Annie Nyaga felt the pull of farming so strongly that soon after graduating from Kenya’s Egerton University with a degree in biomedical science, she returned the occupation of her parents — working the land.
Today, she farms watermelons. Her business, Farm2Home, is more than a farm — it’s a farm production and supply company delivering watermelons straight to customers’ homes.
The 29-year-old Nyaga started the farm in 2008 in Mbeere, Kenya, about 125 miles from the capital Nairobi, and she is following in the footsteps of her parents who also farmed. Nyaga did work another job right after college as a purchasing assistant and that’s when she realized that farmers could earn a good income. So after six months she quit that job and started farming herself.
Now she’s paying it forward as head of the 4-H Kenya Foundation, which empowers youth through agriculture. The organization started in the U.S. and there are now 4-H clubs in more than 50 countries. More than farming, they also focus on citizenship, healthy living, science, engineering, and tech for youth.
Nyaga talked to AFKinsider about how she fell in love with farming — and why she decided to do it for a living.
Annie Nyaga: I decided to farm watermelons because they do very well in my ecological zone. They are high-yielding, mature fast (three months); and do well in the market.
AFKInsider: Why the name Farm2Home?
Annie Nyaga: Our slogan, “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” says it all. We strive to grow our crops with the safety and health of our consumers in mind. Farm hygiene is paramount in our production process with emphasis on safe use of chemicals, hygiene, and delivery to the market. It is important for a consumer to have a history and knowledge of how and who produced their foodstuff. It offers a sense of comfort and clear understanding.
And Farm2Home means our food comes straight from our farms to our consumers’ homes.
AFKInsider: How did you fund the startup?
Annie Nyaga: I had saved some cash and used it towards my farming business but since it was barely enough, my parents assisted with the deficit in finances and capital of land.
AFKInsider: Did you know a lot about farming?
Annie Nyaga: Well, I grew up in a farm and seeing my parents farm as a little kid I was able to learn the basics. Being a member of a 4-H club (a global network of youth organizations) in primary school and Young Farmers Club in secondary schools cultivated my interest and knowledge in agriculture further. All this combined with practical learning from other farmers, I had the knowledge I needed to commercialize my farming.
AFKInsider: What were some challenges in starting the farm?
Annie Nyaga: Lack of access to genuine seeds from the seed companies, lack of skilled labor to help in the management of the crop, exploitation by brokers, and high cost of farm inputs, among others.
AFKInsider: As a female entrepreneur, what are the difficulties in starting a business in Kenya?
Annie Nyaga: Capital access is the big one. It’s a blessing to come from a family of men who empower women and to have a husband who has always supported my business. However, I know that not all women have access to land and capital. We have come quite far in empowering women with education, but there still exist some gaps in land ownership. Men are still in charge, and women still have to submit to the will of the men in their lives in order to benefit from what is rightfully theirs. When it comes to inheritance, for example, women have to think carefully about their choices, because they are always threatened of being cut out.
Accessing loans is equally as hard. Women are still a “risky” investment regardless of the acts that show that women are less likely defaulters than men. And many women do not take loans for cars and bigger gadgets but for capital. Banks only begin to notice women once they have built a good reputation and created big active accounts.
Lastly, although the Kenyan government has done a lot to protect women’s rights. Women are still very much at the mercy of men because of ignorance or lack of better knowledge. A lot of women do not know that the laws have changed to protect them, and that they have a right to refuse to allow their land to be held as collateral. Discussions about family wealth are still “taboo” in too many households and many women do not actually know their families’ net worth, or even any assets that their fathers and husbands have invested in. This is because our culture is such that men hide their wealth from their wives and children.
AFKInsider: Does Kenya offer a lot of help to entrepreneurs?
Annie Nyaga: The Kenyan government is trying its best to nurture the spirit of entrepreneurship in the country through various incentives and policies. There is the finance provision in which the government has been actively committed to providing finance to various groups of entrepreneurs. There is also the establishment of the Women Enterprise Fund and the Kenyan Youth Fund, which are clear indications of the government’s commitment to ensuring accessibility of credit facilities to both practicing and aspiring entrepreneurs.
There is also the provision of training opportunities through which various government institutions now offer training on entrepreneurship skills. The government has also partnered with private training institutions to provide entrepreneurial skills to entrepreneurs.
AFKInsider: Does Kenya offer a lot of help to farmers?
Annie Nyaga: Yes, it does. This is through government subsidies and through the recent launch of the Kenya National Agricultural Insurance Program, which is designed to address the challenges that agricultural producers face when there are large production shocks such as droughts and floods, among others.
AFKInsider: What’s Next For Annie Nyaga?
Annie Nyaga: I am currently investing in the next generation. I realized that if I want to make an impact, I have to start at the root. The problem with the agricultural sector for me is very simple. We have Kenyans who still go to bed hungry in one part of the country, we have food excesses in another side of the country. Price fluctuations work against the local farmer and it is only in Africa where a farmer is the poorest member of the community. We have to start by changing key attitudes. Agriculture is not the option for the laziest and failures in the classrooms. It is for entrepreneurs and innovators.
Did you know that the more than a century ago, it is the youth who revolutionized the agricultural economy of the United States of America? The youth got involved through a movement called 4-H. Today we are driving the same movement in Africa. I am heading the Kenyan movement through the 4-H Kenya Foundation, while we have different organizations across Africa doing the exact same thing in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Liberia, just to mention a few. We want the youth to fall in love with innovation, and to think of solutions not just for their countries, but for Africa. We are challenging them not to see problems in agriculture, but to see opportunities. We are running open career days and inviting industry players to offer mentorship for our 4-H clubs, that will not only groom them to love and embrace agriculture but also groom them to be entrepreneurs and innovators.