By: Juliet Tunje, Agribusiness Entrepreneur / Former Social Inclusion Lead, KCDMS
Long before I became an agribusiness entrepreneur, and way before I became passionate about helping women and youth find equitable employment in the agriculture value chain, I was just a young girl working my family’s land in Kenya. I still remember accompanying my family to do a day’s work on our farm. Working my 10-year-old fingers in the soil to plant, weed, and harvest food that would later grace our table. Even though both of my parents were educators, farming was everything to them. Each day began with farm work before my parents went to work, and before my siblings and I went to school.
Because of that, agriculture is in my DNA. When I went off to university to study sociology and later obtained a master’s degree in Project Planning and Management, I was never far from our farm. When my parents passed away, they left me and my seven siblings farmland. Instead of subdividing it, we use the land communally—any of us can farm with approval from the others.
In 2019, I accepted a position with Making Cents International as the Social Inclusion Lead for the USAID Kenya Crops and Dairy Market Systems (KCDMS) Activity, led by RTI. Tasked with integrating youth and women into local agriculture market systems, it was the first time my career and my farming life intertwined in such a unique way. I could see myself in the women I was serving. My role gave me new insight into the barriers women and youth encounter when entering the agribusiness market. Hurdles like lack of control of resources, being boxed into lower return activities, and limited to no access to land ownership are just some of the challenges awaiting women and youth in Kenya’s agriculture market.
Through KCDMS, I supported their entry into high-value and short-season value chains via commodities such as African leafy vegetables, poultry, and fodder production. Doing this work gave me a deeper appreciation for the land I inherited from my parents. I truly came to understand the opportunity before me, restoring my family’s land into an agribusiness.
My spirit was reinvigorated. I wanted to make the most out of my land because now I knew just how much of a game changer agriculture could be to the livelihoods of women and youth. And then … COVID-19 happened. This was a major turning point for me. The outbreak of the virus forced everyone to work from home, which afforded me the opportunity to work remotely from my family’s farm and invest in it by expanding production to include pineapples, vegetables, and poultry. It was thanks to my work on KCDMS that I learned that I needed to diversify my income if I wanted to make my venture sustainable, so I started engaging in various value chains to distribute my risks.
When KCDMS ended in December 2021, I began to fully devote my attention to my agribusiness, which has grown tremendously. I expanded my investment in the poultry business from 50 to 450 broilers per production cycle as well as increased my African leafy vegetables from a 1/4 acre to one acre and from one acre of pineapples to 4 acres. In addition, I acquired even more land in preparation for the expansion of my pineapple venture.
Yes, I still face challenges. Inadequate and costly manual labor continues to be a struggle particularly in the coastal region where I am located. I would love to mechanize most of my production activities to minimize the costs of labor, especially in poultry farming. When I get the capital, I would also like to invest in an automated water and feeding system. I am feeling firsthand the challenge of finding a financial institution that has women-friendly credit products to facilitate access to investment credit, which makes me even more appreciative of the work KCDMS has done to help women like me.
My other long-term goals include creating jobs for unemployed youth in the coastal region, growing my poultry business to 1,000 birds per production period, expanding the pineapple farm to 10 acres, and increasing the leafy vegetables farm to two acres. I estimate that this will produce approximately KES 6,000,000 (USD 52,000) in revenue per year.
I am so very proud to continue my family’s history on this land. My mum used to bulk seeds from the maize we harvested, and she would sell some of it to our neighbors, too. Now it is my turn to feed my family and my neighbors and to weave our story into Kenya’s larger agricultural future. And, thanks to KCDMS, my name will join my mother’s and be listed alongside many other women who have made an impact on our region’s agricultural history.