How goat project for disabled won economist Suleiman Kweyu African Food Fellowship

Ebubele village, Mumias

From left, John Khata, Benjamin Wekulo and Christopher Makana, farmers living with disabilities, on a farm in Ebubele village, Mumias East in Kakamega County. With them is Suleiman Kweyu, the director of Agro-Kenya.

Photo credit: Isaac Wale | Nation Media Group

Three goats, a buck and two does, nibble on Napier grass placed on the ground as Christopher Makana, the owner, looks on.

Makana, who keeps the goats in Mumias East, Kakamega County, smiles as the animals seemingly compete to chew the grass. He adds more to ensure each feeds to their fill.

Makana, a disabled farmer, keeps the animals for milk and sells the kids whenever need arises.

“These animals have given me not only a peace of mind but also financial independence,” he says.

He received them in 2019 from Agro-Kenya, an organisation that works with smallholder farmers in western Kenya.

In particular, the organisation works with farmers living with disabilities in Mumias East through a revolving programme, where one offers the first kid the goats’ births to the next beneficiary.

Suleiman Kweyu, the founder of Agro-Kenya, notes that he started with eight farmers but now works with over 50 of them, who are living with hearing, walking and visual impairments.

“I work with 56 disabled farmers through a support group called Mumias East Disability Project. They rear the goats for a living,” adds Kweyu, the managing director of Agro-Kenya.

The goat project earned him a fellowship last year, where he was one of 30 Kenyans selected to participate in the African Food Fellowship (AFF), a continent-wide initiative of African leaders actively contributing to food systems transformation.

The fellowship brings together aspiring leaders from different backgrounds ranging from agri-finance, horticulture and aquaculture to shape agendas and set priorities for investment, policy and action in the agriculture sector.

Kweyu, who holds a masters degree in financial economics, says he started the project by profiling farmers with disabilities to know their geographical location, type of impairment and most importantly their unique needs.

“We held meetings with them and identified the kind of support they required. The eight farmers I started with identified dairy goats as their preferred the venture because the animals mature faster, don’t require big land and are easy to manage as compared to cows,” he says. Agro-Kenya then provided them with training on best goat management practises that included feeding and housing.

According to him, he invested some Sh20,000 in the project, buying eight Small East African Goats for the farmers and today, each keeps three to five animals.

The farmers were trained on how to provide goats with a dry, comfortable, safe and secure house.

Suleiman Kweyu.

Suleiman Kweyu. The director of Agro-Kenya.

Photo credit: Pool

“The houses must protect the goats from thieves, predators, excessive heat and harsh weather. Typically, a goat eats 3 to 5 per cent of its body weight in dry matter daily. To ingest that much, goats should be reared where lots of forage is available because they like eating woody plants and weeds,” says Kweyu.

The institution received a boost from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) – Naivasha, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and Maseno University, which offer support to the project.  Having loved their model, the first two donated Toggenburg bucks in 2020 to ensure the farmers end up with highly productive animals.

He notes farmers with milk producing goats get at least three litres per day that is sold locally at Sh60 each.   “Our aim is to aid farmers end up with up to six goats in a year if the animals kid triplets twice a year,” he says. 

Makana, who hails from Ebubele village, keeps five goats. “In the first year, it sired two kids and the next, one. Today, I have five after selling others to pay school fees for my children who are in forms four, three and one,” says Makana.

He adds that the project is not only helping them financially, but also offering them peer support.

John Khata, the secretary of Mumias East Disability Project, says the goat initiative has made him financially stable.

“Goats kid two or three young ones, what makes one increase their herd faster,” he says.

Kweyu notes that having received mentorship, as an AFF fellow, he has committed to support farmers to improve food security as well as change lives through agriculture.

Agro-Kenya, according to him, is working on scaling up the project to other parts of Kakamega County and the neighbouring Bungoma, Busia and Vihiga.

The objective is to reach out and recruit up to 5,000 people living with disabilities to provide support to the unique segment of farmers who have been technically marginalised and ignored by most actors in the agriculture sector. 

Shadrack Emali, a veterinary officer in Kakamega County, says fast-shrinking land sizes in the county makes goat keeping a viable business.

“Kakamega is a county with a lot of green shrubs necessary for goat rearing. Goats provide a regular source of income especially if they are being milked.”

 He adds, “Farmers not only get milk from the goats but also meat and they can sell the kids for more income.”