March 16, 2016

Farming entrepreneur models healthy economic development in Kenya

Written by  Emily Jones
Jackson Okanya stands by a new planting of bananas on the farm he started in rural western Kenya. Jackson Okanya stands by a new planting of bananas on the farm he started in rural western Kenya. Photo provided by Joe and Gloria Bontrager.

MIGORI, Kenya – Jackson Okanya, 33, a farmer, businessman, and entrepreneur in rural western Kenya, has spent the past three years building a farming business through his own labor and funds. After graduating from Daystar University in Nairobi with a degree in community development in 2010, Okanya, brother of Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) President Nelson Okanya, spent several years working at the EMM offices in Nairobi and studying efficient agricultural methods. In 2013, after one failed attempt at launching a collaborative farming effort, Okanya invested the equivalent of about $20 in seeds and fertilizer to start his own farm.

After three years of harvesting his crops and reinvesting the profits into farm expansion, Okanya now farms three acres that yield multiple items, including bananas, papayas, and passion fruit. He also keeps a flock of chickens and uses a brick press to build his own structures, as well as to create bricks to sell. Okanya plans to keep expanding the farm’s offerings and capabilities, and will eventually train a brother to manage day-to-day operations so that he can focus on developing distribution and marketing throughout Kenya. Okanya sees his farm as a way to serve his local community and church by providing employment, income, food, and a model of healthy economic development.

Okanya does not depend on outside resources, but he talks through his business models with East Africa EMM worker and friend Aram DiGennaro. DiGennaro says that he provides Okanya with “encouragement, a sounding board, and occasional advice.” Nelson Okanya calls this “a healthy way of partnership that does not involve funds.”