For more than a year TV journalist Caleb Karuga wanted to get
fired. The Kenyan entrepreneur says that while he was good at his job,
his true passion lay in farming, but he did not have the courage to quit
“I would pray with my wife every morning: ‘God, today I want to be fired.’”
If he quit his job Karuga would have had to
forfeit KSh. 1.3m (US$14,800) in benefits, so he held on until last year
when his employer retrenched him alongside dozens of his colleagues.
Looking back, Karuga says this was a blessing in disguise.
The founder and managing director of Wendy Farms tells How we made it in Africa
that as a child he hated farming. Like most kids in his rural village,
he was used as free labour in the family’s agricultural ventures.
“I grew up being forced to go to the coffee
plantation. I hated having to water the cabbages after school. I would
see my uncles playing tricks on their father and faking illnesses so
they wouldn’t work at the farm. As a young boy I viewed farming as a
form of punishment. I don’t blame any young person who hates farming
because I did too.”
It was while on assignment nearly four years ago
that Karuga interviewed a professional mole catcher and felt motivated
to go into agribusiness
Farmers would hire the mole catcher to trap moles, which destroy crops,
at a fee. Karuga notes that by his calculation the mole catcher
probably took home at least KSh. 90,000 ($1,000) per month, some
thousands more than he was making as a TV reporter.
Karuga leased a one acre piece of land in central Kenya
and started Wendy Farms. Today he runs three farms where he keeps
thousands of indigenous chicken, quails, guinea fowls and dairy goats
and grows butternut, strawberry, sweet potatoes and sunflowers.
Every Saturday, groups of 30-40 people visit Wendy
Farms for training on poultry farming. Karuga charges KSh. 1,000 ($11)
per person for one session.
Karuga says he started offering training sessions to help other entrepreneurs
avoid making the mistakes he made. He notes that while his success
story is inspiring for other youth, few know about the challenges he
encountered along the way.
When Karuga first ventured into farming he
acquired 200 pigs because pigs were the ‘it’ thing at the time. With no
proper research, the venture failed.
He made another attempt, buying two hens and one cock.
“When the two hens started laying eggs I decided
to buy more hens from neighbouring farms. That was my biggest mistake
because some of the hens were not vaccinated. In a span of about a month
and a half I had lost about 200 hens. I learned that you should never
buy birds that you are not sure whether or not they have been
Not one to give up easily, Karuga purchased 500
day-old chicks from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, but once
again made loses as his employees sold the chickens in his absence.
“Theft by employees was the major challenge we
have faced. I bought the chicks at KSh. 100 ($1.14) each and after a
month of feeding them my employees were selling them off for KSh. 50
($0.57) each. When they matured I would be told the hens had ‘died’ of
Karuga soldiered on and bought another 1,500
chicks, but because he used cheaper feed, egg production was poor.
Eventually Karuga realised he would make three times more selling
day-old chicks than what he was making selling eggs.
“I learned that in indigenous chicken farming the
money is in day-old chicks, not eggs. It was like a light bulb moment
for me. That is when I knew for sure I did not want to be employed
anymore. I realised I had been sitting on a gold mine. I knew I needed
to get fired and get it right with the business.”
Farming not for everyone
Despite his initial losses, Karuga says he has learnt a lot along the way.
“I believe in going through the learning curve.
When a venture fails I don’t take it personally. It is the business that
has failed, not me. I might have made a mistake but I choose to keep on
the ball. I don’t make permanent decisions based on temporary
While it is encouraging to see more young people going into agribusiness, Karuga says the industry should not be romanticised.
“What we are seeing is people going into farming
because they read a story in a newspaper. They don’t do thorough
research and they have no passion for farming, but because it seems sexy
they decide to take a loan and bury the money. Don’t make farming sexy
because it is not.”
He warns that anyone looking to get into agribusiness needs to first have a passion for it.
“If your only motivation is to make money then you are getting into the wrong business.”
Labels: Caleb Karuga Wendy Farms Kenya