Kanyangi village, on the slopes of Chyullu Hills National Park in Makueni County, was initially known for frequent human-wildlife conflicts.
But a lot of good things are now happening in the village as residents take up poultry farming.
Jacinta Muli, a mother of three, is one of those keeping chicken in the village and selling them to an outlet in Nairobi.
Jacinta took the conventional route, starting small and learning along the way as she stumbled, but she has now beaten the odds to become a champion chicken farmer.
She started with 80 chickens of the Kienyeji breed, but a wave of Newcastle disease struck her village in May last year wiping out all her stock in two days.
But she did not give up, bouncing back in July after meeting Regina Nzioki, a chicken farmer and a member of Ten Poultry Producers, who keeps fast-maturing and hardy Rainbow Rooster breed.
“I started afresh with 250 one-day-old chicks that I bought from Regina at Sh100 each and have kept growing the stock,” she says.
Jecinta is now a proud owner of over 2,000 mature birds, collecting 180 eggs daily that she sells at Sh15 each, with the products and chickens she sells earning her up to Sh100,000 a month.
The farmer sells her chickens mainly to EastMeat Supplies, a Nairobi-based company, which buys and supplies indigenous chicken products to supermarkets.
“We buy Kienyeji and Improved Kienyeji chickens from farmers in Kajiado, Kitui, Machakos and Makueni counties for sell to our clients who include Carrefour and Naivas supermarkets,” Meshack Mwau, the proprietor of EastMeat says.
The company slaughters the birds on the farm buying a kilo at between Sh470 and Sh500.
“We offer Sh500 per kilo to farmers who produce more than 50kg of chicken meat at any one time,” notes Mwau, a trained accountant, adding that the price variance is designed to motivate farmers to produce more.
But their biggest suppliers of chicken meat are not individual farmers like Jacinta but the Ten Poultry Producers, the women group based in Kitise, Makueni County.
EastMeat expects the women group to supply 1,000kg of chicken meat every week, a target they have not been able to hit.
IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING RECORDS
“We are currently supplying slightly over 400kg of chicken meat per week but we are confident we shall hit the 1,000kg target this year since we are raising our stock and recruiting more members,” says Ann King’oo, the chairperson of the group, consisting of 10 neighbours.
Initially, each one of the farmers used to raise chicken on their own in a small way as a pastime.
“We were persuaded by Lutheran World Federation, which works in the area, to come together as neighbours so that we can benefit collectively from markets and training opportunities,” she says.
The farmers registered the group in 2015 and were selling chicken collectively to restaurants in Wote town before landing the big market with Eastmeat.
“Each of us keeps at least 500 birds of the Rainbow rooster breed at a time but sometimes the numbers increases to over 1,000.”
Ann says they mix commercial feeds with home-made such as maize and sorghum and legumes such as cowpeas and vegetables, with the birds kept the semi-intensive system.
“We buy commercial feeds in bulk enabling us to get good bargains. We also buy chicks in bulk from Eldoret,” she says.
Through the group, the farmers have benefitted from trainings sponsored by various charities to enable members be smart chicken producers.
“We have learnt the importance of keeping records and vaccination, how to manufacture our own feeds and manage diseases like Newcastle. We keep records of the dates the hens lay eggs, the dates of hatching, the number of chicks hatched, how much food and other consumables that go on the birds.”
Jennifer Mutunga, a member of the group, says if it were not for the group, she would not be a commercial farmer.
The biggest suppliers to EastMeat so far are farmers from Makueni, says Mwau, adding that the company paid Sh1.82 million for 3,883kg of chicken meat it bought in January and February from some 243 chicken farmers in Makueni, most of them members of groups.
Raymond Brandes, the country director of SNV, a Netherlands agricultural organisation, says they have worked with various groups of chicken farmers in the region, training them on book-keeping and chicken feed formulation.
Whereas chicken rearing is a common economic activity across the region with most homesteads owning at least a dozen each, interventions of the county government and other development agencies have helped lift chicken rearing from subsistence to commercial.
For instance, Makueni County government dished out 20,393 indigenous chickens to residents between 2014 and 2016, according to Dr Martin Mboloi, the chief officer in the Department Of Livestock and Fisheries, in a programme.
Each household received five hens and a cock for free, according to Dr Mboloi.
The county government has further been conducting subsidised mass vaccination, which has helped to protect some 1.2 million birds from the deadly Newcastle disease.
