Jane Kendi lives in Weru, approximately 17km from Chuka town in Tharaka Nithi County.
She runs a three-and-a-half-acre farm which has maize, beans, chickens, pigs, goats, fish, passion fruits and a cow.
Kendi keeps all the animals and grows the various crops even though Weru is semi-arid.
“Some people disapprove of my kind of farming because of the different animals and crops I grow but I am happy being a jack of all trades,” says the 35-year-old, who keeps 250 chickens, 30 pigs, two goats and a cow.
The farm has yellow passion fruits on quarter-acre and maize on three acres. “Each day, I wake up early to prepare feeds for the cow and chickens, clean up the sheds, collect the produce before I go to the crops’ farm. This has been my routine since 2013 when I set up the farm on the family land with Sh25,000 savings,” explains Kendi, who has two employees.
It has been a long journey for Kendi who dropped out of school in Form One in 2000 due to lack of fees.
After doing menial jobs in Nairobi for nine years, she decided enough was enough and went back to the village.
Back home, Kendi joined Grassroots Development Initiative Foundation, an organisation that trained her on crop and livestock farming, record-keeping and value addition. It is from the here that she learnt how to harvest and harness water during the dry season and about integrated farming.
To feed her heifer, she chops napier grass, maize cobs and sunflower cake into small pieces and mixes them. She supplements this with dairy meal.
To make chicken feeds, she grinds millet, sunflower and maize and mixes them to form a rich concentrate for the Rainbow and Kuroiler birds that she rears for both eggs and meat. She has 120 cockerels, 130 hens with about 80 laying and some chicks.
She dries waste from the poultry farm and mixes with pig feeds which she feeds to the animals.
“Waste from the poultry farm is rich in urea and other minerals, like nitrogen and phosphorous, but I don’t recommend the practice as the waste may sometimes contain bacteria that are harmful especially to piglets,” explains Benard Kinoti an extension officer in Mitunguu, Meru County.
Waste from the pigsty, goat and the cow sheds is used on the farm, enabling her to save money that she would have used to buy fertiliser.
“I also mulch my crops and direct water from the fishpond to the farm,” says Jane, who has also built a tank to harvest and store water.
“On average, I harvest about 15 90kg bags of maize and four bags of beans per season but I don’t sell as I use the maize at home and for my livestock,” adds Kendi, who has two children, a boy and a girl. She sells her piglets when they are three months old at Sh14,000 each and harvests the passion fruits weekly.
The yields range from 60 to 100kg, which she sells to Wilmar Agro Ltd in Thika at Sh60 for a kilo for Grade 1 and Sh40 for Grade 2.
“One needs a lot of patience to run a farm. You can’t expect to buy chicks, they mature and then start harvesting eggs. Down the road, a disease might break out and kill a number of birds. I lost 100 chicks when I was beginning.”
David Mugambi, an official of Grassroots Development Initiative Foundation, says agribusiness offers a better form of self-employment.
“There are many organisations, including the government, ready to train, offer financial and technical services to budding farmers but the youth are choosing to stay in the city yet there are numerous opportunities in rural areas.”
BRIEFLY: Free-range birds
- Kienyeji chickens are best reared under free-range system since when they exercise, they produce quality meat and eggs.
- Walking helps the birds exercise thus their meat has good fibre.
- The free-range chickens are not prone to diseases like coccidiosis that tend to affect birds under intensive system.
The following feature was first published in the Saturday Nation.