How watermelon farming got me close to cabinet and the president

How watermelon farming got me close to cabinet and the president

Mkulima today we share how I quit my job to farm watermelon, now I make millions farming. This is a story of resilience in agriculture. How watermelon farming got me close to cabinet and the president is a story of confidence. From farming to the Chief Administrative secretary ministry of agriculture.

Before joining the ministry the CAS quit her job to start watermelon farming on their plot of land.

After graduating from Egerton University in 2007 with a degree in biomedical science, Annie Nyaga expected to land a job soon after and scale the ladder in her career.

She got a job as a purchasing assistant at a firm in Nairobi but quit after six months because it was boring.

Then she turned to farming, which was what her parents had been doing for years at their home in Mbeere, Embu County.

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Ministry

Currently, Anne Nyaga is The Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Fisheries and Cooperatives in the Government of Kenya.

Before being appointed as Chief administrative secretary (CAS) she was previously the County Minister for Agriculture in the County Government of EmbuChief Executive Officer of the 4-H Kenya Foundation and founder and Chief Executive Officer of Farm2Home Ltd. 

As the CEO of farm2Home is when she started her watermelon farm after quitting her job.

She is a talented fundraiser, innovator and mentor.

Ms. Nyaga holds a Bachelor of Science, Biomedical Science and Technology degree from Egerton University in Kenya and has various certifications in leadership and agriculture management.

A proven organizational leader, she has a keen interest in Youth and Gender mainstreaming and the role of agriculture in youth empowerment.

Passionate about a food secure Africa, Ms. Nyaga has worked in her official and personal capacities with various the Government of Kenya, private sector, international, bilateral, multilateral donor organizations, and non-state organizations on several agriculture policy initiatives.

She has been a member of various committees and task forces:

  • National Youth in Agribusiness Strategy Development and Implementation Committee;
  • National Thematic Working Group on Youth in Agriculture;
  • National Coordination Team on Global Open Data on Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN);
  • Miraa Taskforce Implementation Committee; National Task Force for Development of Agricultural Sector Youth Policy.

Agribusiness

An agripreneur with a rich background as a farmer, aggregator, transporter and an expert on the watermelon value-chain.

She is renowned as one of the pioneers of the Kenyan youth agrarian revolution.

She has spearheaded the revival of school-based agricultural clubs popularly known as 4-K and Young Farmers clubs.

In 2019, she was invited as keynote speaker to the IFAD Governing Council Conference in Rome.

She was there to articulate, on behalf of the global youth movement, the urgent need for the agency, its member states, and development partners to re-engineer its policies and global programmes to more effectively address the bottlenecks and barriers for youth entry into the agriculture careers.

She considers her legacy to be successfully re-framing agriculture as an industry of the first choice for young Kenyans.

Currently working on policies and programs to promote their recruitment, engagement and retention in the sector in line with the Big 4 Agenda and Vision 2030 objective of transforming Kenya into a middle-income economy and the Sustainable Development Gola no. 2 envisioning a zero Hunger Kenya by 2030.

It has been over six years since Annie,  went into watermelon farming, a business that has brought her great joy.

“I settled for watermelons because they do very well in Mbeere. They are high-yielding, mature faster, and do well in the market,” says Annie who farms under the trade name Farm2Home.

She started growing the fruit on her parents’ three-acre farm with a capital outlay of Sh20,000.

Irrigation

She used the money to buy seeds but soon realized that she needed more to invest in a proper drip irrigation system.

“I did trial runs with seeds from different companies before I discovered that hybrid seeds produce the highest yield.”

She plants the seeds in a nursery before transferring the seedlings to the farm after three weeks.

“The whole process, from nursery to harvest, takes about three months depending on the climate and the variety of watermelons as some mature early,” she says.

According to her, watermelons require a lot of water, especially at the fruit-formation stage.

The farmer has invested in a drip irrigation system that includes water pumps, hand spraying guns, and pipes. She bought the equipment from the profit she made on her first harvest.

Cost of seeds

“Lack of adequate water leads to low-quality fruit. If one has water problems, then drip irrigation is the best alternative,” she says
However, installing a proper drip system is costly, particularly for small-scale-farmers.

“A drip irrigation system costs Sh200,000 per acre. This may not be affordable to many farmers,” she says.

The option for small-scale farmers is to partially irrigate the crop and plan for the fruit-formation stage to coincide with the rainy season.

“This means you plant seeds two to three weeks before the start of rains,” Annie says with a smile.

Watermelons, she says, yield high returns. She invests between Sh80,000 and Sh100,000 per acre. This covers the cost of seeds, labor, chemicals, irrigation, salaries, and fertilizer.

With good management, one can harvest 30 to 40 tonnes per acre. How watermelon farming got me close to cabinet and the president

Sales

Prices vary according to market forces. This poses a huge challenge to farmers, who find themselves at the mercy of middlemen.

Depending on the season, a kilo of watermelon goes for between Sh15 and Sh35.

“Middlemen usually take advantage of desperate farmers, especially those who get high yields but find no market. Lack of ideal market linkages for farmers means brokers dictate farm prices,” she says

But this does not stop her from dealing with brokers, who buy most of the harvest. The trick, she says, lies in knowing the market price.

Her last harvest she harvested 30 tonnes and sold to brokers at Sh28 per kilo, making gross sales of Sh840,000 in three months.

If you take away expenses, Annie raked in a profit of at least Sh600,000.

“I do not know how I would be fairing now if I had stuck to my purchasing job. Going into farming was a good decision,” she notes.

Wish

How watermelon farming got me close to cabinet and the president. Annie wants Kenyans to change their attitude towards farming. To many, she says, a farmer is an old and uneducated person.

As the head at the ministry of agriculture, she is working had to improve agriculture in the country. Currently, she is reviving the 4K clubs in high schools and just launched a 1 million kitchen garden farming.

If she succeeds it will help secure food security in the country and help several households reduce their food costs and create a source of income.

“This mental picture has to change. Agriculture is diverse and interesting and young people ought to view it differently if we are to develop.”

She challenges the government and counties to invest heavily in agriculture to make it a viable option for income generation. Students should be encouraged to see agriculture as a career from a tender age.

“I am a living proof that farming pays and can be done by anyone. Farming is a profession of hope. To those interested in farming never ever give up,” she concludes.

Credits: Bizna, Ministry of Agriculture, CAS Annie Nyaga 

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