As poultry farmers were cry over diminishing profits and the increasing cost of feeds, Alphaxard Gitau was not complaining. Even with the recently introduced Value Added Tax that had dealt a near fatal blow to poultry keeping, the youthful urban farmer was not about to quit. In fact, he hoped to increase his flock of 2,200 layers and broilers. At his parents’ home at Nairobi’s Kahawa West Estate, the 23-year-old had to manage his time well; juggling between lecture halls, chicken coops and poultry product markets. “I want to increase my flock and this is the house I intend to introduce chicks into in a week’s time. My day starts at 6am, when I attend to my chickens for at least two hours before I take my books and dash to the University of Nairobi. I am doing the final year of my Bachelor of Economics degree,” he explained.

Through his earnings, Mr. Gitau was able to pay for his education at the university. His parents could not afford to pay the fees but he took pride in taking the burden off their shoulders, so they could educate his younger siblings. In his final year then, he had plans to pursue a Master’s degree. Why was Mr. Gitau so passionate about poultry at a time when disillusionment was at an all-time high with some farmers abandoning it for other emerging lucrative ventures such as rearing quills? “There will always be a ready market for chickens and their products,” he said. “Some farmers eager to make quick bucks may diversify to other emerging areas but chicken and egg consumers will always be here,” he added. But he was quick to point out that to stay afloat, modern farming called for one to stay on top of things, by always being on the lookout for any new information on production and marketing.

He warned that relying on the traditional markets may result to frustrations, owing to stiff competition from established large-scale farmers. “The secret to successful farming is being well-informed on production, new technologies and even global market trends. I am eyeing a tender to supply government institutions, and that is why I want to increase my flock to at least 4, 000,” he said, adding that he had already registered a company, Alpham Produce.

However, he was quick to add that demand for chicken was still high and dismisses claims that poultry farmers were incurring heavy losses due to the skyrocketing price of feeds. “The profit margin may have reduced, but no one should claim to be incurring a loss”, he says. Nevertheless, he added that it is important for one to always explore ways of reducing the cost of production and remains optimistic that the government will intervene to reduce the costs of feeds.

From his 500 layers, he collects 16 trays of eggs daily or Sh33, 600 every week when sold at a price of Sh300 per tray. The birds consume seven bags of feeds weekly at a cost of Sh20, 300. The cost of labor is Sh1, 500 per week while water and electricity consume Sh500. This means that the student pockets a profit of Sh10, 000 a week or Sh40, 000 monthly from the layers. Another 600 layers, which are housed at a friend’s homestead some three kilometers away have not started producing eggs. In total he has 1100 layers.

A chick can fetch up to Sh450, especially during festive seasons when demand is high. He started with some 200 broilers in July 2012 and pumped some Sh55,000 inclusive of cost of chicks, feeds and drugs. After six weeks, he sold them, fetching Sh72,000. He ploughed the money back and increased the flock to 300, then 600 and hopes to get 2,000. It takes six weeks to get returns from broilers with the chicks weighing around 1.3kg. He explains that he got the initial capital from savings while attending a youth exchange programme of the Norwegian Church Aid. He developed an interest in farming after he met a young university student who had 40 dairy cattle and was earning so much money from sale of milk. He took a loan of Sh30,000 from a commercial bank, which he was required to clear within six months. He started getting eggs and since then he has been supplying to a Christian organization and several restaurants along the Thika Superhighway.

Some restaurants take up to 60 trays every week. Normally, layers produce eggs for a year before one can think of disposing them off. When well-fed and maintained, 95 per cent of the birds produce eggs daily. “In recent months, some importers have flooded the local market, but these suppliers are never reliable and big institutions would rather trust a local farmer,” says Mr. Gitau.

He points that the secret to getting markets is employing all the strategies, from the use of business cards, applying for government tenders and using the social media and the Internet to reach potential customers. “Always explore ways of reducing the cost of production, including networking with other farmers who can even purchase their products to avoid disappointing their regular customers,” he explains.

Mr. Gitau says that despite the few challenges, he is making good money. Incidentally, he only developed an interest in farming in 2011. He inherited the chicken house from his parents. “When I was at Kirangari High School, I dreamt of being a pediatrician and farming never crossed my mind. But my Norway tour broadened my thinking. I am about to launch a network of young farmers for easy marketing of our produce.” He is also the national convener of Kenya Youth Climate Network, which brings together 29 organizations from across the country.