A shy Jackson Kameno, a former civil servant who was once a prominent wheat farmer in Narok. He is now a watchman for the man he rented his farm to. Picture By Kipchumba Kemei
BY KIPCHUMBA KEMEI
Life for Jackson Kameno, a former multi-million large scale wheat farmer in Narok County has turned from that of a flamboyant businessman to a pauper languishing in poverty.
His case is a typical rags-to-riches and then riches-to-rags story. From the owner of a 300 acre farm a few years ago, today Kameno is now a watchman on the same farm he inherited from his late father in Nkorinkori area.
His plight captures the suffering most wheat farmers in Narok County are currently going through.
Consecutive years of bad weather, debts, among other things conspired to consign Kameno to his current state of affairs.
In 1980s and 1990s when wheat farming was a rewarding venture, he used to laugh his way to the bank and live larger.
He used to drink fine wines and scotch whiskeys in exclusive clubs and bars in Nairobi, Mombasa-whenever he and his family were on holidays or when he is on business trips.
He is among the first people to own a mobile phones-the first generation that used to cost over Sh300, 000 from Telecom Kenya-and the first in the region to drive a Cherokee Jeep, courtesy of profitable farming.
But today Kameno’s life and that of his family is a pale shadow of this jet-set live he was used to that he nostalgically remembers. During those old good old days he lived like a king and as he looks around the shack he now calls home he misses puffing away a cigar that he was used to.
I recently walked into his wooden shack-where he keeps his clothing and to cook tea to keep his body warm-one evening. I found the six feet retired accountant with a government ministry preparing to go for work of guarding his employer’s farm.
Kameno 57, is among farmers in Narok who were forced out of farming business because of high production costs, mounting debts and vagaries of weather to become watchmen in their own farm they have now rented to other people.
After a brief talk, the father of seven who was dressed in warm second-hand clothes to keep the biting cold at bay tells me he is preparing to go to the wheat field to guard it from invasion by wild animals from Masai Mara Game Reserve.
Apart from vagaries of weather, high production costs among others, wildlife invasion stand in the way of farmers getting good harvests.
“I was forced to do this work to make ends meet. I have children to feed. Mind you two of them are in national secondary schools. I have to work hard to make sure they finish their studies. They might one day help me go back to where I was,” he notes.
He adds that his wife is unemployed and he is still servicing past loans he borrowed from financial institutions including the Agricultural Finance Corporation from the income he gets leasing his farm.
“The banks are on my neck. I have to pay the loans yet I didn’t benefit from them. When the harvesting season is over I’m always forced to look to other menial jobs to meet my family needs,” he says.
Kameno according to his relatives married late because he had many women in his life that made it difficult to choose a wife.
He says his relatives assisted him in offsetting some of the loans that had accrued interests and also supported him in paying school fees for the children but gave up, forcing him to fully take the obligations yet he is jobless.
“I could have by now settled the loans but the interest rates stand in the way. I planted for three seasons without harvesting anything because of poor rains,” he curses.
He adds that high production costs also forced him not to service his loans.
He vacated from his three bedroom house to give way to the tenant, a Nanyuki based farmer of Asia origin. “I now rent a three roomed house at Ololulung’a trading centre,” he adds.
He entered a 21 years lease agreement with his “boss”, meaning that in the next 18 years, he will stay out of his land.
When he is not at work during the day he does other menial jobs to fend for his family that was once an example of prosperity in the neighbourhood that cherish agriculture.
“The work of a watchman is demanding. Though every year I work for only five months before the crop is harvested, I have to plan when to sleep and do other things that will supplement what I do,” he says.
He adds that his friends deserted him when his life took a downturn, saying they even do not pick his calls whenever he calls them.
Koileken ole Nampaso, who owns 370 acre land in the Oloropil area in Mau zone, is another victim. He abandoned farming years ago after he failed to service loans which has over the last one and a half decades continued to accrue huge interests.
When things turned upside down for him in 1997, he left his family and went to visit his cousin in Ngarua, Laikipia where he stayed for two years before returning.
“I went underground to avoid banks. I didn’t know I was postponing a problem. I sold part of my land to settle part of the loans. The interests have over the years continued to pile,” he says, adding that in December last year, he received the last reminder to settle the loan.
He adds he failed to service loans because he used the money from wheat harvests in bad ways.
“When we were twice expecting bumper harvests, cheap grains were imported, depressing prices. That forced us to dispose ours at throw away prices,” he explains.
Nampaso who refused to say how he has been fending for his family is now another watchman. Not in his farm which he has rented to a Nakuru based business man but in a farm at Tipis area near Mau Narok .
When he is not in the farm, he guards farm implements in a camp that has been set up in the farm, silos and a farm house.
Rufus Kuluo, a director with the Cereal Growers Association observes that it is embarrassing and demeaning for farmers who once used to do extensive farming to be watchmen in their farms or elsewhere and wants the Government to introduce a scheme that would cushion them in future against the unpredictable weather patterns.
“It is very sad that farmers who used to work round the clock to feed the nation and their families are now leading poor lives. The Government should consider introducing the defunct Guaranteed Minimum Returns (GMR) to cushion them from loses,” he says.
The County Agriculture Officer Maurice Suji says that in the last one decade, hectares of land under wheat have continued to dwindle due to erratic weather conditions which have forced farmers to incur heavy losses and finally out of business.
“The acreages have decreased tremendously because of many factors beyond farmers’ control. Apart from loans, weather has immensely contributed to it. Ten years ago land under wheat was about 300, 000 hectares but now it has reduced to about 98, 000 hectares,” he says.
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