This week, all roads lead to Kenyan agripreneur Tabitha Ogutu. She is among the 15 women entrepreneurs hand-picked for a training initiative presented by Corteva Agriscience and Strathmore University.
Moving back to Buranga village in Gem, Siaya County was the only option Tabitha Ogutu and family had when her parents lost their jobs. It was then that they delved into the world of agribusiness to maintain their family of six, and sparked Tabitha’s passion for agriculture.
She is the current Program Coordinator for Young Women Leaders Connect, a youth-led organisation that aims at socio-economic and political empowerment of female youth..
“Growing up with the exposure I’ve had [to agriculture] over time because I have worked with different organisations, and getting to understand Kenya and what farmers experience; that is where my passion started for agripreneurship. I learned that my community was very hardworking, and love the land.”
Proud agriculture champion
The 24-year-old embarked on a mission to promote agribusiness in her sub-county, citing that initially the major holdup farmers faced was knowing how to generate an income from their farms.
“Farmers never knew it was a problem; they were just okay with what they have been used to. Transiting from small-scale to larger-scale agriculture and even having the surplus of having an agribusiness was a fairy tale to some of them.”
“When I got a platform to start an organization, I had them in mind. I wanted to start by understanding what they do in form of agribusiness. How to empower them to do it, make them understand the agricultural value chain and how they can tap into the digital spaces in terms of marketing and accessing information and even just bringing the information closer to them,” she says.
To tap into this potential, Tabitha started off by reaching out to the Department of Agriculture in the County Government of Siaya. It is through this that she got a partnership to begin capacity building.
“The county government department of agriculture always implement through other organisations, so I got partnership to start capacity building these farmers. We have others in poultry, livestock, cereal farming etc., so I would bring them partners and organisations that are really keen in these specific areas so that they can not only train them but expose them to the value production chains, and also give a bit of incentives to boost their production,” she explains.
“I then launched annual field days. I just walked into one of the agrovets in our nearest market and told them that I would love to invite them for a field day in my area. In Siaya county as an individual I have had a series of capacity building events I have organised for youth and women in agribusiness which have impacted them. I have opened for markets for them there,” she adds.
Issues facing farmers
In addition to this, farmers are also sensitised on climate change; an issue that continue to adversely affect agriculture across the country.
“It prompted me to have meetings with the county and other seed companies. The conversation was how can we train these farmers to do modern farming with what is available to them given that the climate has changed.
“How do they understand the right seed to use in the right seasons? That has worked well for us and even for the farmers and they have testimonials. Right now if you ask them, they know what seed to go for, that will give back to them in what season and what to do in that particular time.”
Operating an NGO has its downsides and as Tabitha notes, her major issue has been funding.
“I operate an NGO; we have never gotten a funding for instance. Funds has been a challenge. Sustainability is important but then it also requires a lot of resources. But then greatly enough the power of partnerships has been very good for us. We’ve had great partners than believe in the ideas we bring on board and also well-wishers and friends and family.
“The reception we’ve gotten in other counties is so good. Actually any event that we call, all the county government departments of agriculture officials always attend because they believe in what we do, the environment has always been favourable. The challenge has been how to fund these activities. We have an upcoming field day on February 18th but anyways we always find a way to get through.”
Despite the challenge, Tabitha is excited by the positive influence she has.
“My satisfaction and happiness is when an impact is able to be created into something tangible. When an agripreneur is able to come back to us and say that they have benefitted through the programs we offered on ground. This is a journey. I will never look back.”
Ogutu is proud of how much she has already achieved, with the recent training programme between Strathmore University and Corteva Agriscience equipping her with even more skills to continue flourishing.
“The most significant lessons cut across strategies; how to pitch, introduce yourself. It might sound so simple however how you do it really matters. I also learnt about handling employees, finance management, coming up with a company vision, the hierarchy of statement. I think it upgraded our knowledge as an organization. I feel like in future I will be able to engage the farmers and people in agribusiness more professionally.”
When asked to advise aspiring agripreneurs, Tabitha has the following to say:
“Start from where you are. What you need is land no matter how small but the knowledge is, know better how to do it. Agribusiness has given me platforms that even me as a public relations professional specialist I would never have gotten with my profession. The passion is what has created doors for me. Let them understand that there is money in the soil.”