THE END OF AN AMBITIOUS AGRIBUSINESS VENTURE

In a hot Saturday afternoon, I stroll pointlessly on the open fields of my rented out farm overlooking the Athi-river. A cocktail of thoughts passing through my mind; what could I have done differently? Was I too trusting? Did I neglect my oversight role? Is this the end? Not even the soothing sounds from the river flowing a short distance away could distract me from my thoughts. This was to be the last day I stepped on the dry, scorched earth slopes of Wamunyu, Machakos county. My daring venture into farming had come to an end, this time quietly without the hubris displayed 6 months earlier as I started out.

Thriving tree tomatoes in the farm

As I tried to retrace where I lost the ball, I remembered when I entered into a partnership of convenience with a local player (partner), whom I had thought to be of good standing. I had sweetened the deal; incentivizing them by suggesting they can hire their own piece of land next to mine and we can thereafter share fixed assets such as water pumps and pipes which I had purchased.  This I thought would solve my telephone farmer problem after all, I had boots on the ground.

Orange fruit tree in the farm

Unbeknownst to me, in between my weekend visits my partner rarely went to visit the farm. In actual sense, supplies such as fuel for the water pump was never purchased and sent to the farm, until the eve of my visit. My skepticism as to why the crops looked withered and lacking in health was answered by the cliché “the sun is too hot” which was plausible, so I ignorantly bought into my partner’s charade.

I had additionally made an oversight by allowing my partner to search for and hire the farmhand. In my ignorant view, she would have dealt with the farmhand more often therefore, she was best placed to hire them. In fact, I didn’t bother talking to the farmhand directly until much later when things had already gone out of hand.  So bad was the communication breakdown between myself and the farmhand that he believed he should have only spoken to me through my partner even though I was right there on the farm.

The farmhand came off as a forthright man, but after the melon crop failed, I started noticing his indifference with the happenings on the farm. He was not attached to the work and had excuses for work and cost overruns which were not existent in the past several months. Could they have been in cahoots with my partner to systematically siphon/divert resources from the project?  Could I have done a better job if I had solely managed communication with the farmhand? These are questions I will really never know the answers to.  

At the end of this painful (financially, emotionally and Psychologically) venture I leave with valuable lessons. Lessons that you don’t get in any classroom setting, lessons to be applied to any other business. Be in control of the process, don’t sit on the fence, don’t make assumptions and don’t be too trusting. Always investigate, interrogate, benchmark for accuracy and make random audits a thing. The moment you get your eyes of the ball, is the moment you lose it.

 

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Author:Veronicah Maina

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