As they made a beeline at the gate of Egerton University’s main campus in Njoro last week, the four easily looked like any other student.
It was rush-hour and the students were queueing for security check at the gate before hurrying to attend lectures.
But even as they went for the lessons, the four students mainly undertaking post-graduate classes did not have their minds entirely set for the lecture hall.
Partly, they were thinking about their agribusinesses, which they run as side hustles within the campus as they undertake their studies.
Two run a fresh juice outlet, and the others offer extension services and training to poultry and dairy farmers.
Seeds of Gold caught up with the four agri-preneurs, all who are under 30, to get insights into their ventures and how they strike a balance between the lecture halls and running their fast-growing side hustles.
THEY SHARE NAMES, AND BUSINESS TOO
Dickson Otieno Okello, 29 and Dickson Otieno Ouma, 27
The two students started Agri-Fresh Supplies, a fruit juice company, and Prima Gallus, a poultry extension services outfit.
Agri-Fresh Supplies deals in fresh mango, avocado, passion fruit, pineapple and orange juices alongside banana and apples. The shop located at the university processes juice under the brand name Smoothies, which sells like hot cake.
“We buy yoghurt from the university and use it blend our juice, a unique mixture that has become popular with students, teaching and non-teaching staff,” said Okello, noting they also makes plain juices.
A bottle of a 250ml of juice sells at Sh40 and in a good day, they make up to Sh12,000 from the shop that opens six days a week. “Sometimes sales drop to Sh6,000 per day especially during the dry season when getting milk is a challenge.”
The business started in 2015 has grown tremendously and is valued at more than Sh1 million currently.
Okello, who has completed a Masters degree in Agri-Enterprise Development and is set to graduate this month, said the business has been growing as the student population increases annually.
“We source fruits directly from farmers which has ensured a steady supply of fresh produce at better prices,” said Okello, who started the business together with his friend after getting a seed capital of Sh250,000 from the university.
Through the business, they have been able to pay for their college fees at the Masters level, repay the loan and pay their bills.
The enterprise started with two employees today has employed seven people, with students also earning some commission when they work at the facility.
“Our biggest challenge is to sustain the fruit business when the students are on holiday since they are our key market. There is also the challenge of balancing course work and business but we have learnt how to overcome that through time management,” he said.
On the other hand, Prima Gallus, the poultry extension services business, was started in 2016 and focuses on the entire value chain.
Ouma, a Masters of Agri-enterprise Development Studies student, who is set to graduate in December, and is in charge of the business said they went into it because there is high demand of chicken products.
They train farmers on various aspects of poultry farming and offer extension services. The business that employs four people is incubated at Egerton University’s Centre of Excellence for Livestock Innovation and Business (CoELIB).
“When the centre called for applications for students’ innovators in 2016, we applied by writing a comprehensive business plan and won Sh250,000 funding,” he added.
According to him, farmers want to get into poultry farming because it is less intensive and there is quick cash flow.
“It is this gap we are now exploiting by making use of the skills we learnt at the university,” explained Ouma, adding in a good month, they make Sh50,000 and get clients from up to Rwanda, Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania.
Besides extension services, they host clinics for farmers where they charge groups between Sh15,000 – Sh20,000 and train them on how to brand their products, whom to approach to get the correct market prices and funding and how to present and preserve their products to shield them from loses and poultry management aspects.
DAIRY CONSULTANCY MAKING THE DIFFERENCE
The founder of Dairy Cloud started the enterprise some 10 months ago and part of his capital was Sh50,000 from his savings.
“The business is hosted within the university and offers a range of services that include dairy farmer advisory services where we have two groups – those who want to start dairy farming and those who are in dairy farming. For starters, we begin with farm feasibility and then do a comprehensive dairy business investment plan,” said Opinya, who is a Masters student in Animal Breeding and Genetics.
This entails helping farmers put up standard cow barns that will give the animals good comfort for optimal milk production, the cash flow analysis and future projections of the project.
“Feeding plans, still part of investment plans, entail projections of silage and hay enough to last your herd for a particular period and how to formulate quality Total Mixed Ration (TMR), which is an advanced feeding concept,” explained Opinya, who said he identified the business opportunity when doing some work for the university’s extension services division.
He noted that farmers have a big problem balancing rations, thus, Dairy Cloud helps them come up with a strategy of making feeds, which translates to high milk yields.
According to Opinya, everything starts with a free farm visit and management training for the first three months.
Then, there are those dairy farmers who feel they aren’t doing well and need expert advice to improve.
“We have developed a tool guided by standard dairy codes of practices to assess their farms. Thereafter, we write a report that gives a true reflection of the dairy farm, pinpointing areas one is doing well versus those that need to be improved.”
The company also makes follow up visits to help the farmer improve on given recommendations.
“Management training is important for farmers to learn how to steer their farms to success,” says Opinya, who is currently a research assistant in the university’s Division of Research and extension and Department of Animal Science, and charges consultancy fees from Sh5,000.
His challenge is balancing between studies and work. “Many of our services involve travelling and making input deliveries across the country, which can be a big challenge,” said Opinya, who has three employees and also offers internship to students.
Egerton University Deputy Vice-chancellor in-charge of Academics Affairs, Prof Alexander Kahi, said the university supports students to make them job creators.
“We want to churn out graduates who will add value to the economy of this country,” says Kahi who is professor of livestock breeding and genomics.
ONE-STOP SHOP FOR FARMING TIPS
He is one of the directors of Ukulima Frontline, an agri-business specilising in consultancy and extension services started in 2015.
His co-founders are Munyala Mwalo, Felix Akatch, Martin Kimani and Hilary Mwambi, 22.
Their services include agribusiness development, consultancy and extension services in all fields of farming.
“For a small farmer from Nakuru, we charge between Sh3,000 and Sh5,000,” explains Obonyo, who is a second year student studying agribusiness. The start-up, like others, got the capital from the university.
“We were advanced Sh250,000 and this helped us to set up the venture and the good thing is that we have managed to clear the loan,” said Obonyo, noting the enterprise is working with about 8,000 farmers countrywide and employs graduates who are paid on commission between Sh7,000 and Sh12,000 per month.
What experts say on campus enterprises
University students can easily earn income if they get into business while still in college.
Prof Patience Mshenga of Egerton University said students need to utilise opportunities in the universities to become job creators.
“Such ventures can equip students with business skills that they utilise out there when they leave college,” said Prof Mshenga who is an expert in agri-enterprise development. Currently, the Egerton project funds only Masters students studying agri-enterprise development to the maximum of Sh500,000 but this does not stop anyone from starting a business, she said.
“Such ventures are a great opportunity for students to develop business proposals and get grants, a skill many do not have.”
Whatever the amount of money the students make, it belongs to them though they pay some little rent to university.
Another opportunity for the students is that they can make good use of the experts at the university by seeking advice to sharpen their enterprise skills.
Prof Mshenga said the huge population at the university offers students a ready-made market for their products and services.
The university initially got Sh68 million funding from the European Union through a programme known as Edulink to support students.
The programme, however, is now sponsored by the Master Card Foundation to a tune of more than Sh600 million for a period of eight years, where 15 undergraduates students in agronomics and Masters students in Agri-Enterprise Development will benefit.
Once they complete campus, the students leave to continue with their agribusinesses outside college, creating toom for others.