How poultry saved us from poverty and alcoholism

Julius Matendechere in his poultry house in Butere, Kakamega County. [Photo: John Shilitsa and Collins Oduor]


Julius Matendechere in his poultry house in Butere, Kakamega County. [Photo: John Shilitsa and Collins Oduor]

Julius Matendechere, 57, goes about his business inside a bungalow turned a poultry farmhouse with a lot of ease. He is tending to over 5,000 chicks aged between one and three weeks. The chicks literally occupy all rooms in the four bedroom mansion, including the store, kitchen, dining, washrooms and any other available space.

There are 600 lighting points that provide the chicks with warmth and light. Besides, there are 20 charcoal stoves on stand-by. The farmhouse is located at Ishimkoko village in Butere, Kakamega County. Every week, Matendechere stocks 6,000 kienyeji chicks from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO).

One by one, Matendechere sparingly identifies and isolates the sick birds from the rest of the flock. Occasionally, he would stop to pick out and closely examine those lying dead. From the look of things, they are quite a number.

“We shall have to burn them and have the ash disposed in the right manner to avert further losses,” he quips.

Matendechere, an accountant by profession, has perfected the art of brooding, which involves giving special care and attention to chicks to ensure their healthy survival.

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He ventured into the business three years ago after leaving a lucrative job as a chief accountant in the government. The desire to give back to the people drove him into poultry farming.

“Many families in Butere Constituency where I hail from can hardly afford two meals a day, I thought it wise to embark on brooding and give out the birds to groups for free to help improve the living standards of struggling families,” he tells Smart Harvest at the farmhouse.

Each group comprises between 15 and 30 people.

“Birds given to groups are usually five or 10 above the number of members,” says Matendechere.

He found poultry farming an ideal enterprise because of the high returns. Besides, it is a lot easier for the beneficiaries to manage the birds in groups.

“I choose to teach them how to fish as opposed to giving them fish and this is working for me and the beneficiaries in terms economic empowerment,” he says.

Experts say one hen could give a farmer up to Sh35,000 in a year in terms of eggs and chicks under good management.

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“The earnings even could be higher if the birds are more. For instance, 10 birds would yield Sh350,000 in the same period,” says Rural Information and Agriculture Development Centre (Riadec) director Simon Wesechere.

Some of the beneficiaries are from Marama Central, Marama East and Marama North. Peres Ambunya from Lwakunja Self-Help Group says the 15 members of her group can now afford a smile after they were introduced to the initiative.

“Besides the trainings we have been receiving, we can now afford basic items such as sugar and maize flour. Initially, we had nothing to lean to,” says Ambunya.

Daniel Njomo from Muvuvi Self-Help Group, which boasts 24 members, says they received 35 birds, which have since multiplied. “We sell the eggs and sometimes slaughter one or two to supplement our diet,” says Njomo.

Pool resources

The groups pool resources from their little savings and through it, they are able to raise school fees for their children.

“All we need now is some financial assistance to enable us expand our poultry business,” says Ms Ambunya.

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So far, Matendechere has given out 30,000 birds to various groups in the area. Another 12,000 birds will be ready for distribution in a couple of weeks. He says it will be the last batch to be given out.

Like any other enterprise, brooding calls for commitment and passion. Matendechere spent Sh800,000 to buy the chicks, feeds and vaccinations before giving them out.

And to Evan Magunde and Thomas Otara, their chicken farm in Nyamira County is their saviour that wiggled them out of alcoholism. Before they started rearing chicken, the duo says they were chained in alcohol abuse. Magunde says abandoned his family, became an abusive husband and alcoholism a man who could barely fend for himself all because of alcoholism. But all that is in the past now.

“These chicken saved me. Now we not only feed our families but the whole community,” he says, pointing at the wide expanse of chicken houses that he and Otara manage.

Magunde says the journey began four years ago when Randy Saul, a missionary based in the county, found him lying in a ditch, drunk and filthy.

With a donation of land from the mzungu after a lengthy discussion on finding a business to turn his life around, Magunde reached out to Otara and together they set up their first poultry farm.

“We constructed everything with our bare hands. it was a small house that housed 200 chicken,” Magunde says. However, the first coop came with challenges. The chicken were congested and they would peck each other and break the eggs they had laid.

That is what motivated them to start cage farming and they have never looked back. They now have 2,100 chicken.

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Thomas says averagely, they get about 2,800 eggs per day, which they supply to hotels, schools and markets around Nyamira County.

Saul says he gets choked up with emotion whenever he sees people who had been pushed to the brink due to alcoholism rise up and even provide employment to other young people.

“Their farming is much more than just rearing chicken. It is a story of hope, reinforcing that people can change,” says Saul.

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