By 2013, Geoffrey Kago’s firm, Kaki Village Enterprises, was valued at Sh10 million. The firm had been started in 2002 with capital of just Sh600. This was due to the iron will of the owner to innovate in the poultry industry by rearing different poultry breeds.
Since buying his first exotic hen from his mother in 1985, for Sh20, Kago, has never had to rely on his parents for upkeep or even school fees.
By then, he was in Class Four. His role model was the legendary Nelson Muguku, one of Kenya’s first poultry billionaires. That first hen was a Transylvania Naked Neck, which has no feathers on its neck. “I bought it with my own savings,” said Kago.
He chose it because it was a fast breeder. In a year, he was able to breed nearly 200 chickens, which he sold locally in his Nyeri neighbourhood for between Sh20 to Sh50.
The rapidly expanding brood enabled Kago to save enough money to fund his high school education at Nyeri High from Forms Two to Four. “I loved to get the sense of ownership,” said Kago, emphasising the independence that rearing poultry at such a young age gave him.
High school was a major ground that nurtured interest and innovation in poultry technology. Having experienced the problems traditional hatching posed, he conceptualised and developed an electric incubator. It won first place in the 1985 high school science congress at district level and came second nationally.
He nonetheless faced challenges, including the time a neighbour poisoned all of the expansive brood. He confesses that was hard to take in, but says it spurred him forwards in pouring his energy into his poultry innovations.
In 1997, he settled in Kiserian. To make ends meet, he worked as a casual stone-mason and labourer, and then apprentice carpenter, including a two-year stint in a funeral home where he learnt joinery.
The carpentry skills he learnt equipped him with solid knowledge to innovate. He got so adept, he was able to make a pool table. His last work outside the poultry industry was working as a cigarettes hawker in Kiserian in the late 1990s to early 2000s.
It was cigarette hawking that provided him with Sh600 capital to make his first commercial electric incubator. He was spurred by the clarion call by the former President Kibaki in 2002, urging optimistic Kenyans to use their knowledge to improve their lives.
It was his light bulb moment for Kaki Village Enterprise. From the first incubator, he diversified into making Candlers for checking eggs’ fertility. He also dabbled in training farmers in the basics of rearing poultry and hatching. Since 2002, Kago has managed to expand his poultry and innovation business into three branches. In Eldoret, he has a hatchery and also develops incubators for sales. At Laikipia, he has five acres where he conducts poultry farmer trainings.
He also breeds other rarely bred birds like ostriches, quails, ducks and guinea fowls.
The farm also has a mini-dam he intends to use to go into fish and duck farming. “It’s also a nature centre, where I demonstrate other models of farming,” said Kago. He trains farmers at a cost of Sh2500 per head.
He has also opened a branch of his company at Gitaru, along the Nairobi-Nakuru highway to be close to the Capital City.
There, he holds demonstrations of his latest projects, which include a new frontier in exotic poultry farming. At Gitaru, he has 1000 quails, six ostriches, 60 guinea fowl, 200 ‘Kienyeji’ chickens, 30 turkeys and 10 geese on half an acre of land.
The rearing of birds other than hens is to show their viability as alternative sources of meat and eggs. He also views them as cheaper alternatives, arguing that guinea fowls, for instance, are grazers and quails consume a tenth of the feeds eaten by chicken. Also “they are more resistant to diseases and good sources of white meat,” said Kago. Currently, he sells breeding guinea fowls at Sh3000 and non breeding for Sh1000. He gets over 50 enquiries a week for the birds.
To breed birds like quails, geese and ostrich he obtained a Kenya Wildlife License. He admits he knows 1000 other farmers licensed, but no breeder is yet meeting the demand. “I encourage more farmers to diversify their poultry rearing,” said Kago.
Stakeholders who have sourced his innovations include the Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Africa Medical Research Fund and NGOs involved in poverty alleviation projects.
His company also engages in the production of Posho Mills, feed mixture machines that farmers can use to formulate feeds for livestock. The costs of these machines go up to Sh600, 000. Kago has now set his sights on nailing much lower cost production as his next challenge.
He believes Kenyans are innovative enough to create technology solutions unique to their problems, rather than getting technology from Europe and China, which is expensive and can be hard to assimilate locally.
“If our athletics can do it we can too,” he said to emphasize the potential Kenyans have if they get the knowledge.”