Losing his job was perhaps the best thing that happened to 31-year-old Caleb Karuga. The former TV journalist runs a flourishing agribusiness venture. He says he quit his degree course in IT midway when he realised it wasn’t his passion. “I am a half-baked graduate,’’ he says. “I quit in my third year because I realised it wasn’t my passion. I got bored with computer programming.”
But farming, like most businesses, requires capital. Yet he had none so he tried out anything to earn a coin. At the university, he had acquired some knowledge in computers and videography and so gravitated towards the media industry.
He bought a video camera and started shóóting videos for weddings, funerals, documentaries and other events. He says the camera made him some money, enough to register his first company, Target Creations, in 2003.
However, his big break didn’t come until 2007 when Ms Terry Mungai, CEO Ashleys Kenya and owner of Miss Kenya, Miss Tourism and Miss Commonwealth franchises, noticed his talent. She had seen him record videos for for JCC church in Ngara, Nairobi. “When she said she wanted me to be her media partner in the 2007 Miss World Pageant finals at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, I knew my lucky break had come,’’ he says.
The Ksh250,000 deal presented an opportunity to make a name for himself. “Appearance is everything. I got 10 guys and dressed them in branded T-shirts. To maximise on the limited time I had on the spotlight, I asked them to move around the venue as a way of ‘marketing’ the company. Most people thought we were a major company,” he says.
Only two cameras were functional at the event, but the output was great. His gamble paid off and by the end of the event he got more jobs besides the invaluable networking. A few months after the event, the Miss World footage opened yet another door for him, this time in a media house. In August 2007, K24 TV was being established and needed journalists. Mr Karuga used a clip of the work he had done at the beauty pageant and a month later, he was employed as a reporter and a cameraman.
Following his passion
But he says in the six years he worked as a journalist, he never felt fulfilled. “I loved investigative journalism because I am naturally inquisitive. But I had this unending desire for agribusiness only that I did not have enough courage to quit,’’ he says.
“You can really be good at something but not be passionate. I remember this time I went to shoot a news feature in Kikuyu, along the Nairobi-Naivasha road. I met a mole trapper whose story changed my life and perception about agriculture.
“I interviewed him between 9am and 2pm as he moved from one farm to another trapping moles. For each mole trápped, the owner of the farm would part with Sh100. By 2pm he had visited five farms and raked in Sh2, 600,’’ he says.
The mole trapper would make Ksh90,000, which more than what he was earning as reporter. Mr Karuga leased a one-acre farm and started Wendy Farm in Kikuyu to rear poultry for sale. He opted for local breeds which a popular delicacy. Today he runs two other farms in Nyeri and Laikipia, and is looking to expand to coast. He rears thousands of indigenous chicken, quails, guinea fowls as well as dairy goats and cows on about an eighth of the plot in kikuyu while using the rest to grow butternut, strawberry, sweet potatoes and sunflowers.
Before breaking even, he made ‘enough’ mistakes during the initial three years. “At first I acquired 200 pigs. I din’t do proper market research. The venture failed terribly,’’ he recalls. “Undeterred, I bought two hens and a cóck from a neighbour then gradually increased the flock. But I knew little about poultry vaccination and within two months lost 200 birds.”
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He then bought 500 day-old chicks from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. He was confident he was going to make it big, but some of his rogue employees sold the birds in his absence. “That’s when I realised I could not succeed as a farmer and journalist. I started wishing I got fired so that I could take care of my business,” he says.
His wish was granted in 2013 when Mediamax Network Ltd, the holding company for K24 TV, retrenched him among a dozen other journalists. He earned Ksh1.3 million in benefits and used the cash to expand the business.
Wendy Farms today offers training to farmers across the country on poultry farming. He also supplies eggs to supermarkets, sells day-old chicks and chicken. “I have trained about 1,200 people so far and most of them say they want to get into farming as a retirement plan,’’ he says. “That’s a bad perception. Agriculture can be a fulltime job.”