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It’s orgasmic business for Nairobi’s chicken millionaires; some of them have never reared a chicken in their lives
Nairobi’s City Market is one of the most iconic structures in the capital city, with a history dating back to 1930 when it first opened its doors to the public. While it is more famed for the inviting aroma of roasting meat and fish that wafts across surrounding streets, few know that this is Nairobi’s biggest chicken market.
The chicken you order at your favourite food joint or restaurant most likely landed at City Market on a truck from a poultry farm in Central Kenya, Rift Valley or Ukambani, before finding its way to your plate and palate.
The market offers something for everyone too.
At 5am, women from Kibera and Mathare slums brave the morning chill to buy chicken by-products by the sack, with each kilo going for about Sh80. The traders say no part of chickens goes to waste. Chicken legs are the most popular.
Apart from chickens, the butcheries also offer different types of meat products such as seafood, beef, mutton and fish. The market houses about 50 butcheries and serves more than 2,000 customers a day.
More than one tonne of chickens are slaughtered each day. A kilo of kuku retails for between Sh250 and 300, minting a cool Sh2.5 to 3million a day for traders, says their organising secretary, Michael Kamau.
Most of the traders deal with broiler chickens from Kiambu, Mang’u,Gatundu, Murang’a, Nyeri, Rongai,Thome and Kirinyaga. Only a few butcheries deal in kienyeji (organic) chicken which is sourced mainly from Kericho and Bomet.
But small scale farmers who troop to the market with a handful of chickens complain that they get a raw deal.
“Farmers suffer because they spend a lot of money to rear their chickens, but the price is always low.
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For example, butchers here offer only Sh170 per kg compared to the village, where you can sell the same bird for Sh300 to Sh350 a kilo. The owners of these shops are making a killing out of our sweat. There are some people here who have never reared a chicken in their lives, but are millionaires. They are brokers and it has worked for them,” laments Gitau.
Michael Muchai, a porter at the periphery of the market, can’t complain though.
“I wake up early every morning and camp here. Women come to buy by-products such as chicken liver and necks in sacks, and we ferry the sacks to the bus terminals. I charge Sh150 per sack. My target is always to manage 10 sacks by 7am. This place is normally fully packed in the morning. You can hardly find a space to step on,” says Muchai.
The porter adds that the chicken business is highly profitable in the city because Nairobians eat loads of chicken and fries for lunch.
“You might dismiss some of these people you see here because of the way they are dressed, but their deep pockets can shock you! They make their money quietly,” he says.
The traders are governed by a powerful committee comprised of shop owners. The committee enforces discipline and solves disputes at the market. There is also a chief master’s office inside the market that is tasked with ensuring that city bylaws are strictly adhered to.
A county official who spoke to The Nairobian says their work is to ensure that the market is clean and the meat is inspected by a public health official.
“When the chickens are brought to the market, the first thing we do is to inspect them to make sure that they are fit for human consumption. We charge Sh200 per sack,” he says.
Michael Kamau, a successful chickens trader who doubles up as the traders’ organising secretary and owns several butcheries, says it is good business.
“We are financially independent, we can’t complain. Most of us have made several investments here and there. It is easy to become a millionaire here, but also very expensive to start because you require good capital,” he reveals.
Kamau says he first set foot in the market in 1990 when he was a young man. He started out as a butcher and took many years to build his empire.
“I was taught by the wazee who used to own these businesses. I learned from the best before setting up my own shop. For you to start this business you must have between Sh100,000 and Sh300,000,” said the 50-year-old.
Kamau says chicken business is very lucrative and requires government support for farmers and traders. He however laments that chicken imports and the perception that kuku is for the well-to-do hurt their business.
“Security at night is also one of our biggest challenges. This and street families who sleep outside the market. They make the pavements dirty and sometimes relieve themselves in the open,” he says.
Raphael Mwangi, a leading chickens businessman and owner of Kirinyaga White Meat which specialises in indigenous or organic/kienyeji chickens, has been around for a while and says it has been a good run.
“I have been in this business for more than four decades. After hustling in the village for years, I came to the city in the late 70s as a fruit vendor. I switched to selling chickens after a successful businessman showed me how to make money out of chicken. I have built my businesses from scratch and I’m proud of the strides that I have made.
“Later, I bought butchery and started from the bottom. After years of hard work, my businesses have grown. Today, I buy chickens in trucks from Kericho, Bomet, Nyahururu and Machakos, which I supply to restaurants in the city or sell in my shop,” Mwangi, who is now 60, says.