Kenyan entrepreneurial hunger


Farmers learn about sheep rearing during a past tour organised by the Dorper Sheep Breeders Society of Kenya in Kajiado County. FILE PHOTO | PIUS MAUNDU | NMG

In 2006 while working in the banking industry, a work-related cause led me to visit our sister entity in Kampala. I was invited to speak to a group of mid-level managers in the Ugandan bank regarding the things women in banking are asked to speak to other women in banking about.

During the course of the discussion, I was struck by one major finding at the time. Nine out of every 10 women had a side hustle going on. From hair salons to kindergartens, these ladies were running full-fledged businesses at the time.

“We have to survive outside of the bank,” one of them said to me, adding “You never know when these people can fire you.”

I found this interesting as at that time, while some of my own Kenyan banking colleagues ran some businesses on the side, it was the exception rather than the norm.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Kenyan national government’s Global Labour Market Strategy 2023-2027 as part of its initiative to grow the Kenyan skilled and unskilled diaspora pool. The strategy paper provided nine key defining points of the Kenyan labour brand.

These are good education, good Internet, language proficiency, ideal geographic location, professionalism, entrepreneurship, vocational skills, a well-trained workforce and religious diversity.

The entrepreneurship aspect of Kenyans is what I want to focus on today. If ever there was a defining period of our collective national entrepreneurial madness, it was the 2014 quail farming pandemic.

The conviction of an avian path to millions of shillings consumed many who bought the chicks, built the pens and whatever other infrastructure was needed to get the birds laying eggs at an Eliud Kipchoge speed scale. Quail farming was hot until it was not. I recently attended a Dorper sheep conference somewhere deep in the township of Kantafu, on the long and windy road to the Kamba haven of Kangundo in Machakos County.

Fun fact: While many Kenyans pronounce it “douppah”, the term dorper emerged from South Africa where a crossbreed was created between a Dorset horn ram and a black-headed Persian ewe. The small conference room was packed. We must have been at least 50 participants in various stages of Dorper farming.

There were the prudent virtual farmers with zero sheep, but great dreams of starting a dorper farming venture armed with nothing but wisdom and conference notes on how to do it correctly from the start. There were those with anywhere from two to 600 sheep who were there to learn how to rear their animals better.

However, what struck me the most was at the point where participants had to introduce themselves. More than half the people in the room were daytime professionals. Accountants, engineers, risk managers, marketers, you name it. Some from as far as Mombasa and Mandera. All there to learn. All running, or planning to run, a side hustle that would make them money.

The beauty about that room was everyone’s willingness to learn and ask a myriad of questions based on painful mistakes made or seen being made by others. An expert champion sheep judge, who is a dorper rearer himself, flew in from South Africa to teach the course. He broke down every aspect of dorper farming from birth to sale, giving us eye-watering numbers of what dorper sheep farmers are able to earn in a country that loves its lamb chops for their weekly braais (barbecues).

My key takeaway from the two-day programme was this: Kenyans are hungry, actually scratch that, starving for knowledge. Our entrepreneurial spirit burns ceaselessly bright and cannot be dimmed in our blessedly overtaxed republic.

If anything, this willingness to do business should be what underpins our educational policy to help students choose entrepreneurship as a career path.

Having studied this from school, it will help many aspiring farmers to learn how to research extensively before jumping feet first into the hottest fad. Help farmers learn how to grow the produce cost-effectively and look for markets beyond the greedy middlemen or brokers that pervade many farming ventures.

Now that everything but our thoughts are being taxed, it makes sense to vary our sources of income in whatever way possible. And before you ask whether this is another quail-chasing initiative, I must put this question here for you to mull: When was the last time you had some nyama choma? See you at the next newly mushroomed roadside nyama choma joint!

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X: @carolmusyoka