Farmers play extension officers, halving Newcastle disease and earning from it

A model that trains farmers to be community based extension officer is halving the death of the fatal Newcastle disease while giving farmers a new source of income.

Practiced in Eastern Kenya, the model has been informed by prevalence of Newcastle disease in the area. The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, through the European Union sponsored project Kenya Arid and Semi Arid Lands (KASAL), began to train people how to manage indigenous chickens and how to vaccinate them against the disease.
The KASAL project focuses on indigenous chickens because evidence shows they need less attention than exotic breeds and can survive the tough climatic conditions that exist in semi-arid eastern Kenya.

Julia Kyalo has over 400 free range chicken which she wakes up at the crack of dawn to feed before preparing doses of the Newcastle disease vaccine which she administers before setting out on her bicycle to vaccinate other free range chickens in Matungulu district in eastern Kenya.

She is among farmers who have been trained on vaccinating against the highly contagious disease. On a normal day she vaccinates an average of 800 birds at a cost of Sh5 per bird. “I have been trained as a community-based extension officer for indigenous poultry management and control of the Newcastle disease,” she said.

Newcastle disease is caused by a virus and has no cure. When it attacks, the contagious disease can wipe out an entire flock. The only way to control it is through vaccinating healthy birds. Kyalo buys the vaccines from Agro-vet shops in Nairobi . She earns a profit of Sh2 per bird, which enables to pay for transport costs and her services.

The work of Kyalo and others who have been trained to vaccinate poultry means that Newcastle disease is no longer the threat it was two years ago in eastern Kenya. The disease, according to experts, is one of the major constraints to production of rural indigenous chicken.

Muisyo knows all too well about the effect Newcastle disease can have on a business. “In 2006, I tried keeping indigenous chicken on a larger scale for business. But when Newcastle disease attacked, I lost 78 birds of out of a total of 85 in one week. Since then, I gave up keeping chickens until two years ago when I learnt of the disease control through vaccination,” she recalled.

Her neighbour lost an entire flock of 500 exotic broilers that year. The prominence of Newcastle disease in eastern Kenya is the reason why the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, through the European Union sponsored project Kenya Arid and Semi Arid Lands (KASAL), began to train people how to manage indigenous chickens and how to vaccinate them against the disease.

The KASAL project focuses on indigenous chickens because evidence shows they need less attention than exotic breeds and can survive the tough climatic conditions that exist in semi-arid eastern Kenya. “From eight districts within Eastern Province, we recruited 64 candidates, eight from each district for two weeks training on management of indigenous chicken and vaccination against the Newcastle disease,” says Dr. Anne Wachira, a poultry expert and KASAL’s principal investigator.

Upon graduation, the trainees became service providers and train other interested members in their communities.
As a result, poultry keeping in Eastern Province has thrived and hundreds of residents now earn their living from this, like Gabriel Mbatha Nzomo.

“Like anybody else in this village, I could keep up to five chickens because I was scared of wenzi, the local name for the Newcastle disease,” said Nzomo who hails from Kyakatulu village in Eastern Province. “But after I learnt of this vaccine, I bought 30 indigenous chicks for experimentation on my farm. The stock has grown to hundreds of birds in just two years,” he said.

“Last month I got an order for 120 birds for a school party. This earned me Sh50,000, which I used to pay my bills including part of college fees for my daughter,” said Nzomo.

He still has 194 birds on his farm, which he will sell at the market before restocking. “The vaccines for this highly contagious disease have always been there on the market. But poultry keepers have not been able to use it because of various challenges – which KASAL is now trying to address,” says Wachira.

One such challenge is that the vaccines must be kept in a cold storage. Facilities for such conditions can only be available in areas with electricity network. But there are ways around it.

“After we buy the vaccines from the city, we store them with shopkeepers at the market place who have access to electricity, and have fridges. And when we pick them in the morning, we put them in cold boxes as we move from one village to another,” explains Muisyo.