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Cashing in on falling fish stocks

Saturday March 29 2014

Janet Otieno at her chicken farm in Homa Bay. Initially, she was a fish monger but she switched to poultry farming after fortunes dwindled in the former. PHOTO | JACOB OWITI

Janet Otieno at her chicken farm in Homa Bay. Initially, she was a fish monger but she switched to poultry farming after fortunes dwindled in the former. PHOTO | JACOB OWITI NATION MEDIA GROUP

By MOSES ODHIAMBO
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Opportunity knocks on every door but what matters is how one utilises the chance.

For Janet Otieno, the dwindling fish populations in Lake Victoria offered her an opportunity to keep chicken. She did not think twice.

Otieno, 42, has raised the bar in her village in Rachuonyo, Homa Bay County, where fishing is the economic mainstay. And she is making handsome amounts from her new endeavour as fish stocks dwindle in Lake Victoria because of hyacinth colonisation.

She started her poultry project in January last year after water hyacinth occupied the Winam Gulf, hindering fishing.

Things did not also go well for Otieno in her sorghum farm as a dry spell destroyed crops. Lady Luck, however, smiled on her. Her chama was trained by an NGO on how to diversify to other economic activities.

“I started with 200 chicks and topped up about the same number after borrowing a loan from our chama. About 22 chicks died but the rest have survived to date and over 80 per cent of them are laying eggs,” she says.

The farmer collect over 80 trays a week. A tray of 30 eggs sells for Sh320.

“The eggs are in high demand as people move away from fish, which has become expensive.

“ I sell to retailers in Homa Bay, Mbita and Remba Island. I make bout Sh50,000 a month. After deducting my expenses, I end up with about Sh30,000,” she says.

The farmer does not rely mainly on layers mash; she feeds her birds on maize chaff that she collects from posho mills. She further supplements the feeds with sukuma wiki which she buys from farmers in Homa Bay.

“The supplements help me keep my expenses low. The 378 birds feed on a 50kg bag of layers mash every day. But with the supplements, I only use about three bags of layers mash, which cost me Sh6,000 a week,” says Otieno, who says that the hyacinth menace opened her eyes.
The farmer has been able to cater for all her family needs from the poultry business.

“One of my sons is studying at Moi University. I pay Sh30,000 to top up the loan he gets from the government.

Another is at Mawego Technical Institute and his fees is Sh57,000. The last-born got a B plain in last year’s KCSE exam. I will take him to college using money I get from this business,” she says.

All, however, has not been rosy for the mother of three. “At the beginning, a number of chicks died. I was assisted by a veterinary extension officer to reach where I am,” she explains.

Kenya Agricultural Research Institute senior researcher Ann Wachira says besides exotic chicks, farmers like Otieno can also rear free-range indigenous chicken and make good money.

“We encourage farmers to explore additional opportunities presented by birds that can do well under free-range and organic farming management systems. Poultry definitely pays more than fish which is becoming rare and expensive,” says Dr Wachira.