Private school transforms into farm to beat corona crisis

Roka School proprietor Mwalimu James Kung’u inspects his chicken in a classroom that he has turned into a poultry house. [Joseph Muchiri, Standard]

James Kung’u enters a classroom to be met by a cackle of mature chicken, which scurries away from their feeding troughs as he approaches to pick one.

If that was before the coronavirus pandemic, the classroom at Roka School in Mwea, Kirinyaga County, would have been full of pupils with teachers going about their work.

However, when the pandemic hit the country and President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered that all learning institutions be closed, Mr Kung’u who is the school proprietor resolved to transform it into a farm as he did not anticipate schools to reopen until the next year.

“Poultry farming is involving but also very interesting. It was fulfilling to enter a classroom and teach children. It is equally satisfying to find the classroom occupied by healthy chicken,” Kung’u says.

Whereas many schools across the country are now in an unsightly state due to disuse, Roka School has an abundance of agricultural produce.

Apart from the classrooms hosting 900 rainbow chicken of various ages, the school field has now been transformed into a farm with blossoming spinach and sukuma wiki.

Other crops the school is producing are lettuce, tomatoes, onions, capsicum, maize and carrots.

Kung’u has engaged the school’s teachers and other staff who are working in the farm and marketing the produce instead of sending them out of job.

Kung’u used to be a teacher in a public school and started Roka upon his retirement in 1998.

The school has been performing well and had a population of 530 pupils, whose diet was enriched by produce from the school’s garden. Basing on the lessons from the school garden, Kung’u scaled up production and the outcome has been inspiring.

When we toured the farm yesterday, Kung’u and the staff were harvesting vegetables for sale.

“The demand for vegetables is high and we cannot even meet it. Spinach has higher demand than sukuma wiki. We sell a kilogramme of spinach at Sh30 and that of sukuma at Sh20,” he says.

The farmer adds that they plant the crops in stages so that they have something they are selling at any one time.

When learning was ongoing, the school’s demand for water was high and consequently, they had a reliable water supply.

That has been an advantage to the school’s new venture, especially considering the dryness of some parts of Mwea. Since the school’s brood is improved kienyenji chicken, Kung’u sells a tray of eggs at Sh600. The many hotels in the area provide a steady market for his produce.

He reveals that business has been good and he has consequently ordered 500 more chicks from a poultry farm in Eldoret.

The former teachers play a key role in the farm’s management. The headteacher, Moses Wandera, is in charge of irrigation while Kelvin Kung’u oversees spraying.