How a dream hatched largest chicken empire in East and Central Africa

Kenya is experiencing a boom in poultry rearing, buoyed predominantly by growing demand for poultry and its product with an upbeat local and international market. Most of the poultry farmers are small scale, but one man in Nyeri has dedicated more than acre to chicken farming in a multi million shilling investment, the largest in East and Central Africa.
 
While poultry farmers normally have their chicken houses on small portions of land, this one, about 10 kilometres from Nyeri Town, sits on more than an acre of land, and is home to thousands of hens and roosters, On approaching the breeding farm at Kahiga Village, one can be forgiven for thinking that a slum dwelling has cropped up in a rural area, only to be greeted at the entry on a hilly side of the farm, by a sea of beautiful white hens and cockerels; some feeding or drinking, while others are fighting or resting in laying nests after a sunny day.
 
The singing by dozens of wild birds in their neighbourhood is drowned by the crowing and clucking of these chickens. Welcome to Brade Gate poultry Industries, a business that has hallmarks of a big risk-taker and a dreamer. Built according to international standards, it is one of the largest, Central Africa and hatches over 160,000 chicks a week, in two sessions.
 
At least 3,000 broilers are slaughtered and sold to hotels, restaurants, institutions including universities, every day, while nearly 30,000 eggs are hatched daily.  Brade Gate has a breeding farm, hatchery, supermarket, a processing plant and feed mill. The supermarket is a one-stop for all poultry products, materials, equipment and information, while chickens are slaughtered and packed at the processing plant capable of handling 30,000 chickens a day.

The hatchery, with state-of-the-art equipment, can hatch 800,000 chicks a day. Here the chicks are bred and supplied to customers when one-day old. The hatchery ensures timely and sustained incubation of quality chicks. To put the icing on the cake, the company owned by a Nyeri industrialist, Dr Thuo Ma-thenge, has acquired a refrigerated cargo plane to be used to ferry poultry products for export and several refrigerated trucks transporting the birds across the country.

Once the laying and hatching are done, local farmers are given the first priority to buy the chicks twice a week. About 80,000 chicks are hatched per each of the two sessions a week. "Usually the chicks, which we sell at only Sh65 each, are ready for collection on Tuesdays and Fridays," says Dr Mathenge, a father of seven. Some day-old chicks are reared by Brade Gate for meat. Farmers book for the day-old chicks in advance, but if they fail to collect them, they are reared by the company Upon undergoing vaccination and feeding with quality feeds, these broiler chicks, which usually mature within 35 to 42 days with favourable weight, enable farmers to get good returns when they sell the broilers to the company. "The company has veterinary officers who look after the parent stock and offer extension services to farmers. Experienced marketing officers also liaise with the farmers to ensure that once their stocks are mature, a ready market awaits them," he says.

Brade Gate also has among the best breeds in the world, with the initial 40,000 chickens imported from the Netherlands as day-old have created many indirect jobs. If I had eight rental buildings, I would only employ eight caretakers, but by starting this line of business, thousands can get jobs," he says. People wishing to start poultry farms can buy one-old day chicks through the company's Taifa Option Finance loan. "Taifa Option Finance is a micro-finance institution established by the company to assist farmers' get access to loans for their poultry rearing projects," he says. "Farmers do not get cash, but are given various inputs on credit. The policy is for interested farmers to have at least 30 per cent of the entire project's cost, while it provides the rest (70 per cent). The borrowed money is deducted once the farmers deliver their mature birds and they have been sold." The farmers also receive free training every week to ensure that they follow recommended rearing practices. "The training is conducted at the company's headquarters from Monday to Saturday, or through visits to organised groups by the company's poultry production specialists," Dr. Mathenge says. Ms Beatrice Wamuyu, a farmer from Mikundi Village in Mathira, started by rearing 50 birds from Brade Gate. "When I first heard of this project, I was apprehensive but since I was given the birds and began to earn more than Sh5,000 a month, I have never looked back. Currently, I earn Sh30,000 monthly" she says.

The company has acquired an Export Processing Zone Authority licence to be able to export its products. "Our plane, which will be used to take the products beyond the country's borders, will have its base at the recently rehabilitated Nyaribo Airstrip, which is barely five kilometers from the processing plant," he says. "We also want to expand our operations into South Sudan and Rwanda, where we have good contacts. We are also thinking of sending people to Kismayu to see if we can find a footing in the Somali market as soon as peace is established there." But who is this Dr. Mathenge?

Behind the grandeur of the project, which has been visited by more than 50,000 small-scale farmers in its two years of existence, is the story of a man who grew up from humble beginnings. His is the story of a boy, who while sleeping on gunny bags, never stopped dreaming. He wanted to get out of poverty and also help others. This poor boy, who would work hard to become a medical doctor, realised early that since almost everyone could raise a chicken, this could be one of the ways to combat poverty. In 2005, he decided to go for it. After spending time on research, planning and travelling through different parts of the world, he was ready.  He took the risk by selling five rental buildings, which he had built while running a clinic and an insurance company. He then started the poultry business at a cost of about Sh50 million. And thus, Brade Gate came into being.
 
But Dr Mathenge has not stopped dreaming. He is determined to make Nyeri County a chicken republic by ensuring that every household rears about 100 chicks. His ultimate goal is to help alleviate poverty among the rural folks.