On our third series on Rusinga Island, Vice Versa Global’s Eunice Mwaura talks to Alphonse Odhiambo. The 32 year old man runs a poultry feed processing unit that has saved the residents of Rusinga Island from a cumbersome 105 km tour, to the nearby city, in order to purchase feed for their poultry.
About a mile away from Rusinga Feeds Centre, we can already hear the rumble of a machine whose gears are grinding together. Alphonse Odhiambo, the proprietor of the poultry processing unit, meets us with a vibrant smile as soon as we walk in. It’s 8am and he is already consumed in his daily routine of mixing feeds for the already piled up orders of the day. The 32 year old was born and raised in Rusinga Island, arguably the most prominent island on Lake Victoria. Before he opened the poultry feed processing unit, poultry farmers had to cover more than 105 km to Kisumu, a neighbouring town, to buy feeds for their poultry. So what does the processing unit mean for the people of Rusinga?
Bridging a Gap
“It is quite unique because poultry farmers don’t have to walk all the way to Kisumu to buy feed for their poultry”, he responds enthusiastically. The drive to start the processing unit arose because, just like in many other parts of the country, youth unemployment is quite a challenge on the island as well. The lake has also turned out to be an unreliable source of income as it can no longer accommodate all of them, especially at this time when overfishing has caused a depletion of fish in the lake.
“We had no option but to be creative. We saw a gap in Rusinga and came together to bridge it. Not only to empower ourselves financially and others through employment, but to also take charge in providing solutions for the society we live in. The people of Rusinga are now motivated to keep poultry because a poultry feeds centre is just but a stone throw away.”
Kevin, his colleague and a statistics graduate from the University of Nairobi, peruses a book to show us all the orders they have had the previous months and the preorders of the current one. He is in charge of bookkeeping for the feeds since he is an expert in the book balancing and accounting field. “The business has been quite profitable for the last three years since we started. However just like with so many other businesses, the pandemic has been a bolt from the blue. We are not as financially well off now as we were before,” he tells us. When the lockdown was implemented Kevin laments that they were locked out of accessing the supplies they rely on to make the feed. Most of their clientele couldn’t afford to purchase the feed for their poultry as well, for the quality of life had significantly deteriorated as a result of the pandemic. “It’s getting a little better at the moment so we are hoping to stabilise in the near future,” he says.
“Our other agenda was to steer young people from the lake.” Alphonse chips in. “As you know we are a fishing community. But this time honoured economic activity has had a lot of people thinking that no non-fishing related business can thrive within the island.” He recalls how this pursuit raised a lot of scepticism for most did not see the poultry processing unit operating for more than a year. Ironically, it has been three years now, and counting. This has seen so many people come to see the idea behind this processing unit, especially the youth. He can confidently say that most are fully convinced that it is possible, within the island, to start a business not related to fish.
As I continue talking to Alphonse, a young man walks in with a white non-woven bag to purchase some of the feed for his chicken. On his way out, he asks me follow him so that I can see where he is rearing the chicken. The young man was previously a fisherman, but now that there is a poultry feed processing unit in Rusinga, he can comfortably rear chicken without worrying about the cumbersome tour to Kisumu to purchase poultry feed. His barn is just opposite the processing unit. When we walk in he proceeds to feed the birds, 10 by my count, which he tells me will soon start laying eggs that he will sell within the island.
“Our dream is to expand regionally,” Alphonse says. “We hope that one day we shall get the opportunity to serve the whole of Nyanza and western region of Kenya which comprises of 6 counties. Our initiative has encouraged so many other young people to start businesses. We hope this will spark competition so that better ideas that will benefit our people can be born.” Alphonse message to young people is to act on whatever innovative ideas they may have. “The hardest part is starting, but once you get that out of the way you will find that the rest of the journey is much easier. Think and act,” he concludes.
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