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Stories of hope despite the gloom

When all is dark and gloom, good things happen in this country but they go unreported. 29- year old mechanic John Mwangi used to struggle to make ends meet, until he discovered iCow, an agricultural information service available as a subscription service through *285# to help farmers enhance productivity.

Mwangi’s story as narrated by Su Kahumbu starts from his humble home in Kilifi.

He started using iCow in March and registered for the broiler chicken product, Mashauri Broiler. On this product he is drip fed information on Broiler best practices through three SMSs a week, a total of 12 a month.

So far between March and November he has received 97 SMSs at a cost of Sh3 each, totalling Sh291 or $3.30.

When he joined iCow he had 50 birds 25 of which died and 25 he sold but they were not healthy so he only got Sh200-Sh250 per bird. His challenges were due to disease.

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After joining iCow, he bought 100 broilers and started following the information he received which resulted in giving his birds Gumboro and Newcastle vaccinations and improved hygiene.

His production from then on started to take off and he soon settled into a production pattern of 150 birds every two weeks thus 300 a month.

Mwangi says, for his first batch he had to go out looking for a market including hotels in his area and the local market place and that now due to his good quality birds, the markets come to him, he no longer has to look for customers.

Mwangi has a turnover of about Sh50, 000 per batch of 150 birds with a profit of between Sh10,000 - Sh15,000 (averaged at Sh12, 500) and has done 10 batches of birds since he started. He sells his birds for between Sh330-Sh350 each.

For the period Mwangi has been using iCow, his cash flow has greatly improved and his income now stands at more than Sh500,000 and made a profit in excess of Sh125, 000.

Besides comfortably paying school fees for his child, he plans to venture into another lucrative venture in goat production. He has connected his farm with water and is in the process of installing a water system to help him improve his productivity.

Mwangi is not shy to share his success with other prospective farmers.

Even with low tourism in the country, the demand for poultry and poultry products is high. Increasingly, young Kenyans are exploiting technology to tap abundant opportunities that lie in agriculture.

After many years of shunning agriculture many are rediscovering hope in it.

Thirty- year- old, Computer Programmer Aaron Mukabi Okech joined his mother, Winnie Wanjiru, in farming in Vihiga in November 2013 after finding it difficult to find a suitable job in the Nairobi.

Ms. Wanjiru gave Aaron Sh20, 000 starting capital for his poultry business with which he purchased and reared 50 Kienyeji birds. From the sale of the same he earned Sh30, 000 and used this to secure a Sh100, 000 loan from Equity Bank.

Okech proceeded to venture into a bigger poultry production by investing in 200 broilers which he purchased from Kenchic where for every 100 a day old chicks purchased a famer is given an extra 2 chicks, thus he started with 204.

A garage was converted into the chicken housing and Aaron was on his way. From his first batch, he lost a total of 10 birds thus his production had 4.9 per cent mortality.

After taking advice from his mother to join iCow and register for Mashauri Broiler, Okech began to see better results and lower mortality rates with successive batches of birds.

Today after producing 306 birds per batch with a mortality rate of just 0.7 per cent (two die per batch of 306) Aaron has successfully reared and sold eight batches of birds roughly equivalent to just under 2,500.

There are still challenges that he faces which include high price of feeds as well as lack of market in his area, although he manages to sell his birds for Sh380–Sh 450 to hotels restaurants and individuals realising an average profit of about Sh 30,000 per batch of 306 birds.

The ubiquity of the mobile phone is bringing hope to where there was none. These two cases are rural based with urban synergies. There is evidence that technology is indeed changing the agricultural sector’s productivity.

Several other apps in the agricultural sector like MPharm would not just bring change but revolutionize the sector and creating employment opportunities.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Dr Ndemo is a senior lecturer, University of Nairobi, and a former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication.

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