Want to grow watermelons? Just noticed that your chickens are dying off and you don’t know what to do?
Join FarmingKenya, the leading farming-related Facebook group where tips and advice are freely shared among members. It is a site for production information seekers only – sorry sales enthusiasts and advertisers, this page is not for you. The group has seen rapid growth: from a handful of members to well over 12,000 in less than two years, says Collins Areba, one of the two founders of the site.
Areba recalls a group of farming enthusiasts visiting a farm. “Some guys saw some nice dairy cows and took pictures. Then they wondered where they could share the photos,” he says. They settled on posting them online. John Kibor started the Facebook group and now acts as coordinator and chairman. Areba joined him shortly thereafter and takes care of the technical side. But any administrative business stops there. Since its foundation, the group has seen a whirlwind of activity. Tutorials on how to grow water melons, spinach and potatoes have been held. Zero grazing of cattle, chicken rearing and even newer farming endeavors like rabbit care-taking have been discussed. Some excited upcoming farmers may put pictures to show off their success only to be gently corrected and told, “that is wrong. It is likely to lead to problem xxy…”
There is no age limit, just curious and interested farmers mostly in their late twenties and early thirties and experienced farmers often over fifty years of age. They have two things in common: A love for farming, and interest in information-sharing technology. No one gets paid for their contributions. Most members are part-time farmers with access to between three and six acres of land. This means they have a paid job for now but are looking to invest and develop a profitable farming enterprise. FarmingKenya has had lasting impact on many of them.
Can an online group change a life?
Kibor for instance, trained in music while at university and now employed as a radio programme producer in Nairobi, has a farm in Eldoret some 400 kilometres west of Nairobi. Initially he bred local cattle but after several farm visits courtesy of the Facebook group, he is changing to dairy.
Why? “When you find a farmer who gets 20 liters per milking and you get only 5 from your cow,” responds Kibor, “you ask yourself, am I really doing this right?” He realized that breeds are important, but so is their management. “So I am slowly but surely making the shift,” he says. Every farmer on FarmingKenya has a similar story.
Can the impact go beyond the individual?
Online efforts such as this one may just help Africa to feed itself. Two of the site’s supporters agree that agriculture has lots of potential to create jobs, generate wealth and reduce poverty. However, such accomplishments require farmers to become entrepreneurs. They must know where the inputs are and be linked to a good market. In describing the group they write: “…It is an interaction of interest and hopefully through this engagement we can encourage each other to expand and improve our farming investments or start an agribusiness if we haven’t already.”
Ultimately, they conclude, success will only come if the group keeps to the highest standards and practices. “Farming requires patience and can be very frustrating, but it eventually pays for those who wait” cautions Owen M Karong’e, one of the group members. “Don’t be deceived by the beautiful pictures of produce and livestock you see on this great page. Behind every picture of a good cow, pig, crate of tomatoes or rabbit is a lot of hard work.
So if you are looking for a sexy and easy way of making money, join the entertainment industry,” he concludes. Kibor adds that at FarmingKenya, they think about the bigger picture of what farming is and its potential for wealth and job creation. He says their intention is to farm, feed the nation and make good money. And while they’re at it, they might as well have some fun!
Blogpost by Jane Gitau a social reporter for AASW6.