Retired envoy learns from farming’s painful first lessons

Retired envoy learns from farming’s painful first lessons

The two hundred metre stretch from the main gate to Mwaura  Kirore’s family house at Maragua in Murang’a is lined  by well-tended flowers and a green kei apple fence. Beyond  the fence, and gently swaying to the winds on either side of the  main drive is his private goldmine — a plantation of tissue culture  bananas.  It is here that the former Kenyan ambassador to Germany and  later Kigumo Member of Parliament once lost a whopping Sh15  million to his farm two years ago, in his first attempt at farming  after retirement.

1Here is how it happened 

Like many career professionals, the former envoy had set his  eyes on farming after retirement. So before calling it a day from  both diplomacy and politics in 2002, he embarked on preparing  his 50-acre farm at Summer Estates in Maragua.  In the first two years of retirement, Ambassador Mwaura threw  all his energies and resources into his farming, at first sowing the  entire 50 acres with French beans.  The crop was doing very well, or so he thought. So well the former  envoy put in even more money and energy into it; so much  that he had no time to do his calculations. When he did, he got a  shock, one that would have sent any faint-hearted man to a hospital  with a stroke, heart attack or mental break down.  He had incurred losses amounting to Sh10 million!  “The cost of production was very high, I had ready market  for the produce, but the buyer would return almost half of the  deliveries making flimsy excuses. There was also no way to  confirm that the rejected French beans had originated from  my farm,” he recalls.  More losses came from the enthusiastic pumping of water into  the farm from River Maragua, about five kilometers away, to his  farm resulting in electricity bills amounting to Sh200,000 every  month; while his wage bill exceeded Sh100, 000 a month.

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The former envoy and politician ditched horticulture, while living  the expensive irrigation systems he had installed still lying  idle on the farm. But not his retirement plan — farming! Today, he  considers the Sh10 million losses a payment for lessons on farming.  “It helped me learn some good lessons, which have helped me  transform the farm to what it is now,” says the farmer.  On ditching horticultural farming, he planted mango trees on  10 acres of land and tissue culture bananas on the remaining  thirty acres. Last year, he ditched mango farming, uprooting the  more than 1,000 trees he had planted due to what he calls lack of  reliable markets and exploitation by middlemen.

“I was getting about Sh60,000 from all the trees. We produced  great mangos but brokers took advantage of the lack of  markets to exploit farmers.  Mango is a good venture here but not without a processing  industry. It is a very perishable fruit that can’t wait, forcing  farmers to sell it at throwaway prices. I  have no time to go looking for markets;  I can’t work so hard with all the investments  and still go looking for markets  or wait to be exploited,” he says.  Today, the former envoy and politician  has settled on tissue culture banana  farming, a venture he says he is more  comfortable with, compared to the deceptive  French beans and the over-brokered  mango.  He adds that tissue culture bananas mature fast, and a farmer  starts reaping benefits in less than a year.  “I settled for bananas. Buyers come here and buy at an agreed price. The biggest advantage I have is that I produce in bulk.  This way, I am able to supply the buyers at anytime,” he says.  He has since replaced the 10 acres of mangoes with bananas.  Still, despite the costly initial hiccups, the former envoy says he  would not exchange farming for anything else. Farming, he says,  is both fun and rewarding, but only if and  when the farmer commits himself to the  venture, and cultivates a personal attachment  to it, personally supervising operations  on the farm.  “It is not the type of business where one  relaxes and sits back waiting for his or her  money to work for him or her,” he says.  He has since settled down to enjoy farming.  At his homestead, you will always find  black and white gumboots neatly arranged  on the verandah outside the main house. If one of the pairs is not  there, then the owner is out in the farm inspecting his crop of banana.

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“I was a career civil servant for 30  years and I tell you there is nothing as  enjoyable as farming. My day begins at  5:30am when I do some small activities  and by 6am I am out inspecting my  farm. Farming has made me a happy  man in retirement,” he says.  The attachment that the farmer has  cultivated with his farm is astounding.  During a tour with the Smart Farmer,  he spent so much time carefully studying  his crops that he would momentary  forget about the tour altogether.  The former envoy urges the government  to step in to shield farmers  against exploitation by brokers, middlemen  and conmen in the farming  sector by negotiating trade deals with  Europe, opening new markets in Asia  and tapping on African trade blocks.  The country’s diplomatic policy, he  says, must give priority to marketing  Kenya’s agricultural products.  “Policy on agriculture and marketing  is very weak. Recently, an agreement  on entry of Kenyan flowers and  other products to EU expired. For a  while, farmers lost billions of shillings;  this is an area that should never lapse. Government must ensure  that our agricultural products are well  marketed in Europe. We must capitalize  on new economic engagements  with Asia and China, they are potential  markets, Kenya is an agricultural country,  agricultural products must be well  marketed and protected,” he says.  The government, he says, must further  waive duty and taxation of farm  inputs, which over-burden and frustrate  both small and large-scale farmers.  In addition to bananas, the farmer  has a herd of dairy cows and kienyenji  chicken, which produce manure for his  banana plantation.  “When I was doing French beans I  was buying manure but not anymore.  With the bananas, we ensure each  stool gets manure once every year,’ he  concludes.

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