‘You learn from the setbacks’: Kenyan youth weather pandemic together

When Victor Odero took up poultry farming full time in 2018, it was out of necessity — to earn an income for his family — as well as a desire to better his community.

Photo: Heifer International

“I wanted to expand my skills in livestock management,” recalls Odero, who lives in sun-soaked Siaya County in southwest Kenya. “But I also wanted to contribute to my society’s food security.”

It's work that’s especially important in Kenya, a country where 3.4 million people suffered from acute food insecurity in 2017. And the COVID-19 pandemic’s onslaught, closing markets and threatening agriculture-based livelihoods, meant access to nutritious food proved an obstacle for many Kenyans.

Despite this challenge, and three years since launching his poultry business, Odero has grown his flock from 80 chicks to 800 birds, which he sells for much-needed income. And he’s equipped with an arsenal of skills to raise healthy chicks, including how to construct his own coop structure and keep his poultry disease-free.

This tenfold increase came about in no small measure due to the Hatching Hope Global Initiative, a partnership between Heifer International and Cargill, which works with chicken farmers in Kenya, India and Mexico to enhance farming practices and improve nutrition and livelihoods. Hatching Hope Kenya works to strengthen markets, better access to finance and hone the production skills necessary for smallholder poultry farmers' success.

The stakes are high: New research from Heifer International identifies engaging youth across the agriculture value chain as key to improving food security in Africa and creating jobs for the growing population — an effort that is all the more critical as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cripple local economies and food systems. For a country like Kenya, where 60% of the population are under the age of 24, youth like Odero play a pivotal role in the fight to end hunger and poverty.

Farmers Supporting Farmers

Amid the uncertainty and disruption caused by the global health crisis, Hatching Hope Kenya established an extension services system to provide additional support to members of farmer organizations. Often conducted in group settings, extension workers train farmers on specialized skills to boost their businesses.

Through these services, Odero received training on recordkeeping; poultry feeding and brooding; animal shelter construction, including planning, selecting materials and building; and livestock health management, like vaccinations and deworming.

And the results are tangible: Odero said he is raising healthier, stronger birds than he was before. And it was through these services that Odero met Calvin Swaga, a Heifer-trained extension worker with over 10 years of experience in animal health. Like Odero, Swaga has agricultural dreams of his own, running a veterinary company and earning a steady income supporting farmers to maintain their animals’ well-being.

In his role as an extension worker, Swaga vaccinates and deworms chicken flocks and conducts trainings on chicken management. It’s apparent now, he says, that there was a missing link that the services are filling.

“At the community level, I see a realizable wake up in the farmers,” Swaga said. “Now that the extension services have been brought to the farmers, there's a notable trend of better and more informed production.”

The services also manifest back into his income: He’s seen a boost in sales from farmers buying vaccines, feed and related products, and he has fostered closer partnerships with Siaya County’s farmers.

“What I like most about my job is relating to the people on the ground,” he said, “touching and changing lives and impacting people by improving their living standards.”

The Power of Partnerships

Odero sources his day-old chicks and chicken feed from Siaya Seed SACCO, a savings and credit cooperative which has over 1,600 registered members, 65% of whom are women. Operating as both a resource hub and a producer organization committed to reducing the financial barriers smallholder farmers face, SACCO staff extend loans to members at reasonable rates and conduct training on financial literacy, budgeting and finance management.

“Heifer’s Hatching Hope projects have a vision of supporting producer organizations like us to grow,” said Victorine Owino, manager of Siaya Seed SACCO. “The partnership with Heifer helped us identify the feed businesses as a viable venture and a way to generate extra income to support our other activities.”

As for Odero’s future? He has his sights set on expanding production.

“My vision is to have a bigger farm that can supply enough chicken meat to the market and to the country of Kenya,” said Odero, who recognizes his ambitions are lofty but knows the support systems in place make them possible.

And for his fellow Kenyans interested in poultry farming but now sure how to begin, Odero is effusive about taking the plunge.

“They should not fear failure, because when you fear to fail, then you are failing,” he said. “You learn from the setbacks, like I did, and keep doing business, which will increase income and act as a source of employment. That is a major challenge for youth like me in this nation.”

This article was originally published by Heifer International.