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Ezra Chiloba: After polls storm, I found new purpose in farming

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Trans Nzoia County is part of Kenya’s bread basket. The countryside features a tropical climate that rarely loses its green sheen.Agriculture is the common denominator in Trans Nzoia: every family dabbles in some type of farming, with maize featuring ubiquitously.This is what Ezra Chiloba  former CEO at Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), grew up seeing.

“It is an agriculturally rich county,” he says.“The only way I can tell the story of the place I come from is through farming.”Even as he went about his duties at the commission, farming was a lifestyle seared in his memory. In fact, in 2015, Chiloba tried his hand in coffee farming.“I planted the crop on five acres,” he says.

The crop failed spectacularly. Why?“Because coffee is a very sensitive crop. Everything from clearing the farm, fertiliser application and pruning, to pesticide application has to be done right and on time,” he says.In other words, he didn’t quite adhere to proper husbandry practices. But his biggest mistake was lack of dedication.“At the time I was not paying much attention to the farm. Telephone farming is truly a recipe for failure,” he says.

Opportunities in farming

His acrimonious exit from IEBC is well remembered by the news savvy.He refers to what transpired as a crisis: a crisis that not only rendered him jobless, but also took away his peace of mind.“It took a crisis for me to see the opportunities in farming,” he says.“I figured I would be busy and have a healthy mind on my journey to other opportunities.”

His next course of action was to plan, research and experiment with a few options.First, he collaborated with a friend to farm passion fruit on one acre. He also planted bananas, solo, on another acre.

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Chiloba finally speaks out on Msando's death

After months of speculation, while still ‘experimenting’ with passion fruit and bananas, Chiloba made up his mind to go into growing maize to make silage.In Trans Nzoia maize farming – for human consumption – is common. Due to saturation it does not offer much in profits.But maize for silage was a unique concept. It was an area that had not been explored fully in the county.

He says: “A friend (who is also an agronomist) introduced me to maize for silage. He was working on a similar project himself.“Initially I wanted to set up a dairy unit. But the entry strategy was too demanding in terms of costs and sophistication.“I consulted others as well.

Armed with information from earlier entrants we decided to go into silage farming.Thus began the story of Hilmost Farms – managed by Kitale Hilmost Ltd. In May 2019 Hilmost planted its first-ever maize crop – which Chiloba says was largely to try it out.“The maize growing season in Trans Nzoia is in March. So, in May, we were already two months late.“To make up for time lost we planted a maize variety that matures faster – in about three months.“Based on our experience in 2019 and the lessons we learnt we decided to go big,” Chiloba says.

This year Hilmost has 400 acres under maize for silage. The farming plots are largely leased through a joint initiative where farmers offer up their plots for a share in the profits.“Farmers with large parcels of land – 100 acres or more – give us the right to grow on their farm. We agree on a profit sharing margin and we as Hilmost do the rest,” he explains.

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Chiloba now explains why Chebukati's login was used for 9,000 transactions

A lot of the processes being undertaken by Hilmost Farms is based on professional advice. Everything is done by the book.Each project, Chiloba says, is led by a farm manager. Every two weeks an agronomist visits to assess the crops. Soil testing is done at various stages to determine fertility and inform fertiliser use.“We keenly monitor growth in every section of our farms. This is because fertility is not uniform: some patches need more or less of a particular nutrient.”

Big on machines

Everything – from harvesting in the field to processing of the silage – is done using farm machinery designed for the job.

In their 2019 pilot project, Hilmost harvested an average of 12 tonnes per acre. However, when everything works out, farmers can harvest 18 tonnes.But farming has a great deal of uncertainty: a lesson Chiloba is learning as he literally ploughs through this new gig.He describes farming as ‘high risk and high potential’.

“If you want to be successful in farming you have to be patient and resilient. You have to be willing to stay the course, put in the hours and fail as you learn through your mistakes.“Pests are a source of a catastrophe: take fall army worm for instance. If you don’t act early you can lose the entire crop in three days.“Cash flow is a challenge too: where do you get funds to mitigate against emergencies like pest?“And then there is the weather and the constant threat posed by climate change.

Between March and May last year there was a drought which affected our bananas,” he says.

Biggest headacheIn Hilmost’s case there was another challenge connected to soil properties and the weather – farm accessibility by heavy machinery.Last year, of 90 acres planted, the business lost 20 acres despite a bumper harvest.

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Chiloba now explains why Chebukati's login was used for 9,000 transactions

“It rained and the soil became wet. This made it difficult for the heavy farm machinery to access some of our plots. And so, technically, we lost the crop,” Chiloba recalls.

The former IEBC man is humble in his description of the enterprise. He says he is not yet a ‘successful’ farmer.But he is laser focused on achieving that success, “in five years or so,” he says. One of the things he is doing right, according to him, is being present and actively involved.He is dedicating about 40 per cent of his time on farming. From time to time he travels to the farm to monitor progress and receive updates.Maize for silage is harvested whole, chopped into pieces, fermented under anaerobic conditions and compacted for storage.Silage can remain viable for two years or even more.

This longer shelf life means that post-harvest losses are reduced.Farming, Chiloba says, gets better with time as the farmer learns from their mistakes.He started off with coffee and lost some of the crop.

He has since revived the coffee fields. This year, the coffee farm should be yielding its first significant harvest.The passion fruit field is now cleared due to a soil borne virus that infected the crop. But before that the crop enjoyed an unexpected success.

“We harvested every week for 13 months. In total, we got 6,700kg worth of harvest, which we sold at the Kitale market,” he says.The bananas, too, did well and are still being sold at the market today.Chiloba’s advice to other prospective farmers is to have patience, focus and be ready to learn through the process.

