Uasin Gishu is a farming county with a difference. For both white farmers and black farmers feed this nation from their 3,000-plus acre holdings. Here is the tale of two farmers: both Kenyans but one white and the other black.
Stephanus Kruger is the face of South Africa’s Boer settlers who pioneered large-scale farming in Uasin Gishu.
He has lived in two eras, seeing his father Mr J. E. Kruger farm in the colonial days and now himself in independent Kenya.
He is a third generation member of the Kruger family that migrated from South Africa to Uasin Gishu to settle, where the world community toyed for many years with the idea of sending homeless Jews to, before they settled on Israel.
“My name Kruger is like Mwangi in Kenya, we belong to the Kruger tree of names,” he joked.
It takes four hours to drive around his 5,000 acres of highly mechanised farm at Sergoit – the size of an entire sub-location in densely populated areas of Kenya.
The sophistication on Mr Kruger’s farm is comparable to farmlands in Europe and in South Africa.
It has a one kilometre runway to begin with, a landing pad from where Mr Kruger, himself a pilot, flies to Nairobi to get spare parts for his machinery.
“You will waste a whole day to drive to Nairobi and back, I take only a few hours to fly to Wilson Airport and back,” he explained.
An assortment of the machinery on his farm ranges from ploughing tractors to combine harvesters, spraying machines and road graders.
His machinery is from leading world class manufacturers such as John Deere, the oldest farm machinery manufactures of the United States.
The farm has silos with a capacity to store 4,000 tonnes of grain at any given time, approximately 44,000 bags of maize. Most of his clients, the big millers, go to collect from him instead of the other way round.
He has 1,500 acres under barley, 2,000 under maize and 1,000 under wheat. He even owns a hill of 400 acres which is used as a wildlife sanctuary in which he keeps Rothschild giraffes, antelopes and little duikers.
The balance of 100 acres is taken up by his dairy, his home compound, and 110 kilometers of graded road network... equal to the distance between Nairobi and Gilgil; or, from Eldoret to Malaba on the Kenya-Uganda border.
He draws his water from springs powered by windmills. Mr Kruger estimates that if he were to sell his farm as a going concern, it would fetch Sh1.5 billion.
The Kenyan farmer, he lamented, is treated by the Government as a second class citizen. “Farmers, unlike other businesses, are price-takers rather than price-setters. The price is set for the farmer by people who do not know what it costs to produce a bag of maize,” he said.
Then, the Government is more interested in supporting foreign farmers by importing grain. “This is the same money foreign countries turn over and give us as loans. So we export our wealth to loan ourselves and in turn pay foreign countries to add to their billions.”
This will continue until the Government realises that the money used to import cheap grain can be turned into incentives for local farmers in the form of subsidised fertilisers, credit, insurance and waivers on farm machinery.
Mr Kruger feels the problems of big farmers and a small one are the same. The new Uasin Gishu county government, he said, will be faced with the challenges of setting local laws to protect large scale and small farmers to allow them to coexist and produce enough to export.
Mr Mark Too is among 10 leading farmers in Uasin Gishu county. Formerly one of the most influential politicians in the Moi regime, he has settled down to big time farming combining crop, dairy and trees.
Black farmers bought their farms from departing conglomerates or white farmers after Independence. His farm, previously owned by East African Tanning and Extract Company, is at Kapsaret, 40 kilometres from Mr Kruger’s.
The uniqueness of Mr Too’s farm lies in the challenges he faced in converting it into arable land.
Unlike other farmers who inherited ready farmlands from departing white farmers, he had to pump in vast resources because it had wattle trees, making the soil unsuitable for crops.
Unlike Mr Kruger, his 3,000-plus acre farm is naturally endowed with three rivers, the Kipkaren, the Leberio and a local stream.
From the acidic soils that bore wattle trees, he has made his land fertile by using organic manure from animals plus inorganic fertiliser.
“I had a very difficult task uprooting the wattle trees. Occasionally I thought of giving up midway, then tilling the soil and leaving it fallow for sometime to soften and enrich it with organic manure,” he said.
Today, Mr Too farms 500 acres of maize, another 500 of wheat, 1,000 acres for grazing, and in the rest he has planted gum trees to supply electricity poles to Kenya Power and Lighting Company.
He has 13 paddocks holding 1,500 animals, both for dairy and beef. His clients are the National Cereals and Produce Board, big millers and Brookside to whom he sells 2,500 litres of milk daily.
He values his machinery at Sh30 million and it includes tractors, combine harvesters and spraying machines. Like others, Mr Too wants the government to protect the local farmer by stopping imports.
The farmers must be able to set their own prices guided by the market and central government should also subsidise farm inputs, he said.
The incoming county government should enact strict laws to prevent animal diseases. It should also invest in agricultural extension workers, who should carry out routine checks to monitor animal diseases, then restrict movement until animals in that area are treated.
The county government should also produce a land policy, discourage the sub-division of land into small units and instead encourage group farming such as cooperatives for small-scale farmers.
The county government should invest in industries related to local farm produce to diversify and maximise returns. That, he feels, would give the county a wider tax net and help it to become one of the richest in the country.