- Job Njenga grows cabbages and assorted vegetables at a plot sitting next to Eselenkei Township.
- Sometimes the special farmhand goes looking for an investor to sponsor a farming enterprise.
- The investor and the partner keep separate records of all the expenses the enterprise incurs.
Hundreds of farmlands teeming with cabbages, kales, tomatoes, okra, maize, watermelons and onions at different stages of maturity dot both sides of River Eselenkei in Kajiado forming elongated green belts running alongside the seasonal river.
Job Njenga grows cabbages and assorted vegetables at a plot sitting next to Eselenkei Township, an upcoming shopping centre sandwiched between the river and the newly tarmacked Isara-Kajiado road. The 29-year-old cut his teeth in a farming system loosely known as pasu in which investors in farming ventures co-own agribusiness ventures with hard-working and highly disciplined special farmhands.
“We grow cabbages and yellow beans. I started as a farmhand in various farms before I graduated to co-own agribusiness ventures with various sponsors. At this stage, I am considering expanding the enterprise and scouting for a disciplined farmhand under the pasu arrangement,” he said.
Under pasu, the most common agribusiness model in Kajiado, a farmer is only supposed to have at his disposal entrepreneurship and capital. With farmland at his disposal, the farmer installs the necessary infrastructure such as irrigation systems and then co-opts a special purpose farmhand who advises on the most suitable value chain and provides labour, the fourth factor of production.
Sometimes the special farmhand goes looking for an investor to sponsor a farming enterprise. The special farmhand, who commands a sizable stake in the budding enterprise, enlists other farmhands on his own terms whose number depends on the size of the enterprise.
According to Benson Mutuma, a biosystems lecturer at Meru University who has studied various agribusiness models in Kajiado, pasu’s uniqueness is a derivation of share-cropping, an ancient farming system in which farmers collaborate to produce a crop and eventually share the yield.
In pasu, the special farmhand and co-partner bring to the farming enterprise his knowledge and expertise on growing and managing various value chains. He does not lord over the workers. Instead, they work together on land preparation, planting, watering, weeding and managing the crop until it is ready for harvesting.
The investor who is commonly known as tajiri (Swahili for boss) funds all the farming activities. The workers do not draw salaries and wages. They depend on the investor for their meals and other upkeep until the crop is harvested and sold out. The investor and the partner keep separate records of all the expenses the enterprise incurs.
“Once we sell the crop we reconcile our records. The investor first deducts all the costs from the proceeds before sharing the profits equally with the co-partner. The partner then sorts his workers from his share of the profits,” said Caroline Mwaniki, a school teacher who runs an information community technology start-up in Nairobi and grows assorted vegetables in Kimana region under the pasu model.
She said the model is a win-win for the investor, the partner and the workers, noting that many of her previous partners have eventually established their own successful agribusinesses. They include Njenga who has been fairly successful in life despite having dropped out of secondary school ostensibly due to lack of fees.
He worked at various farms before earning the trust of various investors and eventually starting his own agribusiness enterprise that enabled him to buy a car which he uses to do taxi business and opened up a popular bar at the busy township.
However, the beer business went down last year under the stranglehold of the plethora of restrictions that the government imposed as it attempted to curb the spread of Covid-19.
And amid its popularity, the pasu share-cropping model has baffled anthropologists. Nobody knows for sure when the model entered the region. Mutuma is among those who firmly believe that pasu traces its roots to Tanzania.
“The pasu share-cropping model diffuses from Kimana and the neighbourhood. That means it originates from Tanzania,” he told the Business Daily, echoing Kimana Chief Joseph Parmuat.
“In most cases, those interested in exploring the convenience which comes with the model verbally agree to work as partners on a farming project. On some rare occasions, they sign documents binding them to the deal. Although we have not had any reports of the pasu contracts going bad, we have noted that the relationships between the tajiri and the farmhands in most cases last for at most two crop seasons,” said Parmuat.
The model is credited with increased investment in agribusiness ventures in Kajiado where pastoralism remains the economic mainstay. River Eselenkei as well as multiple streams emanating from springs and a canal that draws water from the slopes of the imposing Mount Kilimanjaro are steadily changing the lifestyle in the region. A farmer can lease an acre of land for a crop season (4 months), a year, or for as long as possible.
“Leasing farmland for a season costs between Sh20,000 and Sh30,000 per acre. It is the onus of the farmer to install irrigation systems and secure the farm from thieves and predators,” said Ruth Tapanei, a landowner at Mashuuru.
Those who lease the farms do not worry about labour, invasion by elephants and zebras thanks to the unique agribusiness model as the workers mostly work day and night.
Wealth of knowledge
“We go for highly disciplined partners who are experienced in producing crops of interest. The partners own the farms in a way. With such a partner you are assured that your crop is well managed by a professional, not necessarily a trained agronomist, but someone with experiential knowledge on managing crops,” said Caroline.
“They advise on what crops to plant, when to grow them, and when to apply chemicals and generally how to manage and sustain the enterprise. The partner and the army of workers under him tend to be highly committed to the success of the enterprise since they are stakeholders in the agribusiness ventures. They acknowledge that the more the farms produce the more money they earn. This translates to higher profits,” she added.
However, the pasu model does not insulate farmers from the challenges that bedevil agribusinesses in the country. The investors and their partners decry the high cost of farm inputs, fluctuating market prices and attacks by elephants and zebras considering that the region sandwiched between Amboseli and Tsavo game parks lies in a wildlife dispersal area.
The Business Daily established that most farmers in the region source assorted agrochemicals from the neighbouring Tanzania.
“Many of the pesticide brands sold in Kenya are no longer effective. This forces us to cross the border and get stronger agrochemicals to fight the notorious fall armyworm and Tuta absoluta pests. But we pay a hand and a leg for the pesticides. This increases the cost of producing crops and eventually eats into the profit we get at the end of the day,” said Jimmy Kimiti, a farmer at Kimana.
Those farming along River Eleselenkei are grappling with reduced farming land due to over-exploitation of the river ecosystem by sand harvesters. They have also suffered immensely as the area has no telephone network coverage.
To make a phone call one has to travel to Mashuuru Township, 12 kilometres away. This makes it hard for them to communicate with their customers who come all the way from Nairobi and Emali Township which strides Kajiado and Makueni.