By Mkulima Young
As someone interested in farming, most of the stories one interacts with are those of young, tech-savvy people who have made it big in a very short time by growing crops like tomatoes or onions.
You are told the math and get flabbergasted: One acre of an onion crop gives 24 tonnes of bulb onions with a kilo going at Sh50. That leads to a cool Sh1.2 million from one acre after only three months and the crop can be farmed thrice a year.
These successful people are projected as the new rising stars of Africa’s green revolution. However, a scrutiny of the stories reveals so many gaps that suggest part of the story – the hard truth - is hidden.
More often than not, the story sounds too good to be true and if you were to use such information to make your investment decisions, you will certainly burn your fingers.
Good farming stories should highlight the role agriculture plays in society; that of food and nutritional security, growing the economy through wealth and job creation and ensuring environmental sustainability.
When focus is only on money, then you end up with exaggerations to prove at all costs that farming is a money-making venture. Such stories also present only a snapshot of the farming process, because one season may be good and the next one too harsh.
Then there are things like pests and diseases and market challenges, all which influence the outcome of a venture. Here’s how to get it right.
Allure of quick money
Exaggerated returns from farming expose new farmers to scammers out to make quick money and jump ship before the cookie crumbles. One of the most memorable cases involves quails.The promise of millions drove many into quail farming.
The rosy picture painted by articles in media and social media platforms convinced many that returns were guaranteed and the customer base wouldn’t shrink because of the health benefits attributed to the white meat and eggs from the bird.
Those who jumped in first made money because of the artificial demand created by the hype, mostly from those who were buying the birds and eggs to start up their quail farms. Yet the consumer side of the chain didn’t grow.
It wasn’t long before the overstated price of quail eggs dropped from the heavenly Sh100 to a measly Sh2. When the money didn’t come, the mass investors cut their losses and moved on to other ventures. They left so many disappointed farmers.
In a related venture, Kenyans are promised huge returns after buying land and investing in greenhouses managed by the seller. The companies promise investors will scoop their cash in months. The sad part begins when the payment never comes at all.
Fill in the gaps
Journalists are not agriculture specialists therefore may miss out on some of the nitty-gritties about farming. They have journalistic skills and use them to bring information to the wider public, but it's not their job to translate things into easily palatable data for decision-making.
As you read agriculture stories
, be on the lookout for gaps and other missing links, and if you know a farmer involved in a similar value chain, corroborate the information with her. You can also do the same with an extension officer, especially on the gross margins, ensuring that all costs are captured so that you get the full picture.
Differentiate marketing articles written to sell certain products or content sponsored by organisations in search of visibility. They rarely tell the entire story, especially on challenges encountered or what is not working.
There is money in farming
. However, do not be carried away by overly massaged stories. While agriculture is a precision science, it is affected by unforeseen factors. To succeed, the farmer needs more than just inputs. He must have passion, love for the soil and practical experience. Therefore, take your time, visit farmers who are doing well and learn from their experiences. Study market trends then plan your move. When time comes for you to tell your story, give a balanced view, not the just the juicy side; tell of the disappointments too. That way, others can learn from you and make the right decisions.
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Being a member enables you to sell and/or accessing contacts for buyers seeking products. Also soon you will get regional market trends and prices projection for various agricultural commodities.