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August 29, 2011

Kenyan poultry farmers seek alternatives to maize as shortage persists

by Bob Koigi

Poultry farmers across Kenya are scaling back chicken production, driven by the soaring costs of feed made principally from maize, which is now at all-time high prices. But for some, the soaring prices have forced a search for alternative feed that scientists claim are cheaper and more nutritious for poultry, and end competition for mainstream human food.

Since the end of last year, maize prices have risen more than three-fold, triggering a 40 per cent increase in the price of chick mash, from Sh2,700 for a 70kg bag to Sh3,500.

“Chicken feed accounts for 70 per cent of the total input cost, so if the feed prices go up, the input costs will automatically increase. If a farmer cannot meet the costs, he chooses to either reduce the number of chicken he rears, or stop poultry farming altogether,” said Ms Wairimu Kariuki, the chairperson of Kenya Poultry Farmers Association.

Yet maize has long been a problematic staple for the poultry industry. The amount of maize required for human consumption in Kenya is estimated at three million tonnes. But the country produces less than that, meeting some 10 per cent of its needs through imports. This sets up competition for maize in animal feed and means Kenya is deficient in oil seed cakes and meals important as protein sources in chicken feed.

A recent report on the feed industry showed substantial importing of wheat milling by-products from Uganda to try and replace the maize supply shortfall for feed. But other initiatives are now seeking to find whole new sources of poultry feed.

At local levels, some farmers are moving to alternative feed made from traditional and more nutritious crops, such as amaranth, millet and sorghum, and even to worms as chicken feed. That change is cutting their feed costs by up to 40 per cent.

Meanwhile, researchers are looking at non-conventional sources, such as pigeon peas, leaf meals, and agricultural by-products for protein supplements. Recent research by the Department of Animal Production at the University of Nairobi on found bulrush millet to be a good replacement for maize due to its higher protein content, which could be improved further with lysine supplementation.The research also found raw pigeon peas were a suitable source of protein at levels up to 15 per cent in chicken feed rations.

Bulrush millet and pigeon peas combined were able to replace up to 40 per cent of the conventional energy and protein sources in poultry feedstuff, concluded the research. Bulrush millet, which withstands hot temperatures, is a common livestock feed among poultry farmers in the semi-arid Mbooni area of Ukambani, with farmers reporting big savings through these feed, which they only grind manually to feed to their chickens.

The same farmers are also using cassava as an alternative poultry feed. They first dry it to rid it of cyanide, which would otherwise poison the poultry.

The shift is being championed by Bridgenet, an NGO assisting farmers in poultry keeping, which has borrowed the model from European countries like Holland and UK, which import cassava from South East Asia for poultry and pig feeds.

“It is possible to change all this cry about expensive chicken feed. If you look around and see for example how much cassava is rotting in the farms due to oversupply. That cassava has been proven to be nutritious feed for chicken, and is readily available,” said Dorothy Mwende, a programme officer with Bridgenet.

Nor do the alternatives end there. Mary Gikuni, an agroproneur from Limuru ventured into farming fodder shrubs that have been known to increase milk production in cattle by 20 per cent. But she later learnt from scientists that the same fodder shrubs, known as Caliandra, are very effective in feeding chicken once they are cut into small quantities and mixed with feeds that may be low in protein.

The shrubs – which are easy to grow and mature in about 12 months after which they can be regularly pruned and fed to livestock for up to 20 years — have been shown to harden the shells of the egg and improve the quality of the egg yolk.

Business Daily Africa

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