How to become a successful ‘telephone’ farmer

Cows at a farm

Peter is a manager with a company in Nairobi. He has a five-acre farm somewhere in Nyandarua. That is where he grew up. Some of his friends have started farming as a side hustle. They all talk about how profitable it is, and Peter has decided to try. He has bought five dairy cows and is now putting up houses for 500 broilers.

This is a side business that he wants to run when still working in his formal job. Call it telephone farming, remote farming, or armchair farming, but this type of farming is becoming increasingly common.

Let us be honest, we can’t all do farming sustainably only when we retire. That is when you have plenty of time to spare in the farm, but not enough money to invest adequately.

But is telephone or long-distance farming possible?

The answer is yes and no. I have been to many farms with heavy investments, but abandoned. Owners were unable to profitably manage them.

Let us agree on one thing: Managing a farm is hard. It requires intensive management and lots of real time controls. And that is when you are present. When you are an absent farmer farm management is double hard.

Why do most people get tired and abandon their farms?

They lack tenacity to sustain intensive controls and close management for as long as possible. That is natural for any human being. It is when that energy plummets that effective management styles should kick in.

Farming becomes extremely hard, when you don’t have the energy and mental strength to maintain the high intensive farm management, and at the same time, you don’t know when and how to apply other effective management styles.

Today, hands-on management style is being replaced by a hands-off management styles, but with in-built controls. Digital platforms have enabled more operational visibility and controls. Inclusivity management can also help make long distance farming possible.

Management becomes very hard if you want to control everything. Like in every other business, there are some key areas that you must have the visibility and control.

Areas of Control Purchases:

Ensure that all that is supposed to be bought for the farm is bought and delivered into the farm. Have direct access to suppliers and the best prices offered. Pay directly to trusted suppliers and have the goods delivered, possibly by the supplier, to the farm.


Ensure that all the materials or supplies to the farm are of the right quality. Otherwise, you will be giving money to purchase one thing and something totally different is brought to the farm. Don’t trust your farm managers too much. I have seen a long-distance farmer who takes every word from his managers as gospel truth. I have seen another who doesn’t require to be told what works and what doesn’t. He collects samples of all top three feeds, for example, and takes them to the laboratory himself. He then calls each company to negotiate prices and trading terms. He then makes an informed decision of what to buy.

On the Farm Have physical controls or security at the farm to ensure that all that is bought and brought is not stolen or removed without authorisation. Farm management| Opinion Farm management| Opinion

Also ensure proper use of materials or inputs bought. Have some performance numbers or indicators. How much is each chicken or cow expected to eat in a day? How many days is that quantity supplied expected to last?

Apart from controlling theft, this is meant to minimise on wastage. When you don’t have in-farm controls, materials are stolen or misused, your livestock is underfed, or not taken care of as they should, and inputs are blamed for inefficacy.

Other controls here should focus on livestock theft. Many stories of livestock theft by staff are awash in this industry. Cows will be sold and claimed dead and buried. Chickens sold and alleged dead and burnt. And many others.

Have controls to ensure that all livestock, dead or alive, are accounted for by yourself. At the selling point Farm staff will claim that they cannot get market at this price or another.

Secure markets for your livestock or produce yourself and agree on prices. Nothing should leave the farm without a dispatch note.

Make sure to account for the entire sales. No amount of controls will replace honest and trustworthy farm staff. Work with people you can trust, not just jobless relatives.


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