Nelly Bassily | September 19, 2011
Since the end of last year, maize prices in Kenya have risen more than threefold. Poultry farmers who rely on maize as a key feed ingredient are scaling back production. Ms. Wairimu Kariuki is the chairperson of the Kenya Poultry Farmers Association. She describes their problem: “Chicken feed accounts for 70 per cent of the total input cost [in poultry farming]. If a farmer cannot meet the costs, he chooses to either reduce the number of chicken he rears, or stop poultry farming altogether.” But there is another possibility. In response to the high price of maize, many farmers are choosing alternative feeds.
Maize has long been a problematic staple for the poultry industry. Kenyans consume an estimated three million tonnes of maize a year. But the country produces less than that, and must import 10 per cent of its needs. To avoid competing with the human market for maize, farmers and scientists are seeking new sources of poultry feed.
Some farmers are turning to feed made from traditional crops such as amaranth, millet and sorghum. They have even been using worms as chicken feed. These changes cut their feed costs by up to 40 per cent.
Researchers are looking at non-conventional sources of feed. Recent research by the Department of Animal Production at the University of Nairobi found that bulrush millet was a good replacement for maize because of its high protein content. The researchers also identified raw pigeon peas as a suitable source of protein. They concluded that combining bulrush millet and pigeon peas could replace up to 40 per cent of conventional energy and protein sources in poultry feed.
Poultry farmers in the semi-arid Ukambani region of Kenya commonly use bulrush millet, which tolerates high temperatures. They grind it manually to feed to their chickens, and report big savings. They are also using cassava to feed poultry. But they must first dry it to remove the poisonous cyanide.
Bridgenet is an NGO that assists poultry farmers. Dorothy Mwende is a program officer with Bridgenet in Kenya. She explains, “If you look around, [you can] see, for example, how much cassava is rotting in the farms due to oversupply… cassava has been proven to be nutritious feed for chicken, and is readily available.”
Nor do the alternatives end there. Mary Gikuni is a livestock farmer in Limuru. She learned from scientists that calliandra, a shrub often grown as livestock fodder, is a very effective food for chickens. She chops up the leaves and mixes small quantities with feeds that are low in protein.
Farmers need to be adaptable and innovative to maintain current levels of production in spite of rising maize prices. Mrs. Gikuni is one farmer who is showing the way.