Fake it until you make it, beware of exaggerated farming stories
Come on people, whip out your calculators. 1 acre of onions gives 24 tonnes of market ready bulbs. At KSh 50 per Kg, that is a cool KSh 1.2 million from one acre after only 3 months. Then do 3 crops in one year and you smile to the bank. Let us go farm!
The media – mainstream, blogs and alternative social media spaces - is littered with stories of success, of people who have made it in farming from mud to riches within a very short time. They are young, techno savvy, exuberant, and swimming in millions from their farming ventures.
They are projected as the new rising stars of Africa’s green revolution. That finally they have made something out of their dalliance with the sometimes stingy nature of the agriculture many have grown up knowing; one that does not pay, one that consigns the hard working farmer to a life of misery and peanury.
However, a scrutiny of these stories reveal gaps and missing information that suggest either the entire story is not been told or it has been panel beaten to make it catchy, attractive, and of course, sexy. Often, the read sounds too good to be true and were you to use information therein to make your investment decisions, chances are you will burn your fingers, and left wondering where the promise of millions of cash disappeared to.
Good farming stories highlight cases of 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 on money then the likelihood for exaggerations is high to prove indeed that the farming venture is making money. It also presents only a snapshot of the farming process, may be one good season when the harvest is exceptionally good. Other factors at play like pests and diseases, markets, could mess things up the next season and the very farmer may not sing his way to a fat bank account.
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. For a while now, this has been consistently proven to be true. Perhaps the most memorable case involves the quail.The promise of millions of cash drove hordes of investors 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 any time soon because of the health benefits attributed to the white meat and eggs from the bird. And, who wouldn’t want to eat quail eggs with all its medicinal properties?
Those who jumped in first made money because of the artificial demand created by the hype, mostly of 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 KSh 100 to a measly KSh 2. When the money didn’t come, the mass investors cut their losses and moved on to other ventures. Some were so disappointed that they gave farming altogether.
In a related instance, a while back Kenyans were treated to a sadly comical promise of huge returns upon buying land and greenhouse, which would be farmed by a company and the buyers, would get regular payouts from the farming proceeds. What made it unbelievably attractive is that the buyers would recoup their invest in less than 2 years. Well, as the story goes, this didn’t happen. The payments didn’t come!
Despite these not so encouraging cases, media and social media spaces are important to farming and agriculture in general. They are crucial in helping farmers, consumers and those interested in farming to access information that can assist in decision making, and also transmitting the concerns of the different groups.
It is true that the success of agricultural development programmes largely depends on the nature and extent of use of mass media in the mobilization of target populations. It is also true that with wider and deeper penetration of Information and Communication Technologies farmers no longer depending on extension personnel and mainstream media to receive and partake on farming information. Social media in particular has democratized access to information validated by both science and practice. Still, the same helpful spaces can be and are abused by people with not so-kind intentions, especially those out to sell their products, like planting materials, breeding stock often at inflated prices.
Fill in the gaps
Media people are not farming specialists and so may miss out on some of the nitty-gritties of farming. They have journalistic skills and use those skills 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 him/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 with a view of selling certain products, or, content sponsored by organizations in a bid to give them visibility, and justify expenditure of funds received from donors. 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 in media and internet. While agriculture is an exact science, it is affected by unforeseen factors. To succeed the farmer needs more than inputs, rather, passion, love for the land and practical experience. Therefore, take your time, visit farmers who are doing well and learn the trade from their experiences. Study market trends then plan your move. When a 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.
Do not feel pressure to sugarcoat the story. It does more harm than good.