By Kimuri Mwangi
People venture into agriculture due to various reasons. Some out of passion, others as agribusiness while others find themselves there as they were born by farming parents among other factors.
But there is another class of farmers who got into agribusiness as they were seeking solutions for other business ventures. Mr & Mrs Wachira Ngatia the proprietors of Sure Bakers in Karatina, Mathira Constituency in Nyeri County is a perfect example of this class of farmers.
Wachira has had a soft spot for anything baked especially bread back from the days we schooled together at Kaheti High School. Despite being one year ahead, we interacted a lot as we belonged to the Scouts Club and whenever we went camping and hikes, you were sure to find him with a loaf of bread. This obsession turned into a passion for baking and it is not a surprise to know that he was once employed at a bakery that is based in Karatina town. It is here that he saw practically what he had always wanted to do in his mind- become a baker.
“The working environment was not so good so one day in the year 2000 I woke up and asked myself why I couldn’t do what the company was doing yet I could get all the raw materials needed. I quit and decided to start by baking cakes,” says Wachira. But the journey was not” as easy as he thought. “I started with a modified baking oven that that doesn’t even qualify to be called an oven. It gave me a lot of problems but I persevered,” he quips.
With many challenges which included introducing a new product in the market, he soldiered on decided never to give up. “At one point I bought a second-hand bicycle for Kshs.600 and for six months I struggled to pay the full amount,” he says laughing. As the years passed and with several improvements he was able to increase his sales and capture his market area which led to more expansion.
Today Sure Bakers in Karatina which he runs together with his wife and daughter has about 30 people who are dependent on it for their daily bread. Located at Ragati on the outskirts of Karatina town, it is in the same compound as his home. They bake an assortment of cakes and the latest addition is bread. “I also have two vehicles which I use for distribution and I increased my production capacity,” says the baker. His daughter who is a university student acts as the manager whenever she is around. She helps him in Sales and Marketing strategies and also advises him when to add more labour and what machine to buy. “We use the internet to identify the machines we need when we want to buy one and even learn how to use it from the internet. We also benchmark with big bakeries than ours to identify areas where we need to improve.
Wachira has his wife to thank for getting into agribusiness. At one time he says he was using around 100-120 trays of eggs per week to bake cakes and spending around Kshs.30,000 to Kshs.36,000 per week on the same. “He was having a hard time getting all the eggs he needed as the local shops couldn’t meet the demand. Sometimes he could buy eggs that had overstayed in a shop and they would mess up our products leading to losses. Apart from this, we were spending a lot of money and I suggested to him that we rear layers which would cuts costs and also ensure we had enough and fresh eggs. He bought the idea and immediately he built a house for them,” says Muthoni, Wachira’s wife. Today they have more eggs than they need in their bakery from the 1200 layers in their home. “We collect 27-30 trays of eggs daily. We use half of this in the bakery and sell the rest,” she adds. Today they supply eggs to the same retailers who couldn’t meet their demand for eggs back then.
Wachira says rearing the layers was a game-changer because apart from giving him a solution for eggs in the bakery, they became a new income earner for them. “This is a new business frontier and I will increase the numbers as I can say they give me a hundred per cent profit. From selling the eggs and their manure and also selling the old flock as you bring in another is good money. We can’t meet the demand for eggs,” he says.
On the farm, there is no waste as the eggshells from the bakery are used to make cow feed. “I dry these shells then grind them. I then mix them with the broken cakes from the bakery. The result is a feed that is rich in calcium which I feed to the layers and also to my cows,” says Wachira.
After the successful poultry venture, he got into dairy farming and currently has three cows. “I started with one cow which has calved twice. Currently, it is the one I am milking and it gives me 28-30 litres daily. I use 5 litres and sell the rest to Brookside. A litre is going for Kshs.40 and I am planning to increase to about five cows to give me at least 100 litres daily. That will be earning me about Kshs.4,000 daily,” he says.
The baker/farmer has seen another solution to his venture from the dairy cows. I am planning to switch to biogas in my bakery as the electricity bill is high. So I will expand my dairy section and eventually switch to gas ovens to lower my power bills even as I earn from the milk,” he explains.
The only challenge they had was the quality of chicken feed they were using when they started. They say most of the feeds in the market are not up to standard and their layers lacked some mineral. They solved this by sticking with feed from one manufacturer who agreed that they could return the feeds if they were not satisfied with the results from the flock.
The couple urges people to get into agribusiness as it pays and can uplift their living standards. Poultry rearing they say may look like dirty work but the results are rewarding.
Wachira has one appeal to make. “The availability of funds to expand has been a challenge. If the government can make this available and support local industries, we have the ability to expand and offer more job opportunities”