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Costly eggs threaten war on malnutrition in poor households


An industrial poultry farm. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Four years ago, many Kenyan entrepreneurs would afford to keep poultry and earn from the business. But not anymore. A poultry farmer would spend about Sh580 to raise a day-old chic until it is mature enough to lay eggs or sold for meat.

But now they would need at least Sh850 to bring it up.

The exorbitant prices of animal feeds have seen a high number of farmers sell off their stock, with no immediate plans of replenishing it. The closure of poultry enterprises has sparked a shortage of eggs and meat.

For the first time in years, the price of eggs has shot up by 25 percent, threatening the fight against hunger and malnutrition in poor households.

Eggs have been a popular food and source of high-quality protein in many homes because they could be produced and bought at affordable prices. Low-priced eggs have benefited both the nutritional status of poor consumers, reduced child malnutrition and the livelihoods of small-scale poultry producers.

A research done by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in 2016 shows that eggs, meat and milk were widely consumed by poor Kenyans, with these animal-source foods making up nearly 40 percent of their food budget.

“Half of this (the food budget) is spent on dairy products,” the research noted.

But with an increase in the cost of buying eggs and rearing chicken, not many poor households can afford to buy an egg for Sh15 or Sh465 for a tray as the market responds to the supply woes and increased demand by households and restaurants.

Poultry farmers say consumers should tighten their belts because it is about to get worse as more and more entrepreneurs find it hard to sustain their businesses.

Wairimu Kariuki, chairperson of Kenya Poultry Farmers Association says very few farmers have been left with chicken as a majority of them closed their businesses.

“When feeds became a problem, farmers could no longer sustain their businesses, creating a shortage in supply at the market,” says Ms Kariuki.

She adds that feeds are the backbone of any successful enterprise in poultry farming and a lack of it or extremely high prices renders the business useless.

Kenchic, one of the region’s largest poultry firms, says their production has also gone down by 30 percent on the back of the current woes facing the sector.

Many supermarkets and restaurants rely on large-scale producers like Kenchic to supply them with eggs and chicken, and a drop in production means that soon supermarket refrigerators and hoteliers will have no chicken to sell or will further increase the prices.

“The outlook for this year is not any better and we expect the situation to remain the same for the whole of 2022,” says Apollo Gichane, Kenchic regional sales manager.

Dr Gichane says production cost in the industry remains high at the moment and that farmers are struggling to keep the birds.

He says Kenchic has had to start training farmers to help them to learn efficient ways of taming the high cost of production. The farmers are taught how to make their own feeds using maize, sunflower and soy cake.

“At least 70 percent of the total cost of production in poultry farming comes from feeds. We are training farmers to be efficient in their poultry enterprise,” he says.

However, as farmers make their own feeds, there is also the challenge of buying maize and sunflower cake whose prices have increased. The farmers are competing with cooking oil makers to buy the few sunflower seeds grown locally.

Much of these supply woes are attributed to the Russia-Ukraine war. Ukraine is the highest producer by volume of sunflower seeds.

Kenya relies on the supply of these ingredients from Zambia, a key source market, which last year banned the export of soya and sunflower meals to protect its local market.

The cost of soya has doubled to Sh130 from Sh65 a kilogramme in August last year, while sunflower meal went up from Sh25 to Sh35.

The price of a 70-kilogramme bag of dairy meal has gone up from Sh3,400 in December last year to Sh3,500 currently, chick marsh is retailing at Sh4,300 from Sh4,200 while layers is now selling at Sh3,900 from Sh3,800.

Some farmers have also turned to black soldier flies, which are made by converting organic waste, picked from food markets, into fast-growing, protein-rich larvae of black soldier flies, which are eaten by the chicken.

The larvae contain 35 to 45 percent of protein, which is crucial in the growth of the birds. But the chicken still needs a high intake of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, which mainly come from maize, make up the biggest component of a poultry diet.

Current standoff

The recent jump marks the highest price to have ever been recorded in the country with millers warning that the cost will continue to go up if the current standoff on the importation of yellow maize is not resolved.

Animal feed manufacturers have been allowed to import yellow maize with some minimal levels of genetically modified organism (GMO) after the Ministry of Agriculture reviewed an earlier directive that made it hard for processors to import.

In the review to be gazetted soon, the government has agreed to lower the requirement on imports of duty-free yellow maize to 99.1 percent, implying that contamination levels of up to 0.9 percent will be permitted.

The directive that had been issued on importation of this maize last November required processors to ship in maize without any traces of GMO, a move that saw millers fail to ship in even a single bag of the produce.

Livestock PS Harry Kimtai says the move will help in lowering the cost of production as well as the cost of animal products in the market.

“We have had to review to give a reprieve to farmers who have witnessed the high cost of production in the country,” he says.

Mr Kimtai also said feed manufacturers have been allowed to import GMO cotton seed cake from any part of the world to boost the production of feeds in Kenya.

Cotton seed cake, together with other ingredients like sunflower cake, which are key protein supplements have been in a short supply not only locally but also in the regional market where Kenya sources most of its stocks.

Millers had written to the government in February wanting it to review the requirement to allow traders to ship in the produce.

Treasury secretary Ukur Yatani removed import duty on eggs for hatching to boost the supply of chicken products.

The Treasury recommended a waiver of the 25 percent excise duty on imported eggs, which had cut the production of day-old chicks. However, even with an increase in production of chicks, feeding them remains a headache.

Traders are already feeling the pinch citing the sharp increase in price on the shortage locally as farmers cut on their stocks, traders are staring at the closure of businesses.

Their alternative source market — Uganda — supplies few volumes amid tight surveillance at the Kenya-Uganda border to stop the smuggling of the eggs.

“We are not getting enough supplies from farmers as we used before and the shortage that we are experiencing now is what has pushed up the price,” said James Ng’ang’a, a trader in Nairobi, in a past interview.

The price of layers marsh has been on an upward trend since last year with a 50-kilogramme bag of Unga Limited retailing at Sh3,100 a bag from Sh2,500 last year in March, pushing up the cost of production at farm level.

Kiambu Farmers’ Cooperative Society coordinator Zachary Munyambu said out of the group’s 750 members, only 430 are still in business with the rest having shut down.

“Poultry farming has now become unsustainable, farmers have closed their businesses, cutting on supplies of eggs in the market,” said Mr Munyambu.

He said most of the members are operating below their capacity due to the current challenges in animal feeds.

Mr Munyambu said all has not been well for the farmers who had been enjoying affordable feed prices in the last four years because the cost of raw materials for making animal feeds has become scarce and expensive.

“About 280 members have closed their poultry farms and most affected are women, youth and retirees,” he said.

Slowly dying

“Farmers with more than 1,000 birds can hardly manage to run their business. Currently, most of them are leaving the business,” he said.

He said the poultry industry is slowly dying should action not be taken, Kenya may be forced to start importing not only feeds but also animal by-products such as eggs and meat.

Mr Munyambu, who has been practising poultry for the last 18 years has cut down the number of his birds from 3,000 previously to about 1,000 due to the high cost of production, and so is Chris Mwangi who is now keeping 200 birds from 3,000 previously.

“The duration of keeping the birds lengthened because of a reduction in the amount of feeds that I used to feed them. This means that they had to take longer to mature, hence subjecting us to losses,” said Mr Mwangi.

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