From 320/-, Egg prices (per tray) in Kenya hits 280/- and still no customers. FIND OUT WHY
The road from Nakuru town to Engashura, about 5km away, reminds one of some thoroughfares in Nairobi because it is smooth and well-tarmacked.
I take a turn off the Nakuru-Nairobi highway, on the road heading to Nyahururu, and then a turn right, and just past the Kenya Industrial Training Institute, my sweet story about the road network suddenly ends.
I join a rough path that leads me to Hilda Kimata’s poultry farm in Bahati sub-county. After about 5km, I pull up in front of a sky-blue gate.
The gate opens up to reveal a clean, cemented compound, dotted with flowers and fruit trees.
A large house sits on one part of the half-acre farm. Adjacent to the house is a wooden structure that is the Kimata’s chicken coop and store.
Kimata opens the door of the store to reveal hundreds of eggs in several trays.
“These are 600 trays, which is about 18,000 eggs. They have been here for over a week because I do not have market,” Kimata laments.
The farmer keeps 1,100 layers and collects about 950 eggs a day. However, for the past two months, Kimata has been struggling to find a market for her eggs.
She blames her predicament, which is also facing many other poultry farmers across Kenya, to increased cheap imports from neighbouring Uganda.
“I used to sell a tray at Sh320 about three months ago, but the price has been plummeting and now I have settled for Sh280 and people are still not buying,” she explains.
She recalls that middlemen frequented her home, most of them riding motorbikes, to buy the eggs.
She also used to get huge orders from supermarkets and hotels, but things have changed.
“Only one supermarket ordered 100 trays last week after I reduced the price; the others seem to have found a cheaper supplier. I am worried,” says Kimata.
Besides the cheap imports, increased competition due to a rise in the number of farmers keeping chickens has compounded her plight.
“There is a big farmer who has set up base in Naivasha and he is producing eggs in large volumes and selling at Sh250 a tray,” says the retired agriculturalist, who has worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, the Anglican Church of Kenya and the National Council of Churches in Kenya’s agriculture department.
Kimata offers her layers commercial feeds, which have also pushed up her cost of production.
“I am hopeful that things will improve. I am not about to give up on poultry because I have invested a lot in it.”
Beatrice Kirui, a large-scale poultry farmer at Kiamunyi, Nakuru, is also reeling from losses.
“I have reduced my price per crate from Sh300 to Sh280, yet many clients want me to sell at Sh260.”
For more than a month, she adds, her weekly sales have halved from 600 crates.
She earns a modest profit by selling at Sh280, but, she notes, this is not likely to be so for small-scale farmers, who do not sell in bulk.
“Some of my clients have settled for the imported eggs but I have been lucky that my eggs are of high quality. But generally, my business is low.”
She wants the government to fight against illegal imports if it has farmers’ interest at heart.
According to Beatrice, Ugandan middlemen transport eggs to the border and sell to brokers, who latter take them to buyers across major Kenyan towns.
Nakuru County Poultry Cooperative Society has also been hit hard by the influx of eggs from Uganda. Chairman Patrick Kiogora says the cooperative used to sell an average of 500 trays of eggs daily mostly to supermarkets and hotels.
However, they are now supplying between 50 and 60 trays a day. According to Kiogora, an egg from Uganda retails at Sh7, compared to Kenya’s Sh10 to Sh12.
In April, he says, the association sold a tray of eggs at Sh320, but prices have been sliding, from Sh300, to Sh280 and to the current low of Sh250.
Kiogora notes that Uganda eggs are cheaper due to their low cost of production, due to affordable feeds.
“Animal feeds, in particular those for poultry, are not highly taxed as those in Kenya.
A 50kg bag of layers mash retails at Sh2,300 in Kenya. However, in Uganda, the same amount of feeds goes for about Sh1,800. Kenya imports most of the feed manufacturing ingredients such as soya and sunflower from Uganda and Tanzania, making them more expensive here than in the countries of origin, according to Kiogora.
The association currently has 260 trays in their shop, and farmers have to wait, perhaps for weeks, until all of them are sold before they bring in more.
He asked the government to regulate poultry imports from other countries to save the industry that supports thousands of farmers.
At Wakulima market in Nakuru, according to Bernard Ngugi, a poultry farmer, at least 6,000 crates of imported eggs are off-loaded every week.
Ngugi has been in the business for more than 10 years and said that before the importation of the cheap eggs, some which come from as far as South Africa, he was selling 30 trays raking in at least Sh8,000 a day.
“There is no point in rearing chickens, unless the government intervenes, I will have to look for something else to do because the business is unsustainable.”
Joyce Karanja, also a poultry farmer, says she is on the verge of losing her investment of more than Sh400,000 due to the imports.
Meanwhile, as she struggles looking for a market for her eggs, Kimata’s saving grace are her dairy cows. She keeps 30 dairy cows, Friesians and Ayrshires.
Two of her favourite cows, Luna and Susan, offer her an average of 32 litres of milk a day each. In all, the 13 lactating cows give her 150 litres a day.
“I would be getting more than 200 litres daily from the same number of cows but the dry spell has affected fodder production,” she says. “I have hay and silage that can last me for the next six months, but I have to ration it just in case the current dry spell worsens.”
She sells a litre of milk at between Sh47 and Sh50 to a variety of clients, who include her neighbours, hotels and middlemen.
“Unlike eggs, there is a ready market for my milk. I am glad that I did not put all my eggs in one basket,” says Kimata, 60, who holds an Msc in land and soil conservation and left employment in 2004 to farm.
Besides milk, she sells in-calf heifers at Sh120,000 each and cow manure for biogas production at Sh800 a tonne.
Kimata started the farming venture in 1991 with a cow to get milk for her family.
“I would also keep up to 500 chickens, a figure I have achieved by increasing them over the years,” says Hilda, who often hosts groups of farmers as far as Embu, Kirinyaga, and even Tanzania.
“If I am not earning from eggs, then I have the dairy unit, if not the cows, then I can make some income from training farmers,” says Kimata, who has four permanent employees living on her farm.
Geoffrey Kahuho, a programmes officer at Participatory Ecological Land Use Management, Kenya says value addition and diversification can save poultry farmers’ losses.
“Each farmer should be knowledgeable to foresee a possible market glut or add value to their produce, for instance, by packaging them attractively.”
Kahuho also urges farmers to work in groups to be able to ward off illegal imports that interfere with their markets.
He asked the government to regulate imports to ensure that what is produced locally is exhausted before any produce from outside is brought in.
“We must also embrace the ‘buy Kenyan, build Kenyan’ mantra in farm produce,” he says, adding that reduced tax on poultry feeds could help cut production cost.
Last week, acting Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Aden Mohammed said the government was planning to remove Value Added Tax on animal feed raw materials, which he acknowledged had pushed the cost of farming to worrying levels.
“My ministry is currently in negotiations with the National Treasury with a view to removing the tax on animal feeds, which contributes to 60 per cent of costs in agriculture,” Mr Mohammed told the 11th African Dairy Conference and Exhibition.
By RACHEL KIBUI