Besides selling mature chicken for meat, there are multiple opportunities in chicken farming which include breeding chicks to sell to other farmers and selling their eggs but farmers can benefit most if they work in groups.
Paul Seward, the director at Farm Input Promotion Africa Limited, says poultry farming is lucrative, and one doesn’t need to necessarily keep chicken, they can specialise in offering auxiliary services such as vaccination and selling chicks.
Driving through Siaya County, one sees several newly constructed houses, an evidence of development.
There are also mango trees in almost each compound while in the markets and bus termini, women hawk the fruits in bowls.
At Ramba village, things appear the same, but there is more, as entrepreneur Alome Achayo, together with a women’s group, runs Ramba Fruit Processing Plant.
Achayo runs the plant in a three-bedroom bungalow and specialises in processing of fruit juice branded Enca.
The project was started years ago by the members of Ramba Fruits Producers and Marketing Cooperative Society after the World Bank supported the construction of the factory to support the local fruits producers as well as enhance rural development.
However, the cooperative’s members lacked expertise on how to process juice, and leased it to Achayo’s E&A Ltd to run the plant, while she offers market for their fruits.
“Brokers used to buy 110kg bag of mangoes for as low as Sh200,” says Newton Obande, the cooperative’s secretary. However, he adds, they now sell a kilo of mangoes at between Sh15-Sh20 to the firm.
The cooperative society has 350 members, all who are small-scale fruits farmers spread all over Siaya County.
The process of making mango juice starts with delivery of mangoes to the factory, either by the farmers, or by Achayo’s E&A Ltd, which also collects directly from farms. The fruits are weighed so that the firm knows how much a farmer will be paid.
PROLONGS THEIR PRODUCES' SHELF-LIFE
They are then kept in a ripening chamber, which is an open room with wooden pallets on which crates filled with mangoes are arranged depending on their stage of ripening.
When well-ripened, the mangoes are taken to the pulping room, where the tips are cut off.
The fruits are then put into the pulping machine. The pulp is separated from the seeds and peels, which go into a sanitised buckets. It is then stored in a cold room for further processing.
Achayo says the factory buys fruits not only in Siaya, but also from other parts of the country including Mombasa, Uasin Gishu and Migori.
“To ease the work, those in far places like Mombasa pack their fruits in cartons and send them as parcels using public service vehicles,” he says.
The farmers are then paid via mobile phone money transfer services.
“The factory has saved the farmers the hustle of looking for market for their produce and the post-harvest losses as the fruits are highly perishable,” says Achayo, who supplies juice to local supermarkets and hotels.
Among the requirements to run a processing plant are clearance by Kenya Bureau of Standards, certification by the government department of health, clearance by the government chemist and having a valid business licence.
Lillian Jeptanui, a horticultural specialist at Egerton University, says market is key for fruit farmers especially during peak season.
“Lack of market means farmers make losses. Value addition ensures they get market and prolongs the life of the produce.”
Benefits, challenges of being in groups and how farmers can ensure the outfits last long
As a smallholder farmer, going about your regular farm activities like purchasing inputs, planting and marketing all by yourself might present a lot of freedom but over time it turns out laborious and less profitable.
Dynamics that include failure to get reliable market is among challenges that lone-ranging smallholder farmers face.
However, when tens of farmers came together in cooperative societies or farmers groups, they are able to address many of these problems that include how to find a good market, credit, certified seeds or materials for making feeds.
Erick Ogumo, the chairman of Society of Crop Agribusiness Advisers of Kenya (SOCAA), underscores the importance of farmer groups, noting the most immediate benefit is access to information.
In essence, small-scale farmers benefit from such networks which offer marketing advantages, knowledge and experience sharing and bargaining power in the purchase of inputs.
Ogumo says the groups have enabled farmers to have quick access to information about markets while at the same time they are able to aggregate their produce and bargain for better prices from buyers.
He notes that the proposed Food Crops Act embraces and encourages formation of farmers groups. But the history of cooperative societies such as in the coffee and tea sectors points to the fact that these groups are never a smooth sail.
To survive as chama, members should have training on issues of leadership, governance (which is quite critical), recordkeeping and group dynamism. Appointed leaders should also be committed to the focus and vision of the group. The top leader should be one who shares members’ values. Transparency and accountability remain key.
More importantly, leaders need training on the issue of conflict management as complaints will always arise in a group and how leaders handle them is what matters.
According to Ogumo, the group’s the management structure should be clearly outlined in line with the cooperatives act; in terms of board membership, budgeting, planning and members’ code of ethics.