I quit employment at 30 to become a farmer

Chris Onyango who opted to quit his white-collar job and the urban lifestyle to get his hands down and dirty on the farm.

Photo credit: Victor Raballa | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Armed with savings of about Sh150,000 and a two-acre parcel of land in Migori, Chris began farming soya beans. This was in 2013.
  • This operation birthed his company, Escope Strategic Solutions. Over the years, the enterprise has grown to include cassava and beans and is looking to venture into farming red sorghum. 
  • To save up to 70 per cent of their operational costs, he said, the firm is looking at setting up a call centre to enable virtual extension services, advisory services and market information as they carry out their business
  • Currently, Chris, who works with more than 5,000 farmers spread across Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu, Siaya and Busia counties, hopes to rope in 15,000 more in the next five years.

Chris Onyango was barely 30 when he decided to return to his rural home and become a full-time farmer.

Eyebrows were raised, especially among his peers who couldn’t fathom why he chose to give up the luxuries of urban living to go back rural living. He had a white-collar job in a food processing company and had only worked for four years.

Chris remained unperturbed by the scepticism that came flying towards him by those who perceived his decision as retrogressive. He had discovered the hen that lay golden eggs and there was no turning back.

“During the four years of my employment, I noticed with growing interest a constant shortage of raw materials for processing. This challenge was not unique to our company but cut across the sector.” 

Chris realised, to his amazement, that companies were struggling to import materials for processing on a daily basis.  His entrepreneurial spirit was stirred up. 

Armed with savings of about Sh150,000 and a two-acre parcel of land in Migori, Chris began farming soya beans. This was in 2013.

The enterprise has grown

“I used part of that money to formalise agreements with 10 small-scale farmers. I provided the seeds, fertilisers and other farm inputs as well as training on how to do the farming. Collectively, we had 25 acres of soya beans.”

The initial harvest yielded about 5,000 tonnes. Chris and the team of farmers decided to plough back the proceeds and enlarge their operations by recruiting more farmers.

They signed up 100 more to the scheme, thus increasing their acreage significantly. He became a valuable link between the farmers and the food processing industries in Nairobi. 

“I bought the soya beans from the farmers and supplied to industrial buyers and processors who manufacture products such as refined oil, animal feed and texturised proteins.” 

This operation birthed his company, Escope Strategic Solutions. Over the years, the enterprise has grown to include cassava and beans and is looking to venture into farming red sorghum. 

Their activities

As part of its efforts to be sustainable, the company runs a social business venture to train farmers on how to improve their yields 

“I have employed four trainers who are specialised in agricultural extension and training as we look to popularise climate smart agriculture among women and youth.” 

Their activities include training farmers on best agronomic practices, mapping farmers into viable working units, availing quality assurance equipment for use at farm levels and also engaging farmers on forward contracting.

To save up to 70 per cent of their operational costs, he said, the firm is looking at setting up a call centre to enable virtual extension services, advisory services and market information as they carry out their business.

“Through the new technology, the initiative will help in reaching out to a large population of farmers and reduce the costs associated with moving around.”

Many untapped opportunities 

“Other than providing loans in form of inputs, we also link smallholder farmers to financial institutions and insurance services depending on their need.” 

Currently, Chris, who works with more than 5,000 farmers spread across Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu, Siaya and Busia counties, hopes to rope in 15,000 more in the next five years.

“We guarantee our farmers a reliable and sustainable market for their produce as we continue to strengthen our recruitment, mapping, training, contracting and extension services.” 

The company is working to set up two modern warehouses in Migori and Kisumu that can hold at least 2,000 metric tonnes of produce to meet the demands of large scale and industrial buyers.

“This will enable us to offer our clients affordable storage facilities for produce they do not intend to use at the time of purchase.” 

So, has Chris managed to fill the gap he spotted back in 2013? Not even close. There exists many untapped opportunities in the agriculture sector in Kenya and Africa as a whole.  

Escope, which operates with a staff of seven in its Migori and Kisumu offices, now has its eyes on processing value-added raw materials for industrial buyers.

vraballa@ke.nationmedia.com

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.