Diary of a Poultry Farmer: Don’t rejoice yet on yellow maize directive

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By SUBIRI OBWOGO
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I have some good and bad news. First the good news. Last week, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich gave a nod to millers to import yellow maize duty free for use in making animal feeds to ease pressure on white maize.

Now, the bad news. We’ll have to wait a little longer to see if this policy shift will eventually prove effective in lowering the cost of livestock feeds.

I will tell you why I am rather cautious about the new move. If you recall, I have advocated for this policy shift for a long time (Seeds of Gold, December 5, 2015, July 16 and December 10, 2016).

You see, white maize is our staple food and production has never met demand. As a result, we rely on imports from Uganda and Tanzania.

According to government sources, the country has a deficit of 20 million bags of maize every year.

Uganda, on the other hand, produces four million tonnes of maize per annum and exports most of it because their staple food is matoke (bananas).

In effect, using white maize to make animal feeds like we do inadvertently creates competition between animal and human food. The net result is farmers and consumers pay more.

The other day I bought a 2kg packet of maize flour at Sh150, up from less than Sh100 few months ago. I felt the pain.

According to Food and Agriculture Organisation, the poultry industry is worth $6.3 billion. But to grow the industry and protect it from cheap imports of eggs and chicken meat, the cost of feeds has to come down.

Here’s a sad fact. Feeds alone account for up to 70 per cent of the total cost of producing eggs or meat from poultry.

The current drought has made matters worse. When I used to formulate my own feeds, I would save between 30 and 50 per cent on a 70kg bag of commercial feeds.

ENERGY AND PROTEIN CONTENT

But since November last year, the price of white maize has gone up from Sh35 to Sh55 a kilo, making it uneconomical for me to make my own feeds.

In case you are wondering why maize is such a vital ingredient in animal feeds, here are the facts.

Raw materials for livestock feeds include carbohydrates (energy), proteins and the micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals).

Of these, carbs and proteins account for 95 per cent of the total cost.

The sources of energy (carbs) include cereals like white maize, low tannin sorghum, and yellow maize and the cereal by-products like maize germ, maize bran, wheat bran and wheat pollard.

Now, it is possible to substitute white maize with yellow maize but before this policy shift, millers were prohibited.
To compare white and yellow maize, you need to look at their energy and protein content.

On energy content, yellow maize is at par with white maize. In addition, yellow maize contains more protein per gram compared to white. Also, if you are looking for yellow-yolked eggs, yellow maize is the obvious choice.

So, why am I skeptical about this new directive? If you recall, the 16 per cent tax waiver on raw materials that was announced by the Treasury CS last year did not translate to a reduction in prices after all.

The problem has been that whenever the demand for white maize went up, millers increased their prices but when prices fell, the savings were not transferred to farmers.

I just hope that since the current arrangement allows millers to import yellow maize duty-free solely for making animal feeds, they will have no excuse to increase the price.

POLITICALLY CONNECTED BROKERS

The bigger fear has been that millers would divert the imported yellow maize to human use, flood the market and dampen price of white maize. This would hurt local farmers.

To be fair, this is a valid point although the devil is in the detail. A recent study by the Tegemeo Institute of Egerton University reflects a complex political economy that keeps maize prices artificially high.

According to the study, the majority of farmers in the country grow maize for domestic consumption. As a result, 50 per cent of revenues from traded maize is only earned by 2 percent of the farmers.

To find out more about the likely impact of this policy, I spoke to John my long-time animal feed retailer in Thika town on the outskirts of Nairobi.

“The politically connected brokers in the supply chain are the problem,” he said. “By the time the imported yellow maize reaches my shop, it will have passed through five other dealers who have nothing to do with animal feeds,” he said.  In fact, a 2016 World Bank Report titled Kenya Country Economic Memorandum: From Economic Growth to Jobs and Prosperity, echoes his sentiments.

“The maize market best represents the challenges in the agricultural sector where competition is limited and consumer prices are high, with significant negative impact on welfare and poverty,” the report says.

In case the Agriculture CS Willy Bett is reading this, I urge him to stay on course. “This could be your legacy”. As a farmer, I remain optimistic.

Augastine Nyamasyo: In reference to Anthony Muli’s space constraints (Seed of Gold, March 18), I would advise he builds a storied chicken coops made from timber.

Thanks for this valuable piece of advice.

Joseph Oyuga: Do you conduct feed formulation classes in Bungoma or Busia counties?

I conduct classes only in Nairobi. Get in touch with the nearest Kalro training centre.

Ambayo Willis: I find your articles highly motivating. Where can I get fertile eggs to incubate in my 528 egg capacity machine?

Unless you are getting eggs from a reputable source, I would advise that you raise your own parent stock from which you can get eggs to incubate and sell chicks. Refer to my article in Seeds of Gold, September 10, 2016.

Mwengi: I am interested in keeping 1,500 chickens and my concerns are:

a) What is the size of houses for Kienyeji chickens under normal circumstances?

b)My past experience with confining high number of Kienyeji chickens was disastrous.

Space concern is not about where they sleep at night. Even limited space with patches for sleeping at night will suffice. If each run allows 10 to 15 square meters per bird, birds are able to meet 60 to 70 per cent of their total feed requirements from pastures, insects and worms while the remaining 30 to 40 per cent is met by supplementing using formulated feeds.


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