What nobody tells you about farming, from a guy who learnt the hard way

What nobody tells you about farming, from a guy who learnt the hard way

By Odipo Gerphas

As a young person getting into farming, promises are often rosy.

You hear of a former co-worker who recently bought a new car after a bumper harvest. Your former schoolmate, John, has quit formal employment in favour lucrative dairy venture. Then you go online and you are bombarded by story after story about how people are minting money off agriculture.

Then, you are sold 100%. Sadly, you are often sold on only one side of the story. Today, I’ll open your eyes to the other, more realistic, side of farming.

Our first french beans didn’t work as planned, the second followed suite and after little to no research-we changed crops to water melon. Little did we know that things were to go south, yet again.

Like a great horde of young people hungry to reap bountifully from farming, we switched to the crop that (we were told) had more money and less risk.

True enough, it has better returns per acre and the risks are spread. One main advantage being it has a very good shelf life. This was a relief for us, more so coming from a crop that had a shelf life shorter than a monk’s hair follicle.

What caught our attention were the figures. This is usually the bait for many youth getting in to agriculture. The numbers being floated by the media are off the charts and can make anyone see themselves superseding King Solomon in a quarter of the time.

As much as this may almost be true, it is unfortunate that many are never told about the flip side of the cookie.

It takes persistence, a skin of leather coated in asbestos and an iron spine to venture into farming. If you are faint of heart, I would strongly recommend you stick to the consumption side of farming, as on the production side, you will be easily consumed.

Besides falling for the deception of the numbers, we did not have a watering schedule for our water melons. Later, we were taught by our own experience and that was a tough lesson to learn.

So, what did I learn from the three failed crops?

Treat your crop as you do your body. The human biology is an adaptive one. The preconditions set from conception are what govern systems and later forms habits. Plants are not too far off in their development process.

The human body has been conditioned to demand food at certain times because of how it has been trained. Similarly, plants grow better when they are ‘programmed’ in a certain manner. Crops that have a watering pattern grow better than randomly watered vegetation. This was one of the errors we made.

Subsequently, we did not have a spraying program. We have since learnt that local agrovets have outstanding literature for various crops. What to spray, when, how and even what quantities of inputs need to go to each crop. It is ironical to imagine that you can treat your crops poorly and expect rich returns.

Framing has extremely good returns, equal only to oil barons, drug lords and telecom monopolies- my partner and I like saying.

That said, we need to start learning the art of quality and not just quantity. Quality sustains your farming venture and helps build a credible reputation. Quantity, on the other hand, gives large volumes of produce that fetch very low prices, if you are lucky.

In our case, the plants grew to maturity and then the dreaded happened. Our fruits, out of lack of proper watering, came out small. The size affected the weight and in turn negatively dented the market value of the crop.

So did we fail at our first attempt at farming? I think not, because we waked away with many lessons that have made us better farmers in the long run.

And that is what people don’t tell you about farming: often times you must fail before you succeed.

Odipo Gerphas is the Director of Judera Group Ltd. A company that engages in contract farming encouraging the youth to venture into agribusiness. @odipogerphas odipo@judera.org