The Career Shift From Banking To Farming: The Mistakes & Costly Lessons

  • Agribusiness
    A file image of chicken layers in a battery system
  • In the hierarchy of disciplines, the art of yoga and meditation tops.

    A close contender is the art of dating, in Nairobi. Accurately navigating the dating pattern in this city deserves a Nobel prize.
    These tasks pale in comparison when agri-business enters the fray.

    Don't be fooled. It's just a fancy name. Agri-business is the art of turning regular farming into a cash venture - and, it's a scary, befuddling voyage into the unknown.

    When the pandemic rained fire and brimstone on the economy, lots of corporates laid off staff. A big chunk dived headlong into agri-business. Well, not exactly diving. In reality, it's much like the blind-fold walk off a pirate's plank somewhere in The Pacific.

    As fate may be apt to smile on you once in a while, that eccentric wealthy uncle with an abandoned expanse of farmland in the village mellows to your tentative proposal. The uncle runs an event firm - and is painfully aware of the lay offs.

    So, non-committally, goes: "Land? Ah,'s yours, mate, for as long as you wish to farm... You can grow weed, for all I care..."

    A green house with cabbages growing

    The next stop is the internet. The search is on for successful agri-business venture ideas, and, boy, ain't it glorious over here? The net is chocking with success stories.

    "How I Made A Million From Onions In One Season!"

    "The Secret To Profits Farming Commercial Rabbits!"

    "Millionaire Chicken Farmer Supplying City Outlets On A Weekly Basis!"

    The hype on digital farming forums is incredulous. The kind of buzz here makes you re-think your career choices.

    A forlorn banker in bespoke Italian suits enduring daily screaming from the branch manager will find solace in digital farming platforms.

    Branch Manager: "...we are a trillion years from meeting our quarterly targets and the regional manager may visit this week..."

    To be honest, Mr. Bespoke Suits was hooked by the chicken narrative. Word on the street is Michael from Finance (also retrenched) has opened a fast food restaurant some place in Loresho.

    The CBD-kind without seats - customers eat standing, crouching on the counter. They also offer zero cutlery - fries are pecked with a tooth pick.    

    Suddenly, bespoke Italian suits get switched with denim shorts and fancy dungarees. The energy is pulpable, there's a burning ambition to discover farming's Ace of Spades.

    Mr. Bespoke Suits shifts to the village. On the first Monday, he visits the local bank branch and wows the wide-eyed front desk intern with an hefty withdrawal - in cash.

    The first stop is the local agro-vet, and makes an order for 500 chicks.

    "I want layers. Maybe, the last 50 we can have a few Sasso, or KARI variety," he tells the attendant.

    He's researched online on best chicken breeds, expected returns, timeline, and, hey, there's an unlimited market for eggs, right?

    Oh, he makes a mental note to call Carol from reception to ask for Michael's contacts (Michael from finance).

    A flurry of days later, Mr. Bespoke Suits has erected a reasonable chicken shed. Since he hasn't touched base with the village for a decade or so, he's a little off-grid, icy relations. Everything comes at a bloated price - local fundi wages, local materials, et al.

    All this while, distant relatives are flocking daily with exasperated supplications ending in token handouts.

    Well, the 500 chicks get delivered, a week later. It starts dawning on Mr. Bespoke Suits why his eccentric uncle has abandoned all that farmland, and chose to hire out tents and plastic chairs for a living.

    On arrival, 30 chicks are dead, perhaps, from suffocation. To be honest, a day-old chick doesn't need much reason to die. They so darn fragile. Oh, the chicks are transported at "The Owner's Risk".

    Boy, oh, boy - the chicks FEED. They feeeeeed! Yaani, a couple hundred chicks pecking in perfect symphony on a daily basis will drain your savings faster that a, erm, a clueless Nairobi socialite. 

    Did I mention that hybrid chicks are super fragile? A typical raspy cough, or, God forbit, a sneeze, will startle them to death.

    A loud motorbike revving will startle them to a chick-stampede, and since no one mentions them on those glorious digital farming platforms - you'll learn this by losing more chicks.

    Then, the farm hand woes creep in. On the first month's salary, the guy will disappear for six days. You have to do crap yourself.

    At feeding time, dear friend, you'll suddenly know how it feels to have 300 'teenage chicken' perching on your shoulders, and pecking on your shin and toes.

    Hire and fire, increase salary, offer bonuses - the Farm Hand puzzle will always be a puzzle.

    A farmer tending to a carrot crop (file images)

    Savings are dangerously low, on the 5th month. The feeds are so expensive, plus monthly vaccines, et al. Didn't online farmers say to expect eggs on the 6th month? At last!

    Cue in the end of the 6th month - only half of the 300 layers start to lay, despite an Herculean appetite. Yaani, all factors constant for all the chicken, only half decide to lay eggs.

    Then, even with eggs from the one half that's laying - selling is an extreme sport. Everyone has eggs from their own flock.

    On inquiry, Carol from reception says Michael from Finance is unreachable. Apparently, Michael closed his fast food outlet just two weeks in - the Loresho crowd doesn't do fries, only organic foods. Explains all the morning joggers in the area.

    Plus, Loresho people do not eat fries with tooth-picks.

    In a nutshell, that chicken venture is a flop. 

    Mr. Bespoke Suits, sails deflated and ego in tatters decides to re-join family back in the city.

    Well, here's three cardinal points to remember with agri-business ventures:

    -  Don't pick agri-business as a stop gap venture waiting to get a job: seek a gap you can fill.

    - It's not a retirement package - it has a steep learning curve, don't wait to learn at retirement.

    - Real agriculture is patient-based, and not a quick fix for poverty - profit is only possible if you can exploit a market gap willing to pay the price for value.

    dead death fire