The Annual Farmers Award Scheme is growing bigger each year and farmers hail it as an important entry on the calendar.
“The event is quite encouraging to us as farmers, and we feel like we are being recognised in the industry,” says James Murimi Wanjohi, who scooped the best National Farmers’ Annual Award in Small Scale Mechanised category.
Murimi is the managing director of Olumara Estate in Kirinyaga county. Trained in ICT, the 31-year-old convinced himself that the future lay in farming.
“I want to encourage the youth to cast away the idea that farming is for retired people. No, it is not. This is the time one can do farming as a young person, because you have energy. Like I have my energy right now. This is the time when we have energy. I am not waiting for retirement,” Murimi told the Star moments after he won the award.
His journey into farming started in 2008 when he realised there were many untapped opportunities in the dairy sector.
He embarked on research specifically in the dairy sector, a task that took him as far as South Africa, Netherlands, Ireland and Israel where he picked any piece of information he could lay his hand on.
It took two years to amass the knowledge he needed to start off.
“I learnt great lessons on how different countries implement different farming methods to succeed,” he says.
He was satisfied with the lessons he learnt and in 2011, Olumara Estate was born with the sole purpose of applying only the relevant bits and pieces of technology that would work in Kenya and built an Olumara model.
The strategy was based on proper treatment of animals: good nutrition, comfort, hygiene and good veterinary care.
“We wanted to have a unique model at Olumara. We have done things differently; we have embraced modern technology, using research-based innovations. We want to be different in everything we are doing,” Murimi says.
Olmara estate has developed a system that works with the community around the farm. The project has a number of practical economic benefits including job creation with the construction of the farm structures generating an estimated 50 jobs for the locals.
“We use biogas and solar to lower our energy costs. We also supply manure to farmers growing maize and till their farms for free and in return farmers give us the maize fodder. The farmers also get improved feeds and we assist in selling their milk,” he adds.
When he started, farmers in the neighbouring farms could not figure out what his mission was but over time they are starting to believe because they have integrated them in the plan. “When we invite experts, we organise for them to talk to farmers groups.”
There are various challenges experienced, top of which is staffing and getting people to share in the greater Olmara vision. Access to financing has also not been easy. The opportunities that have been bought about by devolution are immense. He get visits from county extension officials.
“My long term plan is to make Olumara a model farm and a learning institution where local farmers can train. We are heading towards value addition and we are also looking forward to packaging biogas,” says Murimi.
“We want more government support in terms of expertise because it is costly and takes a long time before it trickles down to us,” he says.
Elgon Kenya Ltd has been partnering with the Ministry of Agriculture to award and motivate farmers who toil days on end in their fields to support national food production.
The award is the first of its kind in the country and region, aimed at celebrating the country's unsung heroes who have surmounted odds to provide for millions and oil the economy.