You would think that only wild animals attract tourists, until you hear about this animal farm
By Caroline Mwendwa
While most farmers in the urban space are preoccupied with crop farming made possible by the vertical method of farming, Francis Wachira has deviated from this norm to establish himself as a renowned livestock farmer within Nairobi. His carefully managed farm at Makadara, has attracted attention from far and wide even to a point of being called upon to go to the US, on an exchange program. “When my farm was visited by some white men, they loved what I was doing with this space, and invited me for an interview which would determine my eligibility for the trip. I thought this was a joke but indeed the interview happened and then the trip,” recalls Wachira. During this program, he had an opportunity to demonstrate to various people from the first world countries that urban farming is doable.
Wachira’s farm is one of its kind. Stocked with a myriad of domestic animals and birds. On a row of houses that he had built to rent out, Wachira has made partitions to host hundreds of rabbits, over fifteen dairy goats, several guinea pigs, chicken and geese. His choice of farming is definitely unique and that is what makes him stand out. “The problem with Kenyans is that they want to do what has been tested by others and proved profitable, no one wants to try out a new thing, they forget that what works for one farmer may not work as much for the other” he points out explaining the reason he settled for the rarely reared breeds.
A training he underwent alongside his fellow church members spurred this idea. “Back at our church, an entrepreneurship training was organized by the leaders to help people live self-dependent lives and there we were encouraged to have two business ideas to try out.” Even though his first ideas didn’t kick off as expected, Wachira decided to venture into agri-business. “At that time while I was still soul searching for the right venture, I came across a farmer within my neighbourhood rearing rabbit.” That same week, the area MP, convened a meeting encouraging people to embrace agribusinesses; his selling point was rabbit keeping, and these two incidences influenced his decision to keep rabbits.
As time went by, Wachira diversified to include dairy goats, geese, guinea pigs and chicken. “I keep the rabbits and guinea pigs for meat and the dairy goats for their milk. “In the past, very few people especially in the urban knew about the benefits of rabbit meat but this is gradually changing,” observes Wachira. This is evident in the stable market he has eventually secured with Tuskys Supermarket, a chain store. “I have been diligent in looking for a market for my rabbit and this search was not in vain as I successfully managed to partner with various branches of Tuskys Supermarket,” he says. One rabbit goes for Kshs 700 to Kshs 1000, depending on the size and on a good season he can even sell over 100 rabbits a day.
With this kind of demand, Wachira has become an agent between the farmers keeping rabbits and the market. “I get rabbits from all over the country and supply them to various hotels and this major supermarket.”
The same goes for the guinea pigs. Even though he acknowledges that not many people appreciate the value of guinea pigs as a source of meat, Wachira is positive that people are slowly changing their perceptions. “I am encouraged to go on rearing these kinds of domestic animals hoping people will someday embrace them in their meals just like they have accepted chicken,” quips Wachira, noting that until very recently, people did not think that chicken are edible.
His dairy goats provide milk both for domestic use and business. Goat milk is known for its cholesterol free value and power to boost the immune system. For these two main reasons, it sells at a higher price as compared to cow milk. As Wachira explains, he enjoys keeping goats as they require minimal space and feed less. From the goats, Wachira gets over 15 litres a day which he sells at close to Kshs 200 each.
The major hurdles that Wachira has to tackle in this kind of farming is the unavailability of specific feeds and veterinary services for his stock. “If any of these rabbits or guinea pigs or geese fall ill, there is no medication or even veterinary specialist out there meant to treat it. I can only buy medicines or acquire services meant for an animal that is closely related to it,” he explains. And this same situation goes for the feeds.
However, Wachira has maximally utilized his farm by planting fodder that is eaten by rabbits, the goats, and the guinea pigs. Apart from these plants, the farm is radiant with an assortment of fruit trees and vegetables. For instance, at the periphery of this farm stands a Brazilian cherry tree, with the red ornamental yet sweet cherries hanging from every branch.
Beneath this beautiful tree are herbal plants such as mint leaves, and other crops some from Mozambique and South Africa. “Whenever I encounter a unique crop, I bring it over and plant in on my farm.” Other fruit trees on his farm include mango trees, paw paw trees, guard trees, thorn melon, and pumpkins among others.
Wachira’s assorted farm confirms his passion for unique farming. “My family feeds from this farm, and from its abundance I make profit and that is how I have managed to educate all my children,” explains Wachira, whose children have all been through university.
Apart from farming, Wachira has invested some of his time to those willing to go into agri-business. “I conduct a lot of training to willing people who come over to learn from this farm,” he says pointing to benches just beside the farm where these sessions take place. As he further explains that it is always wise to learn from a fore runner. Among the things he trains on are how to build for rabbits, what to feed them on and the availability of market.
His advice to farmers is that they should go for what they are passionate about and not just do what other farmers are doing. “If you do a kind of farming that draws your heart, you will not lose patience when returns take time to mature.”
Some people may be afraid to rear so many animals within an urban setting due to certain social prejudices and social restrictions. To such, Wachira assures that the law does not prohibit it at all as long as one is conscious enough to maintain cleanliness and a suitable environment for the animals.