Wise words from a Murang'a poultry farmer

What you need to know:

  • Morning showers welcomed us as we snaked our way into Murang’a past one-street towns and misty valleys.
  • His next venture will be the manufacture of feeds, lack of which makes farmers are even more unproductive. 
  • Having seen his small poultry enterprise grow from one tray of eggs a day to the present 27 trays per day in four months, there is great potential in enterprise, he says. 

Early this month, I was invited to speak at a workshop dubbed bizNairobi: Sinapis SME Strengthening, organised by Sinapis, the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) and the Kenya College of Accountancy (KCA). 

My co-presenters were Vimal Shah, CEO of Bidco Africa, Asha Mweru, Regional Expansion Manager at Sinapis, Zak Syengo, Head of Marketing and Corporate Affairs at Rafiki Bank, Steve Biko of Soko Directory and Arielle Sandor of Duma Works.

As we responded to a barrage of questions from young entrepreneurs, one of them, Mr. Mwangi Wainaina, stood out as he linked his questions to policy gaps, and without hesitation, I promised to visit his poultry enterprise in Murang'a.

His thoughts were beyond entrepreneurship because he cared about social change, highlighting what in my view was disconnect between policy and practice. 

While the stated policy is to support youth and women, there is a failure in recognising those who can champion the policy to its success.  

Wainaina knows what we need to rid ourselves of poverty but he is constrained and no one is listening to what he has to say.

I woke up early and headed to Murang’a.  First, I had to pick up Wainaina from Blue Posts Hotel to help me with directions to his rural home, where he runs a poultry farm with his parents. 

We traversed through the humongous Thika Greens Estate into Murang’a. Morning showers welcomed us as we snaked our way into Murang’a past one-street towns and misty valleys.   

Wainaina’s home is located in Gachaki Village, in Ruchu, Kandara Constituency. It is here where he started his schooling at Mukuria Primary School then to Kiaguthu Secondary School before joining Makerere University for his undergraduate studies. He was also active in student politics.

Wainaina, Esther Nduta (Wainaiana’s mother) and me. PHOTO | MWANIKI NDEREBA

Barely into his second year in college, he led his colleagues to Diamond Trust Bank in Kampala to ask them to sponsor student events.  This single contact led the bank to offer him a job in marketing. 

He switched from day classes to evening, started to juggle college and work and eventually graduated in 2011 with a business degree.  

Working while in school came in handy as his farther had just retired from teaching and needed support to see other siblings through college.  His mother Esther, who still teaches at a Primary School, was completing her college studies at the University. 

A year later, he joined Aramex International as a business developer and was transferred to Nairobi.  In 2013, he made his political debut running to be a Member of County Assembly (MCA) in Muranga and lost narrowly.

Beyond his passion for farming and professional experience as a marketer and business developer, he is a fervent advocate of youth empowerment through projects aimed at developing skills and harnessing capacity.

Mr Wainaina is the immediate former Chairperson of the UNESCO Youth Forum-Kenya, and is currently volunteering as the Director of Projects at the World Youth Government, Ministry of World Trade and Global Youth Entrepreneurship.

He is also the coordinator of the Africa Peer Review Mechanism Youth Working Group that is spearheading the involvement of youth in the APRM Processes.

TWO TRAYS OF EGGS

Presently, he is also busy co-chairing the UNCTAD Youth Working Group coordinating the planning and organisation of the inaugural UNCTAD Youth Forum in July 2016 in Nairobi.

He tells me that many youths from his locality have set up either dairy or poultry farming. 

The challenge is the thinning margins due to competition from Uganda and South Africa, where farmers benefit from subsidies that make their produce very competitive in the Kenyan market, thus undermining the profitability of local farming businesses.  

He thinks that if farmers were to aggregate their produce and use an efficient logistics firm, farmers would improve their earnings.  As it is, each farmer is on their own, transporting as little as two trays of eggs to the markets in Nairobi.

We are in dire need of a platform that brings the market to the farmers and in turn a logistics firm that delivers produce to the market, he says.

In order for the farmers in Murang’a to get value of their produce, there must be an efficient production system throughout the entire supply chain, which an individual cannot do. 

It requires heavy investments in trucks that depart from rural aggregation market centers at regular intervals, to spread transportation cost help the farmers become competitive in the global stage. 

This model has worked for tea and milk but needs to be replicated for other commodities.

AFTER THE ELECTION

Wainaina understands very well that if youth and women empowerment funds were to be used to make such investments, poverty would decline in areas where post-harvest losses occur due to logistics problems.

Many more champions like Wainaina can be created throughout the country as aggregators of produce for distribution throughout the country.  Often there are shortages of maize in North Eastern Kenya when there are surpluses in the North Rift.

Wainaina has had a stint in the corporate world after losing the MCA election. He has learnt a lot from Bollore (a French logistic firm) and Onfon media (a local communications company) in business development.  

He learnt that farmers, like any enterprise, require business development and more importantly, efficient means of production and distribution of produce.  He wants to share this knowledge and his experiences with upcoming entrepreneurs especially in rural areas. 

Having seen his small poultry enterprise grow from one tray of eggs a day to the present 27 trays per day in four months, there is great potential in enterprise, he says. 

His target is to get to 80 trays per day by the end of the year in order to raise sufficient resources to assist his four siblings who are in college at the moment.

Wainaina’s siblings from left: Mwaniki, Muthoni, Njeri, Wanjiru, Wainaina’s mother, Esther, and me. PHOTO | MWANGI WAINAINA

Wainaina is confident that one day, his efforts for greater efficiency in poultry farming will pay off and that farmers will get their value’s worth. 

His next venture will be the manufacture of feeds, lack of which makes farmers are even more unproductive. 

He is reading extensively into poultry farming to exploit any value added services in order to improve farmer’s earnings. 

Other plans include investing in more modern equipment that minimises losses in production process.

He is aware that many youth in this country have been consumed by alcohol; but he is frustrated that the root cause of the problem isn’t being addressed. 

Virtually every farmer in Murang’a has a tea plantation, and labourers are paid on a daily basis to pick tea. In the afternoon, they are idle with the day’s earnings. 

To divert these youth from converting boredom into drinking, they need a revenue generating activity that will keep them engaged throughout the day.

Paying people on a daily basis also encourages financial irresponsibility as money gets to be seen as pocket change, not as a salary.

Inside the upper deck of Wainaina’s chicken shade. PHOTO | WAINAINA

Many questioned lingered in my mind as I talked to this family, but the more pressing one was why policy makers were not leveraging highly educated youth with experience, like Mr Wainaina, to champion policy in rural areas. 

How do we plug this glaring gap between policy and practice? Poverty comes out as a choice that we have made as a country, but that many Kenyans are fighting. 

What remains is the how to simplify policy so that it works to accelerate poverty reduction throughout the country.

Frederick Douglass an African-American social reformer said, “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organised conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” 

If there is a will, there is a way. We can deal with poverty and reverse perceptions of conspiracy to rob citizens, as cartoons in the past week have shown.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business. Twitter: @bantigito

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.