Business Daily (Nairobi)

1 September 2011

Kenya: Young Farmer Milks His Way to Wealth

Douglas Kanja is as fresh-faced as one would expect a 26-year-old to be. But unlike most of his agemates, he is involved in a business that most young people would frown upon - farming.

He earns about Sh1 million a month from his farm.

In 2008, Mr Kanja graduated from Strathmore University and hit the road looking for a job.

He got one and only months later, his life was to change in a way that he could not have imagined. "We had done exceptionally well and our director gave us fat bonuses.

Straight away, I knew what I had wanted to do with my share -- I always wanted to buy an Audi."

Mr Kanja got the car purchase process in motion, but when he was about to pick his car, an assignment at a ranch changed his thinking and priority.

"I grew up in the city but I have always loved the farm, the open spaces and the animals. When I went to this white man's ranch to repair his computers and saw cows being reared in a truly modern way, I was fascinated.

I asked the man a few questions and knew that was exactly what I had to do," he told the Business Daily. "While still at the farm, I called the bank and cancelled the car transaction. After that, I spent the next two months visiting dairy farms and learning all that I could.

"I discovered not just an interesting business opportunity but a really enjoyable one.

I saw people living quiet lives far from the hustle and bustle of the city and making much more money in peaceful and involving ways."

Armed with his Sh330,000 bonus, he went about looking for three cows to get started.

That was in January 2009. Today, Mr Kanja has grown his herd to more than 100 worth about Sh12 million in three years. He has done so with self-drive, focus and sacrifice.

"I denied myself the Audi but that was the easier part," he said.

"Cows require constant attention and my typical day starts at 4 a.m and does not end until after 8pm. Besides, there is a lot of hands-on management that has meant that as a young man, I have had no time to do the things that young men do."

But he has no regrets. "Dairy farming is the best thing I could have done. In no other business can your stock be doubling every year. But with each of my cows delivering a calf every year, I am most contented with what I am doing."

In a country where unemployment is giving young people sleepless nights, he repeats what most entrepreneurs have, for years, told people looking for jobs.

"The opportunities in farming generally are inexhaustible. With a fast growing population and more people choosing to live in cities, the demand is becoming exponential for farm products," he said at his Kimende farm on the Nairobi-Naivasha highway.

He sells his milk at Sh30 a litre. He discloses his winning formula: "Dairy farming is 70 per cent management and only 30 per cent inputs."

"Develop the right kind of breeds, feed them "with intelligence and ensure their comfort." He feeds his cows on a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) that includes maize meal, bran, ground omena, ground hay and green fodder.

He milks them three times a day, cleans their sheds regularly and even provides mats for sleeping.

"The more comfortable , happier and better taken care of a cow is, the more productive it is," says Mr Kanja, who breeds only Holsteins but is currently experimenting on a Holstein-Borana crossbreed. "I import female semen from the USA and Canada.

The Holsteins are the world's best milk producers but they possess some vulnerabilities in disease resistance hence the decision to crossbreed with the hardy Boranas."

He says the secret will be raising the bar high like what is happening in the US.

"The best I am doing is 55 litres per cow per day. In the US, the standard is between 60 and 80 litres per cow per day."

This will mean working harder, he admits. "This is my life and I will not stop until I hit the crest of international benchmarks."

He has attended breeders' shows in Dubai, Oman, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Europe and America. Because of the cows, "I am my own boss, I love what I do."

An IT graduate, he wants to build a biogas power plant to "offset my entire energy bill and still power this whole village."

He is exploring bio fertiliser, integrating feeding, vet care, milking and supply in one computerised system to "access from anywhere in the world on my mobile phone."

He does not dream of starting a processing plant.

"If I were to open a yoghurt plant on the side, it would mean that I have to take my eyes off the cows which may be counterproductive.

I will let other entrepreneurs worry about that and I can supply them with the milk."

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