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I can't resist telephone farming

I am not moneyed. This is a fact I have accepted to live with, perhaps for the rest of my life. Each day, I struggle to make an extra shilling. I struggle even harder not to lose any money.

In the ongoing craze to have a side hustle, I thought of utilising my rural home land, which my aging father had passed to me by word of mouth as inheritance.

When we were growing up, we used to plant a lot of sukuma wiki (collard green) and cabbages on the land.  A lot of market women at the local trading centre kept on coming for the vegetables and all I can remember was my father insisting he would not go a cent lower, they either buy or leave.

Living in the city, the craze of agribusiness caught up with me. My bank has this multi-coloured poster on soft agribusiness loans and in it is a  young man holding many notes of Sh1,000 with his mouth wide open screaming, “All this from my half acre, Sweet Money… Try farming today! Come for our agribusiness Vijanaa loan!” 

Interestingly, the poster doesn’t say where this man does his farming or whatever he grows.

Without thinking twice, I sought Sh200,000 loan. I am not dumb to pump all the money on one crop. I allocated Sh100,000 for rice on the three acres and Sh70,000 for tomatoes. I can’t tell how I spent Sh30,000 only that I still have the suit I bought for my official functions.

The loan was attached to my small salary not worth mentioning here. My projections were that I would earn about Sh18,000 every month. After repaying Sh10,000, things started to fall apart.

I realised my income projections were figments of my mind. For the first six months, Muchiri, my farm boy’s phone number became more frequent than my girlfriend’s. 

I developed an automatic response to his calls. Instead of saying hi, I would shout back, “What again?”

Every Friday, it would either be money for pesticide or seedlings. You can’t dillydally when you are told some funny insects have invaded your favourite tomato farm.

The first Mpesa message bearing the proceeds from my venture screamed Sh9,500. The second was Sh6,400 and it came when I was very broke on a Saturday afternoon.

I remember the last one because my balance was Sh00.00 for about a week. So when Sh3,300 flew in, I was elated. However, the accompanying message from the farm boy was ominous, “We need to prepare for another season as all tomatoes are over”.

What? Only Sh19,200 from Sh70,000 investment? Let me not even talk about my rice farm. I activated my intelligence-gathering skills. A source told me my farmhand, Muchiri, was busy patronising Florida Bar & Restaurant every Saturday and Sunday.

He also regularly visited Kamuka Agrovet where we buy our inputs, walking in with a green paper bag which he never came out with. 

I expanded my intelligence gathering network and met Wanjau, a shamba boy working for my neighbour. He offered freely, “You are paying Muchiri a lot. He is bragging he will get married next year. His two pregnant girls want to move into your farm”.

The shocking but juicy story startled me as I learned Muchiri had impregnated two Form Three girls at a local school.

So when the other day my sister Muthoni Wathika implored that I partner with her in a farming project, I rejected the bait without blinking.

But my persistent sister was on my neck. She gave me an example of Wanjiku and her younger brother Gituro from Mwea.

“They agreed to hire employees who are not their relatives or who do not hail from their area,” Wathika pressed on. “Family members take things casually; they will never make money for you.” 

“We will avoid planting “delicate” crops that require a lot of daily attention.” 

One thing caught my ear, though. “We have to do market research on what we want to grow” she said as a matter of fact. “Many aspiring farmers jump into things they do not understand,” she added.

The talk encouraged me as once again I pictured myself as a successful telephone farmer. I have been thinking seriously of what to farm, but the right crop or the animal have eluded me. May be Wathika has better ideas.

Meanwhile, the desire to receive those Mpesa messages every Saturday – but this time they must always be in five digits – is killing me. 

I know I am still repaying my loan even as my farm lies idle and Muchiri still waits to prey on me. I am not sure when I will go into farming, but for it to happen, Muchiri must go.

... Mkulima Young Team

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