actually been the best for me, especially in the planting seasons of April and May, as I earned a profit of KES 40,000 (USD 400),says Mrs Mwangi.
Now with a properly restocked agro shop and a thriving farm, Lenah is able to contribute to her family’s needs, restock her agrovet and pay her university fees whenever she get’s enough to pay.
Transforming the lives of smallholder farmers
Much of the knowledge I have in agriculture and agribusiness, is what I have learnt from my studies in high school and interactions with farmers and other value chain actors respectively. I want to learn more and become a knowledgeable and dependable consultant in agribusiness, in order to help farmers increase their yields and improve their livelihoods, and that is why I decided to further my studies by taking up a Master’s degree in Agribusiness Management at Egerton University, she says.
Lenah’s work has not only impacted her and her family, as her farmers have become knowledegable on agribusiness, have increased their yield and their earnings have improved substantially,says a proud Alex Ngetich, CGA/FtMA Agribusiness Coordinator, Nakuru County.
Alex has walked the journey with Lenah since 2018, and her resilience and zeal has propelled her farmers and the greater community of Njoro and beyond in agribusiness.
She has established a well stocked agrovet that caters to all of the farmers’ needs; offering inputs at affordable prices and teaches farmers how to use them. She is training farmers on best practices in different value chains, encouraging and mentoring young upcoming farmers and has even employed a spray service provider. The farmers under her tutorship are productive and very happy. Lenah embodies FtMA’s goal of an efficient and profitable FSC, a one-stop shop for smallholder farmers.
Inspiring young farmers
Thirty-four-year-old Joseph Mwangi says he will not look for employment after he graduates with a Master’s degree in Agri-enterprise Development in December this year, as what he is earning currently from agribusiness cannot be matched by any employer.
I met Mrs. Mwangi when I was engaged in maize farming, and it was not profitable. She introduced me to the potato and peas value chains but since I was not using certified seeds, my output was still low. I would only manage to harvest between three to 3.8 tons of potatoes per acre. However, when she brought me certified seeds, I managed eight tons per acre last season. She has also connected me with a contract farmer who will be buying 15 acres worth of potato seeds from me. She is also in the process of getting me an off-taker for my 25 acres of barley, this will really take me far,says Joseph.
Lenah complements the efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture, in bringing farmer groups together, especially young farmers. When the Ministry organizes events such asfield days, training and open days, Lenah is one of their main points of contact.
Lenah has established such a strong WhatsApp group platform for stakeholders such as the Ministry of Agriculture, County Agricultural Officers, FtMA, agronomists, farmers from Nakuru County and as far as Kitale, Nairobi and Kiambu counties and other players in the value chain to easily reach out to one another. She founded and leads the Inuka Njoro Youth Group, which won the best youth group category in 2018, during the World Food Day. She has linked the group with an online marketing platform and their work has led to them being funded to get a feed formulation mixer. The group is also reaching out to young farmers who are starting or want to start farming by being their mentors,says Virginia Gitau, Njoro Sub-County Agriculture Officer (SCAO).
The sky is the limit
Her upbeat nature has also endeared her locally and internationally. Lenah was chosen to represent East Africa in the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) program, through the merit of her work in empowering farmers as an FSC. The YALI program was launched by the former president of the United States of America (USA) Barack Obama, in an effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders.
Lenah will also be attending the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders – a flagship program of YALI – in the USA (June 2021). The fellows chosen are accomplished leaders between the ages of 25 and 35, who have established records of promoting innovation and positive impact in their communities and countries.
I owe a lot to FtMA and I am very grateful,says Lenah Mwangi.