A recent article entitled Why it costs much more to move goods around Africa, noted that, “disputes between countries can clog up trade for month. For most of last year, Kenya banned imports of Ugandan chicken and eggs because its farmers complained about their neighbours’ prodigiously productive poultry.”
Thank God, for now, feathers are not flying between Kenya and Uganda over chicken.
The problem with Ugandan chicken is that they’re like the country’s people — too fertile for their good. Not too long ago, a report said “Ugandan women, on average, give birth to nearly two children more than they want (6.2 vs 4.5) — which represents one of the highest levels of excess fertility in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni generally steps gingerly on the issue of family planning, telling people to give birth to the number of children they can afford. He speaks like a true African chief. Former prime minister Amama Mbabazi was despairing, declaring, in alarm, that “Ugandans reproduce like rabbits”.
Uganda now has the youngest age structure in the world, with 77 percent of its population under the age of 30. Museveni smiles at that, seeing a market, youthful labour and enough hands to bear arms for the army when needed. Fortunately, unlike the chicken, they aren’t yet causing trouble in neighbours’ markets.
So what is the problem with Ugandan chicken? Why won’t they lay a few eggs and let the world be?
A month ago, a Kenyan entrepreneur who has been studying the subversive ways of Ugandan chicken and poultry farmers, told me he had figured out their trick. I didn’t understand fully the first one, but he said it was the fertility of Ugandan land.
Three years ago I visited a Ugandan friend upcountry who is raising free-range chicken. He had fenced off an area near his house, and many chickens were roaming freely and clucking merrily. They were well-fed and fat. You can’t beat happy chicken.
I asked him what he fed them. He told me “they mostly live off the land”. I guess the Kenyan entrepreneur found him.
The second thing, he said, was the price of maize and, especially, soya. It was scandalously cheap in Uganda, so the farmers were able to give their chicken three-course meals whereas the Kenyan ones sometimes had to make do with only entrées. I didn’t know that soya was chicken feed. I read up and found that it is fine dining.
His plan was to go big into farming dragonflies, which are very nutritious for chicken. At scale, dragonflies are very cheap, and they give one’s chicken some organic credibility.
I didn’t want to ruin our fine day, so I didn’t tell him about something I saw at my Ugandan friend’s place. He has a building partly clad in iron, with netting and other contraptions. He told me he was raising dragonflies, some for chicken, and others for fish feed.
If there are other farmers out there like him, the other problem with Ugandan chicken could be that they have too many flies to eat. Kenya might not win this by “outflying” them.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]