She’s a saleswoman, a painter, a marketer and a chicken farmer, all in one. Meet Sylvia Nyamai, or “Sly”, as her friends know her, the Senior Manager in charge of Marketing & Business Development in m-Agriculture at Safaricom: and the woman whose business it is to put more money in Kenyan farmers’ pockets – and more food on our tables.
So what does a Senior Manager, Marketing & Business Development, m-Agriculture, do at Safaricom?
My role entails coming up with strategies on how best to serve our farmers through DigiFarm, an m-Agriculture platform that is all about transforming small scale farmers’ lives. We work to increase their productivity and make farming more profitable by helping them cultivate their crops more precisely, and we connect them with buyers.
Are you by any chance a farmer, or interested in farming?
Yes I am! I’m actually a chicken farmer, something I’ve been doing since 2004. My interest in farming stemmed from spending lots of time at the farm with my family, during the holidays, when I was growing up. For all your chicken orders – already slaughtered and well packaged, contact me. The first ten get special discounts J!
How did you end up working in the m-Agriculture team? Is it something you studied and/or are passionate about?
My background is in marketing and I joined Safaricom in a sales role, as a Corporate Account Manager, in September 2008. Marketing is a very dynamic field; it allows you to move from industry to industry with relative ease as long as you’re ready to get out of your comfort zone – which is when growth happens. For me, it’s included delving into new areas, fields or industries you haven’t ventured into before but are passionate about, and that’s how I ended up working on DigiFarm.
How is marketing an agritech solution different – or similar to – other forms of marketing?
The principals of marketing remain the same whether you are selling airtime, water or an agritech solution. What changes is the how or what we call the go-to-market strategy as the target market differs from one commodity to another and therefore the communication strategy has to be right in order to achieve the set objectives.
Is it difficult to convince farmers to embrace technology? Are young farmers quick to pick it up?
Surprisingly, farmers have been upbeat in embracing this product as it is a solution that speaks to the needs and challenges that farmers have been experiencing for a while now.
What’s the most exciting thing about your role?
Getting to see farmers genuinely smile as their lives are transformed, and hearing their testimonies. Like this one farmer from Nkubu who spoke about being able to take his children to private school, something he never dreamt of doing before he started using DigiFarm. It’s amazing – and humbling – getting to do something every day that makes life better for the men and women who feed us.
The most challenging?
A key challenge we face is unpredictable weather patterns, which mean we are not always able to guarantee farmers of returns simply because they use DigiFarm. Finding a way to navigate around this to ensure farmers can still put food on their tables, and on our tables, is perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing the agriculture sector.
Is it true that young Kenyans are not interested in farming?
Farming among this demographic is generally not considered “cool”, and that is one of the attitudes we’re trying to shift by embracing agritech, and digitalizing agriculture. If we can show how lucrative farming can be, then we can make it more appealing to young Kenyans. I believe technology can help us do this.
So what do you do when you’re not preaching the gospel of farming? How do you decompress outside of work?
You will find me at the gym most mornings. I enjoy music too, and of course painting. You may have seen some of my work in a 2019 Safaricom calendar and notebook.
You participated in This Is My Kenya, Safaricom’s annual calendar campaign, alongside some of Kenya’s most celebrated artists. How was that?
I was humbled that my painting was featured, and that I was able to share my work and maybe even inspire someone through my painting. My art is an expression of my thoughts and feelings, inspired by things around me. So when someone is able to see my point of view, or relate to the piece, it drives me to do even more.
What inspired you to begin painting, and how long have you been doing it?
I began painting a couple of years back. My inspiration? I’d say painting is my safe haven. Even during those times when things may not make sense, I believe that God is working behind the scenes to make all things beautiful in His own time. He created us so He knows better, right? So painting for me is as much a spiritual thing as it is a hobby.
Right. How would you describe your art? What inspires you?
I mainly enjoy doing abstract pieces. Nature and personalities also inspire me a great deal. There is so much to observe in everyday spaces, places and in the actions and faces of everyone around me.
Can you describe the emotions you feel while working on a piece?
‘PEACE’. I am most tranquil when in the process of creating a painting – the slow and steady process of putting brush to canvas, and the vision in your mind coming to life is a calming feeling to me.
Do you have plans to put up your work for sale?
Perhaps when I get someone who convinces me enough and promises to be my manager. (Laughs) Some have been trying but oh well…in God’s own time maybe I will. Let’s just wait and see.
How are you able to marry the two: painting and m-agriculture marketing?
The two seem very different, yet very much complimentary. Whenever I travel around the country visiting farmers I see beautiful landscapes, and this is both refreshing and inspiring to me. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!
If you could host any five people, dead or alive, to dinner, who would they be, and why?
My family and close friends. I learn a lot from them and enjoy the close interactions, and knowing they are close to me, I can easily have them over for dinner. I apply the 80-20 rule to this, so I prefer to spend more time on the fewer things, or people, that really matter.