A new breed of agropreneurs, buoyed by good returns from their land, is shifting from rudimentary farming methods to renting and buying sophisticated farming inputs in a bid to further boost their incomes.
The moves are spawning a new wave of shops leasing or selling specialized farm equipments and recording impressive returns, across tractor engines, water pumps, ploughs, irrigation systems, and machine attachments to task-specialized equipment.
The sudden rise in the use of farming machinery is also now seeing farmers clear swathes of land they had earlier neglected, to increase their acreage of arable land.
Agriniture farm dealers is a wholesale and retail farm equipment store in TransNzoia District, both selling and renting equipment to farmers who predominantly grow tea and pyrethrum smallholdres. “Compared to the five years I have been in business, the last one year has seen the uptake of many of the products I have here.
While previously I only concentrated on selling these equipments, I have since changed tack to accommodate hiring of these commodities since the majority of the farmers cannot afford to buy them. The result has been impressive,” said Daniel Kosgey the owner of Agriniture. Over 60 per cent of his profits now come from leasing rather than selling.
For example, leasing a Chisel Plough Standard, which ploughs large areas using less fuel, cost Sh20,000 per three days, with farmers taking around 6 to 9 days to do their ploughing for the year. “There is the peak season where I get 10 requests in one day meaning I have to have fully stocked the shop with these equipments.” The plough sells for Sh95,000 which remains out of reach for many farmers.
Farmers are also clubbing together to buy new equipment. Typical are the farmers in the rice growing area of Mwea in Central Kenya who have long relied on crude methods of harvesting and processing rice, but with the help of NGO Bridgenet Africa, have bought a combined rice harvester.
The equipment harvests, thrashes and bags rice and includes two automatic rice seeders for transplanting rice seedlings. The equipment is now saving time and costs, with the NGO having also trained one of the farmers, Mr Meshack Kiige, to manage the equipment, including hiring it to farmers outside the farmers group that owns it.
Mr Nabtar Denille, Chairman of the NGO said the farmers’ group’s initiative was now assisting the farmers to produce large quantity of quality rice for local consumption. "We are also providing a guaranteed market not only to rice farmers in Mwea, but to all rice farmers across the country, provided the quality meets the requirements of the Kenyan consumer".
Farmers dealing in grain farming are also now investing in equipment purchase. Traditionally, grains and other seed crops have been harvested with a hand held sickle, threshed by beating a bundle of stems over the side of a log, and cleaned by tossing the grain into the air on a breezy day so that clean grain falls in a pile and chaff blows away.
The ancient methods span all of wheat, barley, rice, and millet, and can include driving oxen, donkeys or horses over stalks laid on a paved surface to loosen the grain.
For the grain growers who have embraced machines that combine cutting, gathering and threshing, losses are reduced in shattered crop. The loss of seeds can also be reduced, with an example being the use of air seeder equipment by wheat farmers in Narok, where the seed plant is cut before it is ripe and allowed to ripen in a bundle or windrow or even on a paper tray.
Nadito agro dealers, a farming equipment franchise in Narok district recorded a boom in sales of air seeder to wheat farmers last year, with the uptake of the equipment rising 70 per cent in 2010. Farmers say that it is gains from earlier innovations that is now fuelling these purchases.
Mary Ngunjiri, a smallholder from Sabasaba in Maragua District who grows tissue culture bananas that she intercrops with tomatoes and onions says as the demand for more of the tissue bananas soared it meant she needed to clear more land to till. She has been relying on casual labourers to till her land and water her bananas.
However, moving from just one acre of arable land to 5 acres of tissue culture bananas was getting expensive in labour. “I would hire 7 casual labourers to till my land and it would take three weeks before they could finish. After planting I would then hire another lot to water my produce.
Even though I was making profit, at the end of the day I realized I wasn’t getting as much as I should. When I invested in a tractor for farming and a water pump to irrigate my produce I realized how much I had been missing.”
She says she saved the tractor tilled in one day at a cost of Sh10,000 while the installation of the pump cost her Sh20,000. Previously, she was spening almost Sh50,000 on buying hoes and hiring labourers.
At the same time, micro finance institutions like Jamii Bora and local banks like Equity have recorded a high uptake of loans for farming equipment. Jamii Bora says loans for tractors, harvesters and ploughs jumped 64 per cent in the year 2009/2010, compared to the same time last year.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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