Until she throws open the wooden door to give you a glimpse of the inside of the iron-sheet structure, it passes as just another ordinary dwelling in the crowded SOS slums near Buru Buru, Nairobi.
Sandwiched between two other shanties, the 15-feet-by-25 -feet structure is the home of some 20 well-fed and lively pigs — the source of livelihood for Rosemary Wanjiru and her four children.
Wanjiru, commonly known in her neighbourhood as Wanjiru wa Nguruwe, started pig farming two years ago out of a childhood passion.
She treasured the venture while growing up in Maragua in a family that was famous for rearing rabbits, dairy cows, goats and chicken.
Her father’s death in 1980 plunged the family of six children into abject poverty, a situation that was compounded by Wanjiru’s lack of employment after her secondary education.
Determined to break free and liberate her family from the shackles of poverty, Wanjiru came to Nairobi to look for a job. However, landing employment was not easy as she thought and she ended up being a beggar— surviving on generosity of well-wishers for a long time.
“I finally got a job as a waitress but with my Sh4,000 salary, which was never paid on time, I lived on tips from customers pleased with my services,” she recalls.
“Many thoughts crossed my mind until one day when customers from an agro-processing organisation came to the hotel to discuss agriculture and my interest in farming was aroused”.
She quit the job and started washing clothes for Sh200 to Sh300 a day in Buru Buru, Nairobi. She later joined a local women’s savings group, putting aside Sh100 a week. The amount was increased to Sh700 a week within a few months. She later qualified for a Sh15,000 loan that she used to rent space, construct a pigsty and buy her first pig for Sh2,000.
Wanjiru later increased the pigs to six but even as one gave birth to 10 piglets and another 14, misfortune struck and all of them died.
“I was not ready to give up,” says Wanjiru, recalling how she visited many offices including the Ministry of Agriculture to seek information on how to raise and care for pigs.
“I discovered that my pigs had died of pneumonia, which I prevented in the subsequent stock by rebuilding the pigsty to more hygienic standards,” she recalls. “I learnt that feeding them, regular de-worming and maintaining high hygienic standards makes pigs happy and quiet.”
The farmer adds that when taken care of, pigs are easy to manage because all they need is feeds.
“The pigsty must be clean to avoid fleas and foul smell. They must be on full stomachs round the clock if they are to refrain from grunting and squealing — a nuisance and a source of conflict with neighbours,” she says as she walks up and down the pigsty to show us how clean it is.
Her investment is now valued at Sh500,000. The woman has four pregnant sows that she says can fetch up to Sh40,000 each considering that they could deliver up to 15 piglets, which can fetch up to Sh4,000 each after three to four months of good care. Seven of her animals can go for between Sh18,000 and Sh20,000 each. In her stock also are nine small ones she says can fetch between Sh3,000 and Sh4,000 each.
THE HARD WAY
The lessons that Wanjiru has learned the hard way on pig farming have turned her into a consultant of sorts for neighbours and friends seeking to raise pigs. She has also been recruited by a local women’s group as their adviser on matters investment.
“Saving is very hard but in this group, I have given my own example to people who had nothing and now they have managed to buy cows for their parents and educate children as well as create jobs,” she says.
Wanjiru says pig farming is not easy for the poor besides being unattractive to moneyed, young people because it can be very labour intensive.
In her daily routine, for instance, she wakes up early in the morning and drops plastic containers at hotels that sell waste food to her to feed the animals. She later collects the feeds and pays for it. Transporting the feeds costs her Sh600 a trip and the cost of feeding the 20 pigs comes to about Sh14,000 a month with the costs coming slightly down during wet seasons when she can collect vegetable remains from the nearby markets.
Wanjiru says there is a lot of food for pigs and one just needs to be observant to locate good sources of food remains.
Prof Alexander Kahi of Egerton University, an expert in animal breeding, says hotel left-overs are generally safe to feed livestock as they were consumed by humans. “But, you are not sure what you are feeding the pigs with in terms of nutrient value,” he says.
Such left-overs however, he says, should only be given to culd pigs, that is, those about to be slaughtered but not piglets. Additionally, all farmers should ensure a planned treatment regime of the pigs such as vaccination after every three months for pests and diseases.