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Beware, that mega farming contract could be a SCAM!

By Agnes Aineah

Like many known successful farmers, Jeneri Wakoli started small.

Veering off from his background in electrical engineering, Mr Wakoli set up a small mud structure and with 20 kienyeji chicken he was gifted by his grandfather. He started poultry farming, growing his venture into a big supply company that has become a household name in Bungoma.

But just as his star was starting to shine, his business plunged after he was conned hundreds of thousands of shillings.

Wakoli had just landed a Sh4 million contract with an NGO to supply 4-month old chicks at the organisation. Afraid that he could not meet the required 8,000 chicks, Wakoli started combing farmers’ platforms for individuals who could supply him with enough stock to meet the order.

How cons operate

“I only had 2,000 chicken when I received the order from an NGO to supply them with 8,000 chicks. I didn’t want to let the order pass and so I started looking for farmers to supply me with other chicks,” recalls Mr Wakoli.

Wakoli, who follows a number of farming groups on Facebook, remembered seeing an active member who claimed to know farmers that had thousands of chicks. The two met in Nairobi where Wakoli wrote him a Sh500,000 cheque to have the first batch of chicks delivered.

It was after pocketing the amount that the man started avoiding Wakoli.

“At first he would get an excuse not to meet me. Then he started referring me to people who didn’t have chicks at all,” says Wakoli.

“Sometimes, he duped us into visiting other people’s farms in Mombasa. We were a number of times mistaken as thieves when we visited these farms. He had duped us into believing he had connections with those farmers,” says Wakoli.

All the while, the man was waiting for Wakoli to complete paying the remaining cash so that he could disappear with a larger amount of money.

Con disappeared

It was only after involving authorities that the man, who Wakoli says turned out to be a con disappeared, changed his mobile phone number and deactivated his Facebook account.

According to Wakoli, the man operated a Facebook page that had a lot of good reviews. A mobile phone contact, 0707 73607* that he used in his conversations with Wakoli was no longer active.

“I had an order for chicks in Kilifi County. He said he had them available. He had a big name, so I made a mistake of trusting him,” wrote Wakoli on a Facebook post.

“I had dealt personally with him when he came to our town offices to buy poultry items such as drinkers. I easily trusted him. I only learnt later that he had conned many people,” Wakoli says.

The Sh500,000 loss sent the business miles behind

“I have not done anything for a year as I tried to chase the money I lost. I even lost the tender completely as I could not supply the 8,000 chicks in the two weeks as the NGO wanted,” Wakoli shares.

Numerous farmers have also faced similar fate in the hands of con men.

Most farmers were duped into paying for farm equipment and produce that they never received. Still, other farmers lost thousands of shillings in scam contract farming agreements while others fell prey to exploitative middlemen.

James Njihia lashed out at a client who had refused to clear a Sh8,500 balance in an agreement to hatch chicks.

“X* Holdings is a petty con. After hatching 400 eggs he had brought in September last year and promised to pay within a week, he has refused to pick my calls. He went away with the chicks and has refused to pay my remaining cash,” says Mr Njihia.

How to spot a con

Dr Robert Mbeche, a lecturer in Agriculture and Rural Development at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology says farming is increasingly becoming a hostile environment for novices who continually fall victims of conmen.

“Farmers are continuously looking for information and answers to challenges of marketability, productivity and many other tough experiences they go through. Con men take advantage of this gap and package this information the way the farmers easily find appealing,” says Dr Mbeche.

Be informed

According to the agricultural economist, the country’s breakdown of agricultural information system has also exposed farmers to potential fraudulent individuals.

“Some 20 years ago, we had a strong and elaborate agricultural extension system that comprised well-resourced agricultural offices to provide all information that farmers needed in terms of productivity and market. Today, farmers are left at the mercy of exploitative individuals who masquerade as agricultural officers,” he says.

According to Dr Mbeche, farmers are increasingly being duped into buying high yielding livestock at fair prices only to discover later that they got a raw deal.

They are offered an enticing Sh20,000 per heifer against the reasonable Sh100,000.

“I have heard complains of farmers duped into dishing out a lot of money with a promise that they would be supplied with high-yielding heifers from South Africa. The conmen stage manage everything including fake links to companies in South Africa where they know heifers come from. This way, they pass for genuine people and easily dupe farers,” he says.

Tell tale signs

Some of them dispose off their unwanted agricultural products like seeds.

“Conmen in contractual farming agreements sell you seeds and fertilisers with a promise to provide market once the produce is ready. They then slowly pull out of the agreement and only then you realise you are stuck in a completely uninteresting venture with no market,” says Dr Mbeche.

Such was what Margaret Kibuchi encountered after a contractor pulled out of an agreement, leaving her stuck with loads of chillies after she allegedly paid Sh25,000 for seeds.

“This person (Njeri wa pilipili) had given me a contract to grow chillies. He sold me seeds at Sh25,000 and sent someone to plant the seeds. All the time, I have been communication with him and everything was moving smoothly until last month when the chillies were ready for harvesting. That’s when he became rude to me. He also became unavailable on his phone and even blocked me on Facebook,” says Kibuchi. The moment we reached to the said Njeri wa pilipili on a phone number that Margaret shared, a man who introduced himself as Matthew Njenga first denied ever meeting Margaret.

On further probe, he admitted to contracting Margaret to farm chillies and the two falling out with each other later.

Dodgy character

“I sold Margaret chilli seeds and promised her market. She planted them on a half-acre piece of land. But she is not the only farmer I have dealt with because I have worked with people with bigger farms. Her problem is that she didn’t follow the instructions,” says Njenga.

He however didn’t elaborate why he could not buy Margaret’s chillies.

But it is not always easy to find the face behind the fraudulent transactions.

According to Dr Mbeche, some con people come in the name of representatives of agricultural organisations, local and abroad. Some, according to the expert even have registered companies and active social media platforms with a big number of followers.

“They rely on the concept of asymmetry of information. They know they possess farming knowledge that you don’t have. They present to you hard-to-resist offers, cheap prices and huge profits. But none of this comes through. They feed on a farmer’s ignorance,” he says.

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