In the restaurant along Kenyatta Avenue in Nairobi, the two young men sat at a corner fidgeting on their phones, seemingly oblivious of what was happening in the surrounding.
It is common these days to see young people glued to their phones, and, thus, one would have dismissed the two as the typical youths whose lives revolve around smart phones.
But Laban Muhia, 24 and Godfrey Ngura, 29, are veterinary technicians who serve their clients mainly on social media.
Before our meeting, they had come from a farm in Kiserian where they had vaccinated some chicks belonging to a farmer they met on a Facebook page called ‘Poultry Farming’.
“We attend to tens of queries from farmers across the country everyday on Facebook,” said Ngura as he showed me a query from a farmer.
It went; “Hi, is it okay to mix drugs? I have Vita Poultry, Biotrim, Amprolivim and Vets, please your input.”
He replied, “Never mix drugs or vaccines. Identify the disease your birds are suffering from and administer the necessary drug.”
Sometimes farmers post on the page pictures of their ailing birds or carcasses of dead ones and enquire what could have caused the diseases or deaths.
“We mostly advise them to let us visit their farms and perform post-mortem on the dead birds or observe the sick. Sometimes it is not possible to identify the disease by looking at the photos,” said Muhia.
“We have visited several farms in Thika, Murang’a, Nairobi and Kajiado, among other areas.”
They started attending to farmers’ queries on Facebook last year after working at an agrovet for several years.
TRAINED VETERINARY TECHNICIANS
Both of them are trained veterinary technicians. Muhia studied animal health and production at Mt Kenya University at certificate level while Ngura studied the same course at Animal Health and Industry Training Institute-Ndomba, Kerugoya in 2008.
Ngura worked at the agrovet for four years while Muhia for close to two years.
“Our job entailed serving farmers who came to the shop. We would sell to them drugs and other farm inputs,” said Ngura.
While working at the shop, they noticed there were several farmers in need of veterinary services. Some, they said, needed more attention than they could offer at the agrovet.
One evening while having coffee at a café in Thika town, they thought of running a Facebook page to attend to farmers.
“Our idea was to respond to their queries at our free time at no charges,” explained Ngura.
Upon searching online, they found the Poultry Farming group, which they joined because it was already popular. That was easier than starting their own.
Today they are also members of Chicken Farming, another Facebook page.
“When we started to attend to farmers, we realised they needed more attention that the Facebook encounter. They were inviting us to their farms.”
The two left employment when they were overwhelmed by farmers’ requests to visit their farms. They now spend most of their time on Facebook attending to farmers and visiting farms.
“We mainly use Facebook to meet clients. We look at farmers’ queries on social media, and answer those we can. However, we normally advise them we visit their farms, particularly for those whose birds are sick or have died.”
The duo performs post-mortem on carcasses to determine the cause of death.
At the agrovet, they earned Sh15,000 each a month. They now make more than double the amount depending on the number of farms they visit.
For a farm visit, the vets charge consultation fee of Sh2,000, plus the cost of transport to the farm. They visit the farms together as this allows them to share opinions before making decisions.
“We, thereafter, charge the farmers depending on the services we offer, which include post-mortem, cleaning poultry houses, debeaking and administering drugs, among others,” says Muhia
While they mostly specialise on chickens, they also treat other livestock like cows and goats and control pests and rodents.
Francis Kamau, the principal of Baraka Agricultural College, Molo, says unlike in the past, young veterinary officers have many avenues to reach farmers and earn a living.
“Technology offers the best connection between farmers and agricultural officers. Social media is one of them but there are others like SMS services and websites.”
He advises young people in the agriculture field to be entrepreneurs who sell their services independently for more earnings rather than rely on employment.