When Samuel Chacha Mwita quit his Sh90,000 a month job as a graphic designer with the Kenya Medical Research Institute in 2003 to focus on agriculture, many thought he had gone mad.
Chacha gleaned his knowledge from YouTube farmers’ TV channels and agriculture magazines both online and offline. His short stint training with ActionAid in Kuria, a local non-governmental organisation, motivated him to venture into fish farming, vegetable oil extraction and most recently, tomato farming.
Chacha, who studied graphic design at Kenya Polytechnic, said the farming bug struck him when Kemri and the Netherlands government sponsored him for a year in 1999 to specialise in computer graphic design at GN Institute.
“In Netherlands I was shocked to learn that farmers were the richest people and received preferential treatment from their government. I started admiring farming instead of graphic design as a profession,” he narrates, adding that he enrolled with ActionAid for a month long fish farming training at Sagana.
“I was 42 years old and was poised for a promotion after the Netherlands training, but I went for the training during leave,” he said.
He said he started with two ponds in which he stocked 400 tilapia and catfish fingerlings. The venture picked after first harvest resulting in him building two more ponds and stocking 500 more fingerlings.
“I learnt about propagating of catfish which I started investing in to boost my farm as a training centre. Sadly, I got pressure in 2003 to head back to Kemri to help them in design work,” he narrates.
His ponds only provide subsistence food for his family and ‘on-the-pond’ sales to neighbours.
Chacha says he felt caged when he went back to work and was restless under office environment as he was “constricted by the 8-5 rule, always to be in office even when there was no job. I craved freedom.”
He says in 2005 when ActionAid Kuria offered local farmers training on sunflower farming and was ready to offer a ready market with Bidco Kenya Ltd, he quit his job permanently and took risk by investing in a Sh90,000 jua kali oil extractor.
“The extractor broke down immediately I installed it in my farm. And Bidco pulled back after farmers went back to tobacco farming. I saw a gap left by Bidco and bought another Chinese extractor for Sh190,000 which still functions to date,” he says.
Armed with knowledge from the internet, Chacha tinkered with the machine and experimented with sunflower, avocado, groundnuts and African kales seeds (locally called Kandhira) before becoming an expert.
“Out of the machine I make at least Sh80,000 in three month’s season as the products I grow takes short time to mature,” he says.
He sells cooking oil for Sh200 a litre and sunflower cake from extracted seed byproducts for livestock and fish feed at Sh30 a kilo.
Because of internet, most of his clients are drawn from far with the latest being a cattle farmer from Eldoret who bought 12 sacks of sunflower cake.
But Chacha’s biggest jackpot is the more than Sh1million he expects from his first time venture in tomato farming, something he solely learnt from YouTube.
He started the project in July this year, following a Sh50,000 investment from an Eldoret consultant who build for him a 20 by 8 metres greenhouse complete with drip irrigation channels.
“Everything from type of seeds, spacing, and green house care I learnt from YouTube and internet. I followed the procedure religiously and have been shocked with the speed of maturity,” he narrates excitedly, adding that he planted slightly over 1,000 seedlings.
The fruits, which are due for first picking soon, have a ready market in Migori county’s major towns, which are hit by constant shortage.
“A stalk will offer me about 50 kilos of tomatoes. After trying several ventures I feel I have hit the jackpot,”he said.
Chacha says he struggles to have his neighbours change from tobacco farming to horticulture to stem the heavy deforestation and pollution.
Simon Wankuru, Action Aid Kuria region programmes officer, says Chacha’s farm has been used as a model to boost horticulture farming in the area. “Most families, like Chacha’s, had their relations die of cancer because of tobacco. Through trainings, we have encouraged them to shift interest,” Wankuru says.
Chacha says he plans to expand his farm to be able to produce animal feeds for farms across Migori county as it has a ready market. “Local farmers lack feeds for chicken, fish and livestock. This is a market I seek to target soon,” he says.