July 2, 2010
By Deepa Krishnan
There is hardly a day when Chance Christine wakes up at leisure. Sometimes it is her crying babies. Sometimes it is her backyard chickens, clucking for their morning feed.
Most times, it is both. Holding her fourteen-month-old she unlatches the door of her chicken coop to survey the birds. Amid the fluttering, she spreads the feed into a thin wooden trough. The birds noisily rush to the feed, forgetting about their eggs. Christine picks the brown eggs, holds each one to her ear, and shakes it. She quickly counts her eggs and fills her blue bowl.
It is a typical day for Chance Christine. It has been for some
time, and this could well be a charmed life. Just a few years ago she was
barely making ends meet by selling porridge on a roadside in Buhoma, a rural
In Buhoma the earth is red and smells fresh from the rain. The
trees are lush and tiny matchbox-like mud brick houses with tin roofs line
either side of the dirt roads. Little children run barefoot, and are delighted
to see tourists. "Muzungu!," they scream. That's the local term for
white man. Buhoma is full of white tourists. It is the nearest town to
Two years ago the 24-year-old received modest funding from the Uganda National Agricultural Advisory Services. She bought a few chickens and hasn't looked back since. She now owns over seventy, and is thinking of growing her flock. Chance Christine is among a new breed of successful African women entrepreneurs.
Christine bought the birds when they were a day old. She has
learned how to provide the right amount of insulation and nutrition. She buys a
mix of corn and vitamins she calls mash. She gives them immunizations. Raising
chickens is profitable for her. Until lately, the hotels around Buhoma had to
buy their eggs from the neighboring town of
The beauty of Christine's business is that there is nothing new about it. Christine's mother, and probably hers, had chickens clucking, scurrying, and scavenging in their backyards. But they hardly considered turning it into a full-fledged, profit-making enterprise. With the success Christine has seen, she has decided to stay in the chicken business for the long haul.
Local chicken or enkoko, do not need much land, rarely any special feed, and are not troubled by rising temperatures caused by climate change. Chickens can cope with drought and floods far better than cows and goats as they can survive on scavenged food. It is perfectly acceptable for women to own and sell chickens without a man's permission as cattle, not chicken, are seen as an important symbol of wealth and social standing in traditional Ugandan society. Chickens, hardly important in the scheme of things, are a big safety net for women.
Connie Kyarisiima, a senior lecturer at
A few hundred miles from Buhoma is Kyotera, a small town in the
district of Rakai in the banana-growing region of
Nakato Madina was encouraged to become a poultry farmer by the Community
Integrated Development Initiative (CIDI), one of the many grassroot NGOs across
the African continent that empowers women. Similar programs have been adopted
Madina belongs to the Tufayo local breeders’ group. One of the main issues they tackle is how to provide for the kids. “Little children need to be fed very well,” she says. The group meets every Sunday for two hours, shares information and ideas, and looks for ways to better their chicken farming practices.
Like Christine the Tufayo women also sell eggs. Madina runs a smooth and simple operation. The children take the eggs to shops, and this pays for their school fees. The hotels in the town make orders to buy chickens. Sometimes, the children get to eat the chickens and eggs as a treat. Other times, the eggs are sold to buy maize and peas. Feed is Madina’s only big expense for rearing chickens. She mixes the feed she buys with dried banana peels and some other weeds to make a homemade mix.
Through a steady income from chickens, two of Madina's children have graduated from school and are now contributing to the school fees of the younger ones. Two more will graduate this year. Hundreds of groups like the Tufayo are looking at chicken farming as the next revolution.
"You put money in chicken. You get chickens to eat; you get chickens to sell. You get eggs to eat; eggs to sell. Another thing that I get is fertilizer – the droppings have a lot of nitrogen. You use them in the garden, and you harvest – you get money," says Dan Kigula, an extension worker at CIDI in Rakai. He is the reason why so many of Rakai's women are excited about poultry. It is not difficult to believe when you hear him declare his pure love for these unobtrusive birds.
"Chicken is part of me. I sleep chicken, I walk chicken, I love chicken, I eat chicken," he says. The village women call him Kigula Enkoko – Mr. Chicken. His next objective is to provide the women in Rakai with a ready market to sell their chicken and eggs. Unlike Chance Christine, without any steady buyers these women find selling their chickens a big challenge. Yet chickens are their biggest blessing. They help feed their large, hungry households.
The women of Rakai are fully aware that raising chickens is not a
one stop solution. Fast spreading diseases like
Winter is one of the busiest seasons for Christine as Buhoma is
brimming with tourists. It is a sunny Saturday morning and Christine is waiting
outside her house for a boda-boda (motorbike taxi). She will do her weekly
rounds of the tourist lodges in
At more than three dollars a tray, she can make about $90 a month delivering eggs to just one client. Christine is saving every penny for her three boys’ higher education. Barely a decade ago, her parents could not afford to let her study. She stopped at seventh grade to start working.
Chance Christine has no time to waste. Her children are waiting at home for lunch. She has to feed them, check on her chickens, and think of applying for a fresh loan to expand her business. Maybe even buy some land. She speeds off on her boda-boda. There's a lot to be done.
About the Author
Deepa Krishnan is a financial reporter from
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