Kenya’s top young agriculturist on the future of professional farming

New seasons require new technology, he says

A farmer shows Indigenous seeds in Kenya. Patrick Shepherd, CIFOR
25 October 2019

Rodgers Kirwa will speak at the Global Landscapes Forum Accra, 29–30 October. Learn how to join the event here.

When Rodgers Kirwa graduated from an agribusiness degree at Kenya’s Egerton University in Kenya back in 2012, he struggled to find a job and didn’t have the capital to start a venture of his own.

But the now 27-year-old did have a somewhat-untraditional farm tool: a cell phone. With it, Kirwa began an agribusiness ‘talk show’ on Twitter, and it proved a hit, especially with young Kenyans. Since then, he’s tweeted about agricultural issues on a daily basis and accumulated more than 57,000 followers – and the moniker of “Mr. Agriculture” to boot.

Kirwa’s Twitter fame helped him get his hands into the soil, too. After winning various awards and invitations to international conferences and training opportunities, he was able to secure financial support from several companies to start setting up a venture of his own.

In 2016, Kirwa founded the company iAgribiz Africa, which aims to advocate, communicate and educate the public about agriculture. As part of that venture, he set up a model farm on a single acre in Nandi county in western Kenya, on which he practices organic horticulture and fish farming and teaches young people and community members understand the ins and outs of agribusiness. Here, he tells Landscape News why this is important for the future not only of Kenya but also of Africa.

Courtesy of Roders Kirwa
Courtesy of Roders Kirwa

Why do you care so much about getting young people involved in agriculture?

Most of the young people in Kenya don’t have much interest in agriculture. Myself, I always had a passion for it, but when I started working, I thought, “No, I don’t want to do this career alone; I need to get some more young people to come into the field.”

Tell us about Kenyan farmers.

Market access is an issue for many farmers, especially women, who are the majority of farmers here. But the ones who reach the markets easily are mostly older men. That is why I work a lot with women – to help them improve their access. I also work with young men. 

Another problem with our farmers is that they don’t always embrace those of us who have gone to school and studied agriculture. Very often when a farmer has a problem, they will just look at what is happening within the farm, and they won’t engage the services of experts like the agricultural extension officers.

Kirwa educates Kenyan farmers about how to plant without the use of pesticides. Courtesy of Rodgers Kirwa
Kirwa educates Kenyan farmers about how to plant without the use of pesticides. Courtesy of Rodgers Kirwa

How are Kenyan farmers experiencing and adapting to climate change?

We have a very big problem with climate change. If you look at the weather patterns in our country, in the past five years, they are completely different from what they were before, and this is causing droughts and floods – and food insecurity. Most farmers are used to planting in a particular season, but often now the rains are not coming in that season as they used to.

The other problem is that most farmers don’t embrace the use of technology to adapt to the changes. The majority of them still rely on rain-fed agriculture, which in my opinion should be a thing of the past. They should be using things such as drip irrigation to keep their crops watered.

What advice would you give to young Africans who are considering a career in agriculture?

I always tell them that they must take agriculture seriously; it is a profession like any other. They must also be willing to invest in the long-term and not expect to make back their money in the first season. I also encourage them to really embrace technology. For example, crops don’t need rain, but they do need water, so their job is to find ways of getting that water into the crop.

What do you see as the role of trees in agribusiness?

When I started doing agriculture in 2013, I used to only plant the crop I wanted to sell. And then I learned about the importance of trees: they can act as windbreakers in your farm, and when you plant Indigenous trees in the water catchment areas, it protects your water sources and helps ensure you can access water whenever you need it.

Kirwa often leads exchanges between farmers of different African countries to learn from one another. Courtesy of Rodgers Kirwa

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