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Business

Behold – Installation of Elevated Water Tank at Victory Gardens Phase 3, 4 & 5 Starts in Earnest

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The much awaited day is finally here with us. The promised elevated water Tank at Victory Gardens Phase 3, 4 & 5 has kick-started in earnest.

This 40, 000 litres capacity tank will stand 15m tall and will effectively offer a round-the-clock assurance of flowing water to the residents of this top gated community in Kitengela.

Tune in to our FB Live this coming Friday (You can like this page in advance: https://www.facebook.com/georgeoptiven/) to know more about this project as we all inspect the new water tank installation progress.

Indeed, the works on this leading project is now coming to its tail-end as all other value additions are already complete. These include:

✅ Murraming
✅ Water piping
✅ Three Phase Transformers on site (Two of them)
✅ Trees planted
✅ Gardens with fruit’s
✅ Optiven Drive access Road
✅ Solar street lights (covering the whole project)
✅ Manned gates by Uniformed Security

If you want to join this ready-to-build gated community, call us Today on:
Call 0790300300
www.optiven.co.ke

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Chiloba finally speaks out on Msando's death
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Business

Soaring like an eagle & unleashing your full potential

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SOARING LIKE AN EAGLE & UNLEASHING YOUR FULL POTENTIAL are two powerful motivational books that will easily inspire you to pursue your dreams.

100% of these books’ sales proceeds are channeled into Optiven Foundation’s charitable activities that are geared towards social-economic empowerment of communities across Kenya.

You can participate in this noble cause by getting your own copy today at only Ksh1, 000 or USD 10.

Call us on: 0718 776 033
For more information, visit: www.optivenfoundation.org

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Chiloba now explains why Chebukati's login was used for 9,000 transactions
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Teacher finds silver lining in the middle of pandemic

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The onset of coronavirus outbreak in Kenya in March this year brought unprecedented suffering to many people. As the crisis progressed, many people lost jobs, businesses were closed down, while some families lost loved ones to the disease. Despite the dark cloud coronavirus has brought on many levels, it has also presented a silver lining for others.

For Beldina Kirito Oluoch, an entrepreneur, the Covid-19 crisis presented an opportunity for her business to grow. When the pandemic hit the country in March, Beldina and her husband were running two successful businesses — a bakery, Beldina’s Delicacies based in Kikuyu, Kiambu County and a landscaping company, Elegant Gardens Landscapes.

When schools and public gatherings were banned in March 13, Beldina, who is also a teacher at Alliance High School saw an opportunity to concentrate on her businesses.

“ The businesses were well-established and were running independently but I suddenly found myself with so much time in my hands after schools closed,” she says. Within days of the ban on public gatherings her baking business took a hit.

“From doing over 30 birthday cakes in a week our orders in March decreased to five,” she says. With the dip in orders, Beldina could barely pay her 10 employees at the bakery in March and April and was forced to send some on unpaid leave and retain others on half pay.

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Chiloba finally speaks out on Msando's death

“Paying rent for the business premises also became a struggle and we had to negotiate with the landlord to offer us a grace period. Additionally, we also negotiated with micro finances that gave us loans to support our businesses to review our terms of payment,” she says.

With the effects of the pandemic getting tougher by day, Beldina and her husband had to re-strategise in order to remain afloat.

“Things were tough, but there was no time for a pity party,” she says. With many people being indoors due to movement restrictions, Beldina saw an opportunity in putting up kitchen gardens through her landscaping business.

Initially, the company had been specialising in installation of carpet grass, making lawns and laying of cabro and pavements, but had never designed kitchen gardens until the opportunity presented itself during the outbreak. The demand for kitchen gardens was so high between March and April as people were keen to grow their own vegetables. We would install up to 30 vertical gardens in a good week,” adds Beldina.

During the business hiatus at the bakery, Beldina decided to set up a YouTube Channel and teach baking skills online. The channel attracted a lot of interest, as many people who had lost jobs were keen on learning skills to help them earn an income.

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Chiloba now explains why Chebukati's login was used for 9,000 transactions

Others were just keen to learn a new skill to beat boredom. At the same time, Beldina kept herself occupied by trying out different recipes in the house and sharing the outcome on a group she had created on Facebook. “From this experience I realised that I had a passion for cooking. The feedback from the group was also encouraging and an idea to set up a hotel was born in May,” she says.

Big leap of faith

With few adjustments, including offering online baking classes and making home deliveries, the baking business begun picking up in July.

The business that was initially offering basic and advanced baking training also resumed the classes in July. “We took only five students per session for classes that would initially accommodate 10. The two classes offered daily were always fully booked,” she says.

With the baking business, picking up Beldina and her husband were able to mobilise resources from friends and set up a hotel, Elegant Garden Hotel on a two acre rented space in Karen.

The hotel was opened a week ago. Beldina admits that it was such a huge risk opening a hotel, especially when similar businesses were closing down. But seeing her baking business rise up from brink of collapse encouraged her to take the big leap.

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Chiloba now explains why Chebukati's login was used for 9,000 transactions

“When I shared the idea with some friends some thought that I was crazy. But I knew that there was an opportunity because people were tired of being indoors and were interested in eating out,” she says.

Beldina says that the pandemic has taught her important lessons on life including the need to have multiple sources of income at any given time.

At the same time, Beldina says she has learnt to be adaptable and change with the times emphasising that capitalising on online platforms to promote her businesses has been helpful in keeping them afloat.

By PD.co.ke

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