By George Munene
The height of the Covid-19 pandemic was a disruptive period for many farmers and people in the agricultural value chain, but especially so for farmers who rear poultry for eggs and those who buy the eggs from them for wholesale.
Sammy Kigen, owner of Mkulima Mdogo Eggs wholesalers buys about 2,000 eggs a week from farmers across the country. Between, March and June he says he sold a tray of eggs for as low as Sh220. In areas such as Muranga, farmers grew so desperate to dispose of mounting stocks that the price of a tray fell to as low as Sh200. Normally farm-gate prices ranged from Sh260 to Sh280.
As the pandemic bit, forcing the unexpected closure of schools and eateries, many farmers were left holding onto eggs they couldn’t sell in bulk as they would have before. These birds still needed feeding and many of the farmers that he was buying eggs from in Ruiru and Githurai were forced to dispose of their chicken. That is because keeping poultry for eggs is about high volumes and marginal profits; so most farmers couldn’t continue losing money in the hope of finding a market or fetching better prices some time down the road. Those who hadn’t stocked up on feeds were also unsure of how they would source for feedstuff for their birds given that even less was known then of the possible repercussions of the novel coronavirus.
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However, Kigen has a wide client base consisting of supermarkets, retailers, hoteliers and individuals and he credits this for keeping his business afloat. There was also a temporary surge in buying by individuals when the country announced its first Covid-19 case and especially on the April 23rd announcement of the commencement of a 21-day partial lockdown. As with the rush to stock up on other foodstuff, households that normally bought a tray every so often were ordering 10-20 trays at a go from him.
A couple of months on, he says, there are now days when eggs are unavailable at the busy Githurai Market that straddles Nairobi and Kiambu Counties. He now buys a tray from farmers for Sh290-300 and sells it at Sh320-330. He attributes this spike in price and shortages to the lacuna that’s been left in the market after many farmers killed off their birds. Egg production also dips over the especially cold June and July months. Cases of diseases in birds also rise with falling temperatures; many farmers if they can help it, avoid rearing chicken over this period.