Eric Mumo: Award-winning graduate who shunned formal employment for farming now worth millions

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Eric Mumo feeds fish in one of his fish ponds.

PICTURE By PHYLIS KALUNDA

Eric Mumo: Award-winning graduate who shunned formal employment for farming now worth millions

BY PHYLIS KALUNDA

newsdesk@dailyreporter.co.ke

In Summary

  • Mumo started off his agribusiness venture with a paltry Sh150,000 start-up capital in 2009 after graduating from JKUAT with a First-Class Honours
  • Six years later, the Statistics graduate has a thriving agribusiness worth Sh16 million in assets, with 12 full time employees.
  • Driven by passion, he set up base in the dry Nzangathi village of Kitui County
  • Mumo has been recognised by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the ministry of Agriculture for his outstanding innovations

When Eric Mumo graduated from the university with First-Class Honours in 2009, he got several exciting job offers from the private sector but he declined them all.

Fresh from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, the Statistics graduate instead opted to engage in commercial farming instead. He set up his base in the most unlikely places – his dry and arid home village of Nzangathi in Kitui County.

But it was the determination to succeed against all odds that made him not worry about the location of his business and he was more than happy returning to his roots.

What began as pastime venture with a paltry Sh150,000 capital from personal savings, is now a thriving agribusiness worth Sh16 million in assets, with 12 full time employees.

In just six years, Mr Mumo has built money racking farming enterprise which includes dairy, fish, poultry and horticulture units in his 15-acre land. He has since received a number of global awards for innovation to boot.

At first, his peers and even some of his family members discouraged him from starting the business, fearing he was unnecessarily gambling with his future instead of seeking formal employment.

They felt, and understandably so, that his good academic papers and young age should not be channelled into risky and unpredictable ventures like farming but rather into the flashy corporate world.

However, determined to pursue his ambitions, and armed with only passion for his dreams and a small capital, Mr Mumo began rolling out his plans by buying one Freshian dairy cow.

“I bought the first dairy cow in 2009, and soon after I added two more making it my first enterprise of supplying fresh milk to local restaurants,” he said.

Each cow was producing on average 14 litres, which he sold at Sh60 per litre at the nearby shops meaning he earned Sh2,520 every day.

With the steady income of Sh75,000 per month, Mr Mumo started maximising on the huge demand for milk by ploughing back the proceeds into expanding his dairy venture to 28 cows in four years.

As his dairy venture was growing, his major breakthrough came when he decided to diversify into horticulture specialising in tomato and water melon production.

“My decision to stop relying on rain-fed agriculture and engage in drip irrigation was the turning point as this ensured I am in farming business throughout the calendar year,” Mumo says.

The 29-year-old went full blast when he sunk a high-yielding borehole, which enabled him to put his father’s entire 15-acre farm on drip irrigation.

“In the first season, I harvested hundreds of tons of watermelon which I sold in Nairobi recovering the costs of my investment and bought a farm van – a brand new Isuzu pickup,” he says adding that by this time, it was clear farming was far more lucrative than any salaried employment.

With a kilo of watermelon then going for Sh32, each trip to Nairobi with his pickup was fetching on average Sh48,000 and he could make several trips in one week.

His work has wowed many in the dry Ukambani region and beyond. Quite often he receives delegation keen to learn his success story. Notably, a delegation of 80 farmers sent from the Embu Anglican Church diocese paid him a visit to learn from his simple, but effective farming innovations that have seen him bag top accolades.

The young farmer has been recognised by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Ministry of Agriculture for his outstanding innovations to ensure food security.

Last year, the government also recognised Mr Mumo as among the best innovative and promising young farmers in the county, besides being pre-qualified as a dependable supplier of fingerlings in the region.

What has made the Statistics graduate stand out is his plans to integrate all the farming units where they inter depend on each other to reduce production costs.

Having recently diversified into commercial poultry and fish farming, all the units now depend on each other and nothing goes to waste, in this well- organised multi-million farm.

“We’ve established a poultry incubator which gives us an average 528 chicks every three weeks and 10 fish ponds each with a capacity to hold more than 3000 fish but the demand for both is overwhelming,” he says.

He explains that all the four units which include dairy, horticulture, poultry and fish farming support each other to maximize profits and efficiency in production.

“Poultry manure goes to fish ponds to support algae fed on by fish, the enriched pond water is channelled into horticulture farm together with recycled dairy manure while the waste vegetables are fed to the chickens in fascinating cycle which saves production costs,” Mumo adds.

The farmer, who rakes in a good fortune from the proceeds of the various units, says Ukambani region can easily sustain itself if only enough water was made available to every home.

Every week, the farmer is kept on his toes by the overwhelming orders to supply all sorts of produce including day-old chicks, tomatoes, fish and milk to the surrounding market.

Six years down the line, he reflects with satisfaction the returns his investment has managed to bring besides the farm’s spectacular appearance grabs everybody’s attention from a distance.

In a good month, proceeds from milk, poultry, fish, fruits and vegetables can fetch him a handsome Sh500,000 on average although the earnings are realised in lump sums like when he sells fish or chicken after several months of rearing.

The entrepreneur who isn’t interested in seeking formal employment urges the youth to stop their obsession with white-collar jobs and go back to farming to grow the country’s economy.

True, his farm has created 12 direct jobs, and dozens others who indirectly depend on him as middle men and suppliers. Mr Mumo now intends to turn his farm into a learning centre where farmers across the region can visit and learn from the simple ideas and replicate them in their homes to reduce poverty in the country.

Eric Mumo

Eric Mumo feeds chicken on his poultry farm.

SIDEBAR: Mumo’s lessons

Since Eric Mumo ventured into commercial farming, he has learned on the job but the hard way and managed to surmount incredible odds to succeed.

From seeking credit facilities to finance his projects, to marketing his farm produce and managing the farm workers, he faced challenges he never expected and learnt valuable lessons from them.

For instance, he says as young farmer getting a loan from a commercial bank to invest in farming was a nightmare because the interest rates charged are so high and there is no grace period to allow you to recoup the loan.

“Banks are asking us to start repaying their loans in the first month, and yet there is no crop that can yield results in such short time, so one has to have spare resources to service the loan to avoid being auctioned,” he says.

Mumo says this frustrates many farmers and should be urgently addressed by policy makers in both county and national governments, to at least extend grace period for such loans to three months while also lowering the interest rates.

Mr Mumo urges the government to establish a branch for Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) in every county to support farmers saying the bank’s network spreads only in selected regions.

The other biggest challenge has been lack of skilled labour, which has forced him to invest heavily in training his workers on technical aspects of his various units.

“Most people who seek jobs in farms are semi-illiterate and do not have any basic agriculture training. Such workers cannot manage a poultry house, or professionally monitor the health of fish or dairy cows,” he explains adding that he has incurred huge losses as a result and things improved when he started training his workers.

The farmer explains that agriculture extension services are not sufficient as the personnel are few, and many government departments have one officer per district.

“Kenya can sustain a double digit economic growth if agriculture is made a compulsory subject up to Form Four and beyond, in a manner that encourages the youth to stop their obsession with white-collar jobs” he advises.

Mr Mumo has also learnt good lessons in marketing his farm produce most of which is perishable to avoid exploitation by brokers and middle men.

“I am very keen on quality of my products because I target mostly Nairobi and export market where consumers demand for the best,” he says.

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