Building transparency through digital systems and collaboration with Youth
When Ichagi youth group was formed in 2011, one of the early decisions the group made was to open a bank account where they could hold proceeds from their members’ contributions and from product sales. “This was an important step because we did not want to be like other groups that got destroyed by lack of transparency and accountability,” explains Hilary Muigai, the group secretary.
Poultry keeping in Kenya
Kenya has 1.25 million poultry farmers who keep 32 million chickens, but currently contributes only 0.5% of the country’s GDP. There are ten major commercial chicken hatcheries in Kenya and 26,000 commercial poultry farmers. Despite its great potential, the sector is facing many challenges including inadequate extension service, disease control, market flactuations, low levels of working capital, and high costs of inputs.
The group, based in Muranga County in Kenya, was originally initiated to accommodate young people from the area who were previously idle or engaging in crime. The members started off as a saving and investment group, collecting money in cash and depositing to their group account. Monthly they collected a total of USD 100, and with this money they initiated a number of group and individual projects, one of which was poultry keeping. In the beginning they kept 200 broiler birds, and later scaled up to 400.
We met this group during a human centered design training exercise to better understand youth participation in farming and their usage of technology for information and making and receiving payments.
The group sells its chickens at the Nairobi City market and whenever they are delivering chickens, they send two members to witness the digital weighing of their produce. “Once we sell, the broker transfers all payments electronically to our group’s bank account and the account holders receive an SMS confirming the transfer,” says Jeremiah Njoroge. Jeremiah is 27 and is taking the lead on the group’s poultry business.
Jeremiah Njoroge, A smallholder poultry farmer in Maragua County, Kenya
“We sell the birds through three brokers in Nairobi when the chickens reach six weeks and have attained at least 1.5 kilograms,” says Jeremiah. “We call these brokers on their cellphones three days before the chicken are ready to find out the prices they are willing to offer and once we agree on that, we deliver to them the dressed chickens,” adds Hilary. They sell each bird for USD 4.7 and from each batch of 400 birds they make a profit of about USD 630.
Jeremiah explains that whereas there is a ready market for the birds, prices fluctuate from time to time and from his experience they get lower prices during the cold seasons. Despite the low prices, they are forced to sell because they don’t have cooling facilities and also don’t have alternative ready markets for all the birds.
The group learned about poultry keeping from one of their members whose uncle was a poultry farmer. They obtained additional information on feeding and treatment from manuals they received from the agro-dealer who supplies them with the one day old broilers from Kenchic, and from their chicken feed supplier. Apart from disease and market, the other challenges the group faces is that of trust and cohesion. “To build trust we meet, and together agree on what needs to be bought, at what price, and then send at least two members to do the purchases and also to supervise sales,” explains Hilary. For things that can be purchased all at once like chicken feeds, they buy enough to cover the entire six weeks life cycle of the broiler birds. They realize they need to make their accounting system more transparent and digital.
The group manages the day to day care of the birds as a team, with the person on whose home the birds are kept taking the lion’s share of responsibilities. For those assigned to take care of the poultry, the day begins at 6:00am when they wake up to water and feed the chicken. They repeat the same at 9:00am, at 1:00pm at 4:00 and early evening. In between, they check for any signs of sick birds, isolate and treat them. Once they have sold their chicken, they clean and leave the chicken coop free of poultry for 14 days and during that period, disinfect the room to make it disease free in preparation for the next lot. As a result they lose very few birds to diseases.
Whereas the group presently keeps 400 birds at a time, they plan to expand the business. “We hope to be in a position to buy 500 birds and sell a similar number every week,” says Jeremiah. To do this, they plan to continue saving for another two years so that they can double their current total saving of USD 1,100 to get a bank loan for expansion. The group intends to start their own consumer outlet at the nearby Maragua Centre and buy cooling facilities that will enable them preserve their chickens for the duration when the prices are low and sell when the market prices improve. With the larger poultry capacity, they hope to get direct feed deliveries from their feed manufacturers, Unga Feeds and in so doing reduce their feed costs and maximize their profits.
More about the group
Ichagi youth group engages in other economic activities including growing French beans, bananas, dairy and fish farming. Their choice of ventures is guided by members’ interest and access to resources like land and capital. They bank with Faulu Bank and are part of the national Yes Youth Can caucus that was formed with support of Mercy Corps. AgriFin Accelerate will continue to look for opportunities to work with youth farmers.
Written by Polycarp Otieno Onyango, Communications Manager, Mercy Corps AgriFin Accelerate