Mose Manduku Cleophas is a self-taught agripreneur from Kenya with an acquired professional business approach who turned to Social Media to gain the skills and knowledge he needed to break into the engineering field.
Having attained a Bachelors in Business Administration, a diploma in insurance and a certificate in Customer care service, for about nine years, his life was defined with selling insurance policies with a leading firm in Nairobi.
Yet in 2013, the life of the proprietor of Homestead Farm in Komamboga, Nakawa Division, changed forever.
When he was transferred to Narok, about 150km from Nairobi, he was on course to a new career path that he never intended.
Narok is the hub of wheat growing in Kenya. On arrival in 2008, with a loan from Equity Bank, he planted wheat which earned him KShs15m after investing KShs1m.
“I was a marketing person and I was promoted to the role of manager to Narok (a town about 150km from Nairobi) – many of my clients followed me and it was found necessary to be returned to Nairobi”.
He turned down the opportunity to return to Nairobi as an employee despite owning a restaurant, taxi and a cyber café in the city.
This was an opportunity to rethink his life mission leaving the well-trodden pathway as an insurer.
That seemed like a ridiculous reaction to a family man who was earning Kshs125,000 net (about Shs4m). “It was comfortable life for a young man. But I was bitter because most employers don’t understand that their staff controls a big of stake in their business. Business is relational,” he says of his decision to resign after eight years.
Around 2013, quail farming was one of the most sought after agribusiness ventures in Kenya. The high demand for the eggs and the quails drove the Kenyan market into a frenzy.
It was during that time when Manduku, a discerning businessman, invested his fortune from wheat farming in importing quail cages and brooders from China.
When the bubble burst, his shipment of cages was yet to arrive. The brooders earned him some money but by the time the cages, worth $20,000 arrived, they were mere waste.
When the material arrived no one wanted to hear about quails. Those who had them let them go.
“Had I known that the business would be short-lived, I would have re-invested in wheat farming instead. I could not go back to formal employment and this was time to try something else,” Manduku says.
The idea of losing all his money haunted him. He opted to sell them to chicken farmers, most of whom had just been frustrated by quails. But they were smaller than the normal chicken pens.
After recovering most of his money, he started plying his trade between Kampala where his wife stayed and Nairobi. It was during one of these routine visits that he was contacted by someone who needed chicken cages.
His first supply was 20 units of cages before he decided to relocate to Uganda in December 2015. The growing demand could not meet the rate at which cages could be transported from China.
“I told myself, if the Chinese can make it, I could make it too.”
Most materials for making cages are available locally. He procured mesh from Roofings as he established his base in Mpererwe.
Describing himself as an urban farmer, he thought of providing an option to the increasing number of poultry farmers who have moved away from the deep litter to the caging system.
Though the operation seemed smooth, Manduku explains that it was not always easy.
“I had studied a lot on cage making on YouTube but there was a problem with bending the mesh perfectly,” he notes.
As a self-taught engineer, he had learned everything he knows from YouTube sessions,” he says of his real-life projects brought to life by his hands-on practice.
He sought welding services in Kyebando to fit the sample from China. But the mesh had bigger spaces that could not hold eggs. He improvised with a plastic net to reduce the spaces.
He has gone on perfecting his art and today he galvanizes his cages instead of spraying to prevent rusting.
“I make things, and others keep following,” the 42-year-old says.
Driven by intuition and trends for urban farming, he has since fabricated brooder cages, vertical vegetable gardens, rabbit cages as well as soilless growing systems; aquaponic and hydroponics.
His family systems are designed for backyard farming. Yet he had to fail many times before the systems started working.
“There are many factors that can make or break such technologies,” Manduku says. “One time I failed on balancing water levels which made the plant roots rot. The second time, I realised that letting the water move around made the upper chambers overflow. But failures make you realise a better way to do it better,” he says.
A chicken cage that can house 50 chicken is available for Shs200,000 while his hydroponic systems range between Shs500,000 to Shs1.4m depending on size.
As a skills developer, he boasts of more than 20 people who have started their own businesses including one, who was a cleaner. Others are in Namuwongo, Kyebando, Namulonge and Namugongo. According to him, training the choice of people he takes up for training must have emotional intelligence instead of a person’s reasoning ability.
“I want to train a person who can do it, not a person who knows how to do it,” he says.
The business is growing by leaps and bounds as he has been able to get his own piece of land in Komamboga with hundreds of prospects making inquiries.
“I love doing things differently. When chances are slim and none, you take it. That is my approach to life,” he says.
His biggest fear is the copycats. He says that protecting creative ideas from the copycats is impossible because it stalls development for fear of using social media.
Although that remains a stress factor, “you can never run out of originality, the more you see it, the more you gain from it.”
“No one can do my products as well as I do. My clients will always notice the difference because I give it my best. So it does not bother me!”
The business is capital intensive. Hydroponic systems require specialised nutrients. But he says that customers in Uganda like cash and carry. “You need to make stock,” he says.
The increasing focus on the benefits of urban agriculture has guided his crusade. Armed with demonstration gardens, Manduku wants to see change in how people carry out urban farming.
“Wealth creation starts with food security. My dream is to spread wings to other urban areas because urban farming is an opportunity for youth employment. My passion is to train youths to be able to earn from where they are,” he says.
Referring to his experiences, he notes that he drove his first car at 22 and had his first house at 23.
“These are things many youths crave for yet they can be realised from such informal businesses,” he notes.
Driven by intuition and trends for urban farming, he has since fabricated brooder cages, vertical vegetable gardens, rabbit cages as well as soilless growing systems; aquaponics and hydroponics. Yet it is a journey of trial and error.