Lewis Njoka\u00a0@LewisNjoka\u00a0 Chicken\u00a0 rearing is fast gaining popularity in urban and peri-urban areas as a source of income for people who do not have much space to spare. The venture has emerged as a reliable solution for many urban dwellers who worry about accessing safe chicken products such as eggs and meat for own consumption and for sale due to proliferation of toxic food products in the market. The occupation is now\u00a0 popular with young people who wish to practice agriculture without having to leave towns.\u00a0 It offers easier access to markets and amenities such as fast Internet, electricity and water in urban centres.\u00a0 James Mungai, a chicken farmer living off Kenyatta Road Estate in Ruiru town, has been rearing chicken since 2013 beginning on a 40-by-80 feet piece of land where he lives. He specialises in local breeds (kienyeji) at his Neo Chicks Farm, with sales of day-old chicks being his largest revenue stream.\u00a0 The electrical and electronics engineer by training made his first incubator himself and now uses his engineering skills to hatch chicks and make incubators for sale to other farmers. Although he also sells eggs,he keeps only a few mature chicken to focuse on\u00a0 hatching and selling chicks.\u00a0 Production cost woes Mungai sells one-day-old chicks at Sh100 each, which is good money considering that the cost of production is Sh33 per chick, with feeds taking up about 70 per cent of the cost. He sells 1,900 chicks every three weeks. The farmer also makes about Sh100,000 per month selling mature chicken either for meat or breeding. \u201cWe opted to specialise in hatching to avoid competing with our customers who rear chicken,\u201d he says. Eggs stacked in a locally made incubator for hatching. Photo\/PD\/LEWIS NJOKA Mungai estimates a chicken consummes about Sh350 from hatching to when it begins laying eggs. \u201cWhy is the local cost of production so high?\u00a0 How come eggs from other countries are cheaper than ours?\u201d he asks.\u00a0 Feed is the largest cost item, forcing him to make own feed using locally available raw materials. He buys sorghum, millet, bran, soya, fishmeal and omena from local suppliers and converts it into chicken feed using his own mixer. \u201cUsing our own feed lowers production costs by 20 per cent,\u201d he says. Poultry keeping also involves vaccinating them, giving them antibiotics and cleaning the chicken coops frequently. Other challenges are disease management and the infiltration of local market by chicken products from neighbouring Uganda. Kenya Poultry Breeders Association estimates that between 25 and 40 tonnes chicken are imported from Uganda per week and sold in the country at cost lower than local production cost. Chicken is imported at Sh262 (USD 2.45) while the local cost of production is Sh311 (USD 2.90) per kilo, acccording to the association. A University of Nairobi graduate, Mungai\u2019s passion for farming drove him into the venture instead of going for white-collar jobs like most of his college mates. He now has a workshop for making incubators located on Outering Road, Nairobi and has rented a warehouse on Mombasa Road for storage and distribution.\u00a0 The capacity of his incubators ranges from 48 to 5,000 eggs and goes for between Sh20,000 and Sh280,000 per piece. He sells about 20 incubators of varied sizes a month to farmers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, earning him about Sh500,000. From Sh800,000 when he began in 2013, including the value of land, Mungai estimates that his project is worth at least Sh15 million.\u00a0 He has 16 workers\u201410 at the workshop, four at the Ruiru farm and two office workers handling marketing and related activities.\u00a0 Business expansion From the proceeds of the chicken business, he has bought four vehicles and built a bungalow for his family. \u00a0 James Mungai speaks to reporters at his farm on Kenyatta Road Estate, Ruiru. He rears kienyeji chicken, but also makes incubators for sale to farmers in the East African region. Mungai advises young people seeking to go into chicken rearing to start small and get all the information they can on the subject before starting out. The authorities have for a long time complained about rural-urban migration, which has seen many young people abandon rural agriculture for urban life. However, accessing literature, documents, guidelines, and manuals on urban chicken rearing still remains a challenge for new farmers. \u201cFor a viable venture, you can start with 50 to 100 chics. Capital requirements vary, just start with what you have. The good thing is that chicken farming doesn\u2019t require much land,\u201d he recommends. Urban chicken farming provides a middle ground for youths to use their skills in agriculture while enjoying the convenience of urban life. With conventional farming becoming more difficult due to land subdivision, urbanisation and population explosion, this model of farming is becoming increasingly popular, especially in densely populated areas such as Kiambu, Kisii, and Meru. It is an efficient way to utilise additional space in a built up plot or one that is yet to be developed as opposed to leaving the space idle. Recently, the government has been promoting adoption of innovative methods of farming to reinforce the food security pillar of Big Four Agenda. Early this month, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe called on urban dwellers to embrace the concept of kitchen gardening, saying it would help alleviate food shortage in the country during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Fast food restaurants The growing popularity of fast-food restaurants in towns and cities also raises hope that poultry markets will become even better in the near future. In February, the Kirinyaga county government launched a project to help farmers produce a million eggs per month, earning about Sh10 million a month. Funded by the World Bank, through the National Agricultural Rural Inclusive Growth Project (NARIGP), the project will see 32 community groups comprising 1,110 households benefit with each family earning about Sh8,000 per month. Despite the efforts, Kenya consumes less chicken products compared to Uganda and Tanzania. A recent report by World Animal Protection shows that Tanzania leads in consumption of chicken, with 34.2 per cent of respondents saying they eat chicken products daily.\u00a0 In Uganda, an estimated 6.5 per cent of the population eat chicken products\u00a0 while Kenya trails at of 3.5 per cent.\u00a0 Kenya produces over 21,600 tonnes of poultry meat worth Sh4 billion and 1.3 billion eggs valued at approximately Sh11.2 billion annually. About 80 per cent of the poultry production in Kenya is based on the less productive kienyeji breed with farmers having to deal with impediments such as unstructured markets for indigenous chicken among others.