Isaac Kasonde, 22, a Kenyan farmer based in Botswana

Isaac Kasonde, 22, a Kenyan farmer based in Botswana, is on a mission to create one of the biggest agribusiness ventures in the Southern African nation.

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Young Kenyan farmer helping Botswana boost food production

Isaac Kasonde describes himself as hardworking, driven and possessing a solid understanding of his life’s goals and aspirations. In 2018, just after completing high school at Westwood International School in Botswana, where he grew up, the Kenyan embarked on a journey to establish a profitable agribusiness venture in Metsimaswane, about 25 minutes’ drive from Botswana’s bustling capital, Gaborone.

Isaac observed that the southern African country, positioned inland and straddling the subtropical high-pressure belt, had an arid and semi-arid climate characterised by unpredictable rainfall. Seventy percent of Botswana’s landscape consists of desert and poor soils.

This climatic predicament compelled the nation to rely heavily on food imports, with agriculture accounting for only two percent of GDP. Witnessing the dire food crisis around him, Isaac was determination to redress the situation.

“I noticed that there was food insecurity and convinced myself that I could do something about it. I dedicated myself to rigorous research in the pursuit of innovative solutions,’’ he says.

Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture data reveals a disheartening reality: the average age of a farmer is 61 years, while a life expectancy of around 65 years. In the face of such discouraging statistics that often stack the odds against young people in the farming industry, Isaac, at the tender age of 22, defied the norm and set out to manage a sprawling 25-acre farm in Metsimaswane. 

Despite the prevailing notion that farming is a pursuit primarily for the older generations, he recognised the potential in the agricultural sector and saw an opportunity to challenge the status quo.

By leveraging his skills, knowledge and passion for farming, Isaac embraced the risks and sought to create a successful enterprise that could potentially change the trajectory of his life and contribute to the local economy.

He harboured a multitude of aspirations, initially aspiring to become a veterinarian. However, his dreams took a different course in high school, when he realised that the sciences were not his forte. It was during this formative period that his fascination with agriculture began to blossom.

Though his parents live and work in Botswana, Isaac traces his affinity for farming to his mother, who grew up on the Berea farms in Subukia, along the Nakuru-Nyahururu road.

Owned by the Anglican Church, the farms were renowned for their extensive cultivation of crops such as tea, coffee, maize and pyrethrum. He was enamoured by his mother’s narratives about life on the farm, and had been captivated by Kenya’s agricultural landscape whenever they visited the country. His father’s involvement in cattle farming further fuelled his passion for agriculture.

It is no wonder, then, that his parents were supportive of his grand vision, recognising its potential once he showed them his project proposal. They did not hesitate to give him with the seed capital he needed to procure the land and establish his venture.

His choice of location was guided by access to the retail outlets and vendors he intended to supply. With a keen eye on maximising the farm’s potential, he embarked on a comprehensive feasibility study, visiting retail shops and having extensive conversations with distributors and suppliers of fresh vegetables and selected meats.

He delved into industry dynamics, gaining insights into the market’s demands, expectations and intricacies.

“I sought to understand what would be needed in terms of quality, consistency and due diligence. There is no point of venturing into agribusiness without having information on your intended market and industry actors. By mapping out the market first, I was able to pre-empt potentially fierce competition from established farms in South Africa, thereby amplifying my chances of survival and success,’’ he says.

Presently, the farm has a flourishing stock of 31 pigs, nine dairy cows and several dozen chickens and ducks. In addition, he has  under horticultural crops, including spinach and chomolia, an exquisite African kale, tomatoes, onion, beetroot, strawberries, carrots and bell peppers.

Isaac uses shade nets to shield his vegetables from the harsh rays of the sun and temperatures that can go up to 40 degrees Celcius during summer. Additionally, he has installed a drip irrigation system that pumps water from a borehole capable of producing 2,000 litres per hour.

“When I started farming, I began to appreciate the skills farmers have. They treat their crops like their children, nurturing them through the various stages to maturity, making sure they are in the best health and using the resources necessary to guarantee a good harvest.”

Having started his agribusiness straight out of high school, several challenges hindered his progress, a major one being his lack of practical experience – he relied mainly on information he found on the internet – which sometimes resulted in significant post-harvest losses.

Additionally, he had to cope with the adverse effects of climate change, market volatility and high employee turnover.  He currently has six workers, who live on the farm.

The ministry of agriculture in Botswana has been helpful in conducting farm checks and extension services, and running workshops to train farmers.

The government has also implemented laws to control importation of vegetables to protect domestic farmers, including a long-term ban of 16 vegetables announced in December 2021. One can also use tractors provided by the government, paying only for the fuel.

His long-term vision for the farm is to expand his operations in terms of acreage and production, and creating opportunities for the youth to learn about farming, not only as a business but also as a way to produce healthy, nutritious food for themselves. 

“The youth just need to embrace the fundamentals of farming. Getting young people to farm is an immensely important approach to bolstering food security and tackling the immense challenge of feeding a nation.”