Ole Sapit: My life as a farmer
“For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills,” that verse in Psalms 50:10 resonates very well with a clergyman in farming.
Welcome to the 72-acre farm of Most Reverend Jackson Ole Sapit, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya, in the slopes of Olendeem in Narok County.
“This is a command from God. Other than being a shepherd of men, we are also to dominate over the animals and creation,” the clergyman says as he ushers Smart Harvest to his vast farm.
Here, we meet Dr Ole Sapit in his element.
It is late afternoon and the man of God, draped in the Maasai shuka and a pair of open akala shoes, is driving the cattle back home. So casual and free is he in the fields, he may be mistaken as just any other community elder caring for his livestock.
In his element
He has 120 cattle (zebus, Borana crossbred with Sahiwal, Ayrshire and Fresian) 120 sheep and 27 goats.
From his dairy and dual-purpose cattle, Dr Sapit gets an average 75 litres of milk a day of which is consumed by his household and donates the surplus to his neighbours. He is big on goat farming.
“The goats are mainly for my visitors and family especially during festivities while the merino sheep are raised, fattened and sold at six months. Each sheep goes for Sh10,000,” the Archbishop says.
He does not depend on the wool and those who would want to shear, do so at their own cost.
Other than keeping livestock, he also practices crop farming. He plants maize, potatoes, beans and vegetables.
At the moment, he has Irish potatoes on three acres, which are almost ready. He plants these thrice a year and harvests about 80 bags with a 50kg bag going for Sh2,000. He uses about Sh30,000 as production costs for the potatoes.
The farm, he says, is 100 per cent organic as he depends on his cattle to produce manure for the crops.
To avoid water shortages common in the area, he has invested in a dam that provides water for the cattle and it rarely dries up.
Having been a farmer for several years, he has seen how things are changing.
“In the past we kept many cows and waited for the drought to come and decimate them but not anymore. We now sell them off during periods of scarcity of feeds,” says Ole Sapit, who grew up in this same village.
This year alone, he plans to sell 20 cattle ahead of the festivities. Each animal will fetch not less than Sh50,000. Given his busy schedule in the church, how does he juggle farming and his priestly duties?
Ole Sapit says he has a full-time manager whose duty is to look after the farm while he only goes to the farm when he is not working for the Lord. To help with the workload on busy days, he has also employed farm hands.
One critical element of the farm is crop rotation to ensure continuous fertility. Ole Sapit rotates his animals and crops in the different paddocks he has created.
In one season, you will find different crops in different paddocks while others have grass, yet others have livestock grazing. Come the next season all the paddocks take different roles.
“We also use the neighbouring barley farms which pay and have livestock graze after they have harvested as this gives our own grass time to grow and rejuvenate,” he says.
He says in farming, he is not only being self-sufficient but also shows the way for the religious flock on how to be self-reliant. He uses part of what he earns from the farms to support vulnerable children in the community.
Right now, he has championed for a community borehole which is functional.
Some of the challenges he faces include a poor road network which hampers transport of produce from the farm.
Though farming has great potential, he observes that the biggest challenge they face especially by small scale farmers, is middlemen. The solution?
“We need to organise farmers together to have a stronger bargaining power. This way will deal squarely with brokers,” says the Archbishop.
So why does a man of God direct his energies on farming instead of focusing on the work of God?
Dr Sapit says he farms to earn a living and boost his income, something some find strange.
“Yes, people ask why a pastor – a bishop in my case - should farm but my answer is always simple; we go to the supermarket, hospital and school like any other person and so I cannot depend solely on what I get as an archbishop, because I will be burdening Christians,” he says.
Looking at how far he has come as a farmer, he points out that there is a connection between farming and his calling as a servant of God.
“I remember when I wanted to go for theological training, then bishop of Nakuru Diocese asked me why I wanted to leave my father’s cows to come and shepherd people,” he recounts.
His answer was that the philosophy of shepherding was the same whether with people or animals and he had already learnt much with animals; it involves feeding them well, ensuring they are not sick, supporting them and protecting them from the enemy. This he says is the same with pastoral care.
Story of determination
Dr Ole Sapit’s success a farmer is unquestionable but when you hear that a man of God has a 72-acre farm, it is tempting to assume he was born in wealth. But far from it. Dr Sapit is a clear case of hard work and determination.
He was born in a polygamous family as the third born child of his father’s seventh wife.
Born in Olposimoru in 1964, his family was disinherited after his father died leaving his mother in a delicate situation. To survive, his mother went to live with Ole Sapit’s uncles at her maternal home.
As the young Archbishop grew up, his uncles also left him with no inheritance as they subdivided the land.
But there was light at the end of the tunnel. Ole Sapit’s journey to Olendeem would start when his sister’s husband took him in and gave him a small piece of land to start with. Not one to give up easily, from the small plot, he slowly grew his fortunes through faith in God, sheer determination and hard work. Now he owns a ranch.
Ole Sapit’s journey to creating self-dependence started while he was a priest but after he became bishop of the newly created Kericho ACK Diocese which was carved out of Nakuru Diocese in 2008.
During his stint as bishop, the clergyman says he set up farm schools among Christians to avoid dependency syndrome.
“My vision is to see a congregation where the local church is the centre of excellence and is self-reliant,” he says.
To achieve his vision, he organised Christians into groups and set up model farms where they can learn from each other.
From the harvests, the farmers give the surplus to church. This way, the church eliminates dependency on donors.