Poultry farming used to be an enviable venture that churned out millionaires. Anyone with determination, passion and some capital was almost guaranteed to get good returns.
That was then. Now, apathy exists among many Kenyan farmers, largely due to the overall increase of taxes over the last decade and higher costs of production that have seen returns continue to diminish with every passing year.
Many farmers no longer find it an attractive venture, and for those still practicing, they have had to be innovative to bring down their cost of production that is among the biggest hurdles hampering growth.
The cost of feed, for instance, has been staggeringly high compared to neighbouring countries, forcing Kenyan businesses to import eggs from Uganda where they are cheaper despite transport costs.
Jim Tozer, the managing director at Kenchic tells Enterprise that Uganda and Tanzania have policies that ensure the cost of rearing chicken is low, thus boosting the affordability of poultry products.
“While most of our competitors in the East African region are afforded favourable tax regimes that spare feed ingredient and other inputs, Kenyan farmers do not enjoy similar advantages and this has continuously led to high costs of production that make poultry farming unsustainable,” he notes.
“Given the fact that maize is a staple food for many people in Kenya, we are forced to compete with human food processors for this scarce resource to manufacture chicken feed,” Mr Tozer adds.
Pushed by the escalating prices, Ms Jane Mutua, who rears a flock of 2,000 birds in Ruai has had to become economical with her chicken feed.
“I have to be economical. I have to ration the food given to the birds but the consequence is that it affects the output. Another challenge is that there is adulterated poultry food flooding the market,” she says.
Feed adulteration downgrades the necessary nutrients the birds need in order to grow well, thus making them unhealthy and reducing their immunity to diseases.
As a result, many farmers have resorted to buying chicken feed mills to prepare proper feed themselves.
And even when they make their feed, they still have to contend with an uneven poultry industry, with some informal producers flouting food safety regulations.
This means rural small-holder farmers in particular need support from the larger industry, especially the tools to enable them to implement food safety measures, including a solid distribution network that accounts for the many challenges they face.
However, the private sector also needs to promote self-regulation and standardisation of food safety regulations across the entire value chain.
The sustainability of poultry farming, according to Mr Tozer, is dependent on animal welfare and food safety measures and practices, and the combined efforts of all stakeholders in the production chain.
One of the innovations that swept throughout the country was the breeding of the Kenbro chicken, selectively designed as an alternative bird with increased production.
Kenbro, a free-range bird is resistant to diseases and can be used for sustainable or commercial farming for meat or eggs. The lucrative benefits of Kenbro chicks have seen farmers breed the variety and sell it to others and chicken butcheries.
And while innovation has been at the heart of many poultry stakeholders, diseases have been thwarting their efforts to contribute to the country’s food security goals.
Kenchic has created a reaction-free vaccine technology that provides comprehensive, life-long protection against Bursal disease or Gumboro, Newcastle disease and Marek’s disease in a single, 3-in-1 easy to administer the dose at the hatchery.
Farm-to-fork business model
“Our decision to adopt this new vaccine was made with farmers in mind as market research showed it guarantees healthier, more productive birds due to enhanced flock health and performance uniformity,” Mr Tozer notes.
If vaccination of chicks is not done properly, the results could be financially crippling for a farmer, through the resulting diseases that dim return on investment.
Kenchic has partnered with Heifer International and county governments and has supplied hatchery-vaccinated chicks to Kisumu, Siaya and Homabay counties for distribution to farmers, allowing them access to pre-vaccinated birds.
Mr Tozer says the company’s farm-to-fork business model ensures that all chicken, their products, farms, hatcheries and facilities adhere to the strictest biosecurity and animal welfare protocols.