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Friday, 8 July 2016

Farm records helps farmer to increase investment in profitable enterprises

By Thomas Ngaruiya
An innovative solution targeting smallholder farmers in Meru County has helped Mr. Nkanata Mwitari, a 75 year old farmer from Karindine village, Imenti Central to improve his agribusiness.
Mr. Mwitari started farming in 1963 after quitting alcohol and drug addiction. However, he only started keeping farm records from January 2016 after joining Farm Record Management Information System (FARMIS). The innovation by Sokopepe Ltd supports the agricultural sector in Kenya by offering market information through SOKO+ and farm records management services through FARMIS.
Production Information Agents (PIA) automating FARMIS records
“I heard about Sokopepe a year ago but I did not see the need to subscribe to FARMIS since I felt like I had enough farming experience. For over fifty years, I never kept farm records," said Mr. Mwitari.
His interest rose when FARMIS Production Information Agents (PIA) visited his farm early this year and took him through the benefits of joining the innovative service. The visit enabled him to see the value of his farm and the importance of concentrating on high value crops.
“I had to talk with my son who lives in Nairobi to send me the subscription fee. After joining FARMIS I was given a farm book and the PIA also opened my online account,” said Mr. Mwitari.
His journey in farming started at a tender age after he lost his father, which prevented him from going to school. Although he has never had a formal employment, he has managed to educate his eight children through proceeds from his farm.  Two are graduates while the rest have college and secondary education.
He believes that only hard work can make people live a better life. He always spends a minimum of six hours a day tending to his farm together with one permanent employee and casual farm workers or attending agricultural forums.
In August 1961, he started contract farming for French bean companies. However, after some few years, he shifted to banana and coffee farming due to reduced French beans prices caused by increased production.
Mr. Nkanata Mwitari applying fertilizer to his onions
He said that good coffee and banana prices during 1970-1980 enabled him to purchase a 3-acre farm. He then increased the number of coffee trees to 700 but the number reduced in 1990.
“Farming lost its meaning around 1990 due to low and fluctuating prices. Since then I have been shifting from one crop to another and each season prices of commodities always varies,” says Mr. Mwitari.
He is glad that Sokopepe is providing market information, as he is now able to query for market prices across different towns in the County.  He noted that lack of market information led to the formation of Karindine Horticultural Group to enable farmers aggregate and source for markets for bananas, tomatoes, onions, and cabbages.
He said that the group has a ready market for bananas as they are selling a kilo at Kshs 15. He hopes that Sokopepe will help them find market for their crops.
Through FARMIS, Mr. Mwitari is monitoring the progress of his dry onions, which is on an eighth of an acre. He has invested over Kshs 30,000 but he expects to harvest over 4,000 kilograms in August. He hopes that the market information that he is able to access through Sokopepe will enable him to earn close to Kshs 400,000.
“I wish I had joined FARMIS in 2014 when it was piloted in Meru. I am sure my agribusiness would have really grown by now. However, I believe that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and I have embarked on that journey,” said Mr. Mwitari.
He said that the extension services provided by PIAs has enabled him to know how much he is investing in each enterprise and projected income from each crop. In addition, every week a PIA visits him to check the progress of his crops and to assist him fill the farm book.

He has urged other farmers to join Sokopepe and embrace record keeping as a way of determining profitable crops and the enterprises that are ‘eating’ into their profits. In addition, the record keeping data would enable them to plan their farm enterprises.
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