DIARY OF A POULTRY FARMER: Please beware, big brother is watching as you construct that chicken house

Friday December 15 2017

Workers at Dr Subiri Obwogo's farm building a

Workers at Dr Subiri Obwogo's farm building a chicken house. PHOTO| COURTESY 

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“There are some people at the gate to see you,” Caleb told me the other day. 

“I’m busy now, ask them to come later,” I told him and continued perusing a house design plan on my laptop.
“They insist it’s very urgent,” he interjected. “They are from the county planning unit.”

Well, relax. I’ll get to that juicy story soon. Sometime in February, I shared what you need to add to your checklist before you embark on constructing a chicken pen (February 25).  

I mentioned that before you put up that poultry unit, first confirm the landmarks. Today, I’ll add to that list what you need to do before putting up a farm house.  

As it turned out for me, putting up a farm house isn’t as simple as I’d imagined. You require an approved plan and it helps to hire the right professionals and to invest in detailed set of plans. I’ll share what is required, but first, some background.  

If you recall, I’d never bothered to confirm the landmarks of my farm on the ground when I constructed the poultry unit. Instead, I relied on the beacons I found which I later learnt had been erected without following the plan that had been laid out initially. 

Luckily for me, through mediation of two village elders who head the Nyumba Kumi initiative, Mzee Matundura and Baba Muli, I resolved the matter amicably without resorting to legal action or involving a land surveyor who would’ve charged me Sh35,000.  

So two weeks ago, I decided it was time to put up a farm house, office and a perimeter wall. I asked around for a good mason. I got one who struck me as experienced. He even showed me some houses he’d built. After crosschecking his credentials, I offered him the job.  

In my mind, I was looking to build a simple, affordable and custom-made family-friendly farm house.  

My idea was to suspend a rectangular shell on four pillars to allow for cars to park below. The farm house would have a balcony where I could sit and relax as I watched the guinea fowls and turkeys scouring through the lavish lawns below.  As such, it didn’t occur to me at the time that I needed to comply with the rigorous housing code approval process for Nairobi City County.  

Luckily, by the time the inspectors knocked on my gate, I’d already engaged the services of an architect and structural engineer to draw up the plans.   

As I ushered three inspectors into my makeshift office, I crossed my fingers in the hope that they wouldn’t arrest me or ask that I demolish the pillars that I’d already put up. 

“We’d like to see the architectural and structure plans,” one of the inspectors offered.  
When I mentioned that these had been submitted for approval, they insisted to see the copies and payment receipts. Unfortunately, I didn’t have them. They then asked me to suspend the work until the copies were available on-site.  

I learnt that the housing code compliance for Nairobi is extremely rigorous. It begins with a thorough review of the plans during permit application followed by periodic on-site inspections of the key construction milestones.  

Before my designs were even considered, I was asked to present the land rate payment receipts to prove that they were up-to-date.  
One big lesson is that you can avoid a lot of problems if you hire the right professionals and have them collaborate with the mason at every step. 

Another thing is that external inspections are not designed to undertake comprehensive review of every construction detail and they can overlook minor details. As such, it helps to invest in a detailed set of plans and stick to specifications in the architectural and structural plans.  

During one of the site visits, Brian, the structural engineer, advised me to re-do all the beams because the quality of the concrete used wasn’t up to the standard.

“You need to use 20mm ballast mixed in cement and sand.” 
In my case, I already have design plans and once they are approved, work will resume.