A resilient and hardworking lady who took the risk and quit her well paying corporate job to venture into farming
Farming is a great venture to start in the country. A friend of mine said that it’s ‘booming and cool’ to be a farmer. However, farming is not for everybody. Some fail miserably at it and other excel quite well in their first trial. In the olden days, farming was practiced in the country side by ‘old people’ since the younger generation termed it as ‘un cool’. However, this is not the case these days. The venture has not only been embraced by the younger generation, but also people in urban areas are practicing it. When you hear a person call a shamba a gold mine, they know the pockets of a successful farmer run deep.
Teresia Wamaitha Chege is a psychologist by profession. After practicing psychology for a long time, she decided it was time to try something different. She secretly had a passion for farming but was too afraid to step out the comfort zone of a well paying corporate job and risk being a farmer. After giving the idea some deep thought and talking to friends seeking some advice and opinions, she decided to venture into farming full time 10 years ago. She started with a kitchen garden which caught the eyes of the public. People would flock in numbers to come and buy vegetables from her garden and that is when she realized that she could make an actual living out of it. Mrs. Chege then decided to expand her farm in order to increase her produce hence boosting her sales. She plants all kinds of vegetables ranging from sukumawiki, spinach, cabbage, carrots, dhania, tomatoes, onions, guacamole and lettuce.
She says: “The journey has been so good and farming has really favoured me. In the beginning I was wary because I didn’t know the ropes of farming coming from a corporate life. However, the business picked up and I get huge monthly orders which are so surreal.”Regrets are not part of her life since quitting her career to try something new was the best decision she could have ever made. She sells her produce to the local community members, at the local market, in supermarkets and some harvest is exported to neighbouring countries.
Challenges with crop diseases
Farmers face phytosanitary and technical challenges that lead to rejection of their produce by exporters. Diseases that affect crops cause so much damage to farmers who end up losing most of their produce to diseases. Mrs. Chege cites the false codling moth as the greatest threat to crops. It is a major pest, because of the larvae of the moth; it feeds on a wide range of crops such as macadamia and citrus. “These kinds of pest are a nightmare. They are mostly active during the night and once the larvae enter the fruit it is too difficult to detect until it is too late to do salvage the crop,” she narrates.
Additionally, there are small pests that feed on the undersides of the plant leaves. They have the ability to carry and spread diseases. These small pests are known as the whiteflies. She says that they have needle-like mouth parts used to suck sup from the phloem and they excrete honey dew. This is a sugary liquid from plant stems and leaves. If a plant is attacked by a large population of white flies, it turns yellow, withers and falls off. However, she advices farmers to destroy the white fly infested vegetables to stop the spreading of the pest to other crops.
Bacteria wilt is another disease caused by soil-borne bacterium that colonizes the xylem in a range of plants. She notes: “This disease mostly affects tomatoes, pepper, eggplants and irish potatoes. It causes withering of the leaves, some shoots or worse the whole plant especially where there is ample moisture in the soil.” Leaf miner is another notorious larva of an insect that lives and eats leaf tissue of plants. Adult leaf miners are small, active, black and yellow. These types of pests usually attack numerous horticulture crops. Mrs. Chege however says that farmers in her area are well educated about these diseases because they attend workshops and seminars that have raised awareness. She further adds that she is always armed with pesticides in case of a surprise attack by these small ‘monsters’.
Why venture into agriculture?
Mrs. Chege is an advocate of self-employment. She claims that the money she makes from farming cannot be compared to the salary she used to earn in her lucrative job. When the season is good, she earns a profit of over a hundred thousand. However, besides from the possibility of making good money, why should people venture into agriculture?
Agriculture has a diverse career selection. It’s true that much of the work in agriculture is the cultivation of plants. But the diverse careers available to aspiring professionals are often glossed over. She says: “Your role doesn’t need to be on a farm and for most people, it isn’t. There is an incredible variety of career options for recent graduates and professionals, and you can be sure that there is something for everyone.”
The industry needs marketing and advertising professionals to not only sell agricultural products to consumers, but to also determine what they want. It also needs scientists to study the soil, changing weather conditions and conduct genetic research to develop new strains of plants that are resistant to drought or parasites. The concept of ‘food security’ is fundamentally important, and for that reason, agriculture is important. The task of feeding its people has been perhaps the first priority of nations throughout history. As such, agriculture is considered to be the very basis of political and social stability of a nation since times immemorial.
Moreover, the agricultural sector plays an important role in the sphere of providing large scale employment to people. Large and moderately large farms employ workers to undertake the various jobs relating to cultivation of crops and care of farm animals. In most of the countries of the world, agriculture still remains the biggest sector responsible for the employing and feeding a large percentage of the population. She ends by saying: “Agriculture will eradicate poverty, unemployment and improve the GDP of the country. It is also a gold mine that young people need to tap.”