06 November 2013

From food to cash: raising chickens in Kenya

DSC_0121Visitors to the farm of Francis Ondier, 52, must wash their hands and shoes before coming onto the property.

“I don't want you to bring any diseases from other farms here,” he says.

Ondier is used to having visitors from across Kenya come and see his farm. They want to learn how a small-holder farmer can raise chickens as a business. Things are going so well for the former train mechanic that he recently turned down a salary job in Nairobi.

Most families around western Kenya own a chicken or two. The few eggs produced are collected and usually fed to the children. The chicks that do survive may be sold or eventually eaten. For most families, a chicken is a source of food. For Ondier, it is money.

“Few people realize this is an income generator,” he said as he pointed at a group of new chicks.

DSC_0131They are kept in a tiered coup on the side of a shed to keep them out of danger from hawks. Without the ability to provide artificial warmth, Ondier collects the chicks in a ventilated cardboard box to spend the night on the kitchen counter. Squeezing them in together provides the warmth they need overnight.

In the morning, he returns the birds to their rows to warm up in the morning sun. The location was picked so that the chicks can warm up as the day begins. When the chicks grow they make it to a larger coop before finally getting to go outside once they are too big for flying predators to take away.

Ondier's inspiration is Nelson Mandela. The South African leader's quote, “It only seems impossible until it's done,” can be found around the farm.

He knows that hardship well. When he started raising chicken for selling he did terribly. The 120 chicks that were initially born saw a mortality rate of 70% to 80%. He did not know how to protect them and keep them healthy.

Opportunity came through a training event outside of Nairobi. Put on by Winrock International and the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), the goal was to train farmers in chicken rearing methods so that they can put the knowledge to work and train fellow farmers.

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Ondier was not supposed to go. The MVP initially completely paid for farmers to attend such trainings. Community members traveled well, had food covered and stayed in nice hotels, he said. By the time Ondier was farming, the MVP only supported transportation costs.

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