May 2022 Kenya Visit
Updated: Aug 1
This post summarizes my scoping visit to Kenya from May 12-May 30. We met with several farmers and millers, as well as government officials and industry leaders. Overall, we took steps to update previous assumptions and continue work on our pilot.
Work Prior to Visit
Prior to my visit, Dr. Kikiope, Head of Field Operations, visited Kenya from March 25-April 4. She was able to connect with industry and government officials, and other animal welfare nonprofits working in the farmed animal space. Her visit allowed us to reconnect with previous stakeholders that she had met with in November 2021, as well as make contact with new connections. These meetings provided us with new perspectives and discoveries regarding outreach strategies, research criteria, and operational requirements (e.g., how we should go about registering with the National Science Council and Kenya Veterinary Board).
The cofounders were also able to meet in-person (for the first time!) during Effective Altruism's Global London Conference from April 14-17. This allowed us to refine our plans for year 1 and identify areas of focus for my visit. During this time, our advisor, Karolina Sarek, prompted us with these questions:
How do you find or make feeds that are optimal?
How do you find farmers to implement that feed?
How do you go about making the intervention happen?
These questions acted as a guide for my visit, as well as keeping in mind our theory of change and two-phase approach: farmer buy-in and government/NGO buy-in.
I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya on May 12. Our amazing Country Manager, Faisal Qureshi, picked me up from the airport. We were eager to get started and met with our in-country lawyer to discuss registering as a nonprofit because without registration our official work cannot begin. Afterwards, Faisal and I went over the plans for my trip, which included work in and around Nairobi, and two scoping trips to Mombasa and Kisumu counties. He then dropped me off at my Airbnb so I could recover from jet lag.
During our time in Nairobi, we met with industry leaders, such as Kenchic (the leading day-old chick provider in Kenya) and Unga (the leading feed mill in Kenya), to discuss the possibility of partnering on feed trials and promoting animal welfare in the region. It also gave us a chance to ask for contacts that could help with our research efforts (government and academic contacts) and pilots (farmer contacts). We also met with one of the original animal welfare organisations in Kenya, Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), as well as a new organization in the space, Utunzi Africa, who invited us to attend and speak at their cage-free workshop that was attended by farmers, veterinarians, NGOs, and the media.
We had the great fortune to connect with two progressive farmers: a free-range farmer that supplies eggs to high-end grocers, and a cage-free farmer who relies on research and data. Both were interested in learning more about welfare, and possibly partnering with us. They even introduced us to other farmers in the area.
We flew out to the coast for three days and met with a few farmers. Unfortunately, one of them used cages, and seeing the terrible welfare conditions up close was a horrible experience. We also met with Mombasa Maize Millers, which is the leading poultry feed provider in the area. They were open to hearing our pitch, but were concerned that food insecurity would delay animal welfare policies in Kenya.
We flew out to Kisumu county towards the end of my trip to spend three days scooping the area for potential farmer and miller connections. We were able to attend a farmer expo and visit several farms. We also spoke to a couple of feed/raw material providers, which helped us better understand costs.
Upon our return to Nairobi, I had a day or so to be a tourist and experience life as a Kenyan, while getting ready to travel back to the US. Overall, the trip was a success and our key takeaways were:
Farmers are eager to learn and early adopters can influence others.
Big players in the poultry industry are willing to work with us.
Millers are heavily invested in farmers, so their influence can be greater than previously considered.
Phase 1 Work Conducted
We were able to visit eight farms (one caged and seven cage-free) during our trip. Flock size ranged from 400-4500 hens. All the farmers were welcoming and eager to understand our intervention as feed is a major problem for each of the farmers. The main complaints about feed are the quality and cost. Many felt that quality has decreased in recent years due to the availability of raw materials. We were able to test a couple of the feeds used by farmers and their concerns were validated by results indicating low levels of protein, vitamin D3, and phosphorus. Cost was also a major concern, so much so that a few of the farmers were in the process of switching to cheaper feed. These frustrations are reflected in the quotes below:
"Feed prices are up but egg prices are going down, which is hard on my farm."
"5-6 months ago they were charging Ksh2800, and now Ksh3800."
"I need to switch because it costs about 100-200 shillings less per bag."
Of the farmers we spoke to, all were interested in partnering with us for a potential pilot or knowledge-sharing intervention. Many were not aware of keel bone fractures or other basic welfare concerns like biosecurity or ventilation. But even though they were not formally educated on welfare issues, some farmers naturally cared for the hens under their watch. The quotes below reflect that sentiment and provide us with hope that we may be able to influence adoption of welfare considerations with Kenyan farmers:
"I grew up with chickens. I know they are birds that need to be free. I have practiced in cages and deep litter and chose the system where they are the most free."
"I tried cages, but got rid of them as It is torture for the animals."
Our meetings with feed millers were promising. We were happy to discover that two of the biggest feed producers regularly conduct trails on their feed. These trials are usually conducted with farmers that buy their product. This can potentially allow us to partner with a mill to trial our fortified feed on commercial farms, as well as have a source to produce that feed. We also inquired about custom feed costs in case the millers are not interested in partnering on a trial.
Another happy discovery is that millers have a deep relationship with their farmers. This updated our previous notions on the connection between miller and farmer. They often provide extension services such as vet care and farm visits. Whenever farmers believe there is an issue with their feed, they are happy to test it to identify any problems with their production.
We did meet with a small local miller, as well as a raw material supplier that formerly produced their own feed. They echoed sentiments from the farmers:
"There is a shift towards farmers buying their own raw materials to make their own feed because prices of commercial feeds are so high."
"I have seen an exodus of layer farmers in the area because it is hard to compete with the cheap eggs coming from Uganda."
The first quote concerns us because feed formulations must be optimal to provide proper health and welfare for the hens, and if farmers begin to create their own feed without the proper knowledge, many more hens will suffer. And unfortunately, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) would not be able to regulate improper standards, as their stance on self-made feed that is not commercially distributed is: "If you are making it on the farm, then you are willing to take the risks that come with that." A risk we believe cannot be taken on behalf of the hens.
Phase 2 Work Conducted
Speaking of KEBS, we were able to meet with a member of their Market Surveillance team. It was a productive meeting that left us with opportunities to help improve their standards and potentially aid them in market surveillance by providing them with our feed sample test results. We are excited about the opportunity to influence their standards via research and hope we can work together to improve vitamin and mineral levels in Kenya.
We also met with Kenchic on the heels of their welfare announcement. They are eager to become leaders in animal welfare and set the example for others in the industry. They also partner with mills to run trials, and this possibility would allow us to research feed fortification in a more controlled setting if their facilities are available.
Building on the meetings Dr. Kikiope had with Utunzi Africa and ANAW, we were able to discuss ways we could likely collaborate including conducting a hen census in Kenya, to better understand the number of layer hens in the country and the systems they are housed in. We also had the privilege of being invited to speak and attend Utunzi's cage-free workshop. We spoke on improving hen welfare via dietary interventions and participated in some lively discussions around the need for farmers to transition to cage-free systems.
Lastly, as an Effective Altruism organization, we wanted to make sure to connect with EA Nairobi during our trip. I am glad we did because they are a small but mighty group hoping to grow the community. We attended an event where we played board games, spoke to several people about our work, and made plans to help wherever possible.
After my visit, the team discussed potential next steps, which included preparing and providing trial proposals to millers, preparing research reports for KEBS, and continuing to test samples of and partner with local mills. We also decided that for our next trip we would attempt to hold a farmer workshop that would:
Allow us to trial a training on hen welfare best practices and feed fortification.
Identify and engage with new deep litter farms.
Call to action
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