Covid-19 financially strained majority of the households, forcing many families to think outside the box with poultry farming being one of the key business options. Kenya's poultry farming is mostly small-scale or a supplementary investment and only a few who have learned the game go large scale.
And without the technical know-how to achieve the desired results, many poultry farmers have ended up losing big to diseases coupled with a lack of record keeping, and sly middlemen, among others.
Extension services have, however, boosted farm productivity. Today, most people live in urban and suburban areas and pursue careers outside of agriculture even as extension services continue to play a key role in poultry farming.
With its unprecedented reach, agricultural extension agents help farmers improve their operations and bottom line, assist families with nutrition, work with community leaders in economic development efforts, and guide young people to be the nation's future leaders.
This is the dream of Heifer International Kenya through the Hatching Hope Kenya Project that is being undertaken in the western Kenya counties of Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, and Homa Bay.
It has also extended to Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia and Busia counties. In these areas, farmer-owned agri-businesses have taken root and a formal poultry market is gradually taking shape.
Through this project, the uptake of poultry farming and consumption of poultry products has increased in these areas.
Trizah Atieno from Kendu Bay in Homa Bay County is one of the beneficiaries of the project. She started rearing poultry in 2012 and has worked with various organisations before joining Hatching Hope two years ago as one of the 40,000 farmers targeted in Kenya.
Atieno, who is a member of the Great Wang'chieng Cooperative Society, says she has learned how to manage poultry diseases and access the market.
"The problems were enormous, with even brokers taking advantage of our lack of knowledge, but this project has provided sustainable linkages to markets. I know how to manage my farm, my business and income improved, and I learned about family nutrition through social behavioural change and communication trainings," said Atieno.
There was also the challenge of capital but Atieno is now able to grow her business after she was linked up with Faulu Microfinance Bank and Cooperative Bank.
Through the project Community Agro-vet Entrepreneurs (CAVES), Ms Atieno is able to get services such as vaccinations, training and linkage to the local agrovet supply chain.
"Initially we paid for veterinary services out of our own pockets, including their transport, with the help of CAVEs that is now a thing of the past," said Atieno.
Atieno now has a market to sell her chicken once they mature owing to sustainable market linkages developed by the project. She sells a kilogram for Sh350 but anticipates better sales in the coming months. "Right now, I have about 250 chickens which I am looking to sell. During the elections, one chicken would go up to even Sh1,000," said Atieno. One of the main challenges farmers are facing right now is the high cost of feed even as others learn to produce their own.
According to Nicholas Agom, a farmer in Alego Usonga, Siaya County, feeds are costly - eating into the profit margin of farmers. Agom manages the youth docket in Upendo Cooperative Society. He is also a beneficiary of the Hatching Hope Kenya Project and started his enterprise in 2017.
He says access to capital has been made easier through their cooperative since they have been able to get small loans through merry-go-rounds.
Through the CAVEs and community facilitators, they have received training on farm management, hygiene, disease management, and how to vaccinate the flock, among other skills.
Agom learned about improved Kienyeji chicken and has raised up to 200 of them. However, he says when Covid-19 hit, production declined due to lack of access to various services. This also led to a decline in working capital.
"Poultry is sustainable with funds, I have done it and seen the benefits. I am working hard to make cash," said Agom.
With more than 2,000 members, Great Wang'chieng is one of the largest poultry farmer-owned agribusinesses, serving farmers in Homa Bay and Kisumu counties. In 2019, it signed a pact with Heifer International to be part of the Hatching Hope Kenya Project.
The entity works closely with various poultry value chain actors who majorly give skills in house structures, brooding, biosecurity, and poultry management, among other things. Additionally, they enhance production, initiate markets and advocate for the consumption of poultry.
Michael Okatch, Chairman, Upendo Cooperative Society in Siaya, says the project has come in handy with regard to animal health assistance, and market linkages to feeds.
He says farmers have been connected to feed millers such as Wonder Feeds and are able to get good quality feeds at discounted prices. He noted that the lack of consistency in feed prices is hurting the enterprise even as many remain unable to produce their own feeds due to the cost of raw materials.
"Every month, there are new prices of feeds from the local agro-dealers. If we can get a constant supply of feeds and with our members, we can be the leading cooperative in Siaya County," said Okatch.
The success of this project is also attributed to extension officers who furnish the poultry farmers with vital information, taking farmers for demos, and supervising their various projects.
Another service provider, Christine Okode from Seme, Kisumu County said they offer training to farmers, but adoption is low. "Only about three or four out of 20 trained people implement, this may be due to the high cost of living, deciding whether to feed the family or maintain the business," said Okode.
Hatching Hope Kenya Project Manager, Christopher Webo said the project aims to improve the livelihoods of poultry producing households, through production, strengthening extension services, poultry product aggregation, working with the necessary stakeholders, and mobilizing farmers for collective action within the farmer-owned agribusinesses.
It also aims to create awareness and encourage the consumption of chicken and eggs. Webo noted that the country is doing poorly in terms of poultry meat consumption and they seek to contribute to change.
"Poultry meat consumption per capita is 1.62kg, this is quite low compared to other countries and Kenya is ranked position 150 out of 161 in consumption according to Food and Agriculture Organization statistics," said Webo.
"Through Digital Agriculture Champions, we shall provide digital solutions in extension service delivery for farmers. Extension services are not limited to information about production only but a combination of good farming and agricultural practices and access to information that farmers require in terms of the market," said Esta Kamau, Country Director, Heifer International Kenya. She added that the organisation in partnership with KUZA Biashara has identified DACs to train and mentor them on the application of digital technology in agriculture.