How Chicken Rearing in a Small Ugandan Town Got Him a Name among Tycoons
IF you go to Bamunanika Town and ask for Steven Mutebi, forgive the residents if they say: "We do not know him" But the moment you ask for omugagga omuto (young tycoon), even small children will take you to his home.
Mutebi, whose "empire" sits off the road to Bamunanika sub-county headquarters, is known for rearing chicken. During the Christmas season, he had over 10,000 layers in his complex and sold off at least 3,000 old ones. He now has 7,000. He has been able to acquire a lorry to assist him and he also has many houses that he rents out - all from chicken earnings.
Before he became a tycoon, he operated a typical village retail shop in the town. "It was not easy business. Being a village, almost three out of five people who came to buy things from the shop, and took them on credit," he says. The shop was failing and he often had to get money from other circles to keep business going. Then one day, a relative of his who was rearing chicken, advised him to join the business. That was around 1999.
He had a small business room that he used as a home. He turned one of the rooms into a chicken house. "I bought 100 layer chicks," he says. He adds that the layers performed well. They produced at least three trays of eggs everyday.
"We were selling each tray at around sh2,500, earning us sh7,500 per day," he remembers.
This gave him the impetus to expand. The next time he brought 500 layer chicks. He began getting 15 trays of eggs per day, earning him over sh37,000 per day. From the profit, he bought land near his home to expand the business. He constructed a two-roomed chicken shelter.
After that, he stopped rearing layers and turned to broilers. This was after two-and-half years in the business.
"Broilers bring in money quickly," he reasons. He bought 1,000 broilers and after only one-and-a-half months, he sold them off and earned sh3m.
"Every two months, I would have new stock. I reared broilers for over two years," he says.
But around 2004, Mutebi went back to rearing layers. This time he bought 1,000 and was collecting an average of 33 trays of eggs per day.
"This was the most profitable period of business because I used to save at least sh1.4m per month and that was after deducting the cost of the other expenses," he says.
The high earnings went on for over five months, then the layers started reducing. By the tenth month, he was earning around sh0.9m from an initial sh1.4m. When the eggs reduced further, he sold the layers, earned sh3m and bought a new stock of 2,000.
"With the balance, I bought an acre of land at sh1m," he says.
In five years, he moved from an initial 100 chicks to 2,000 chicks, bought two acres of land and lived happily without even getting a bank loan.
He then started constructing another chicken house on the land that he had acquired. "From the 2,000 chicken around 2004, I was earning at least sh2.6m per month from the sale of eggs," he says.
It was at this time that he realised somebody was stealing the eggs. It turned out that the thieves were actually some of the workers in the chicken houses.
"I decided to stop using outside workers and started entering the chicken houses myself," he explains.
His wife helps him with some of the work. The other work is done by his children. The farm only retained two workers who mainly clean outside and a security guard who keeps watch at night.
In 2005, after the construction of a third shelter, Mutebi bought 4,000 layers. Gradually, he started phasing out the previous 2,000 layers. In total, the off-layers fetched him around sh6m.
Meanwhile, the farm was facing water problems. Carrying water by hand could no longer sustain the chicken. "To chicken, water is like food. Any scarcity breeds trouble," he explains. Furthermore, carrying food for the birds and carrying the over 100 trays of eggs everyday had become demanding. This is when Mutebi decided to buy a pick-up truck.
"The second-hand Nissan Sahara that I bought solved the problem. It did not only carry eggs and chicken feed, but also helped other people in the area carry their produce," he boasts.
This was in 2006, seven years after he had started the project.
Using the money from the 100 trays per day and the earnings from the truck, he constructed the third chicken house and later bought another 3,000 chicken. He was now getting over 180 trays of eggs daily and the pick up truck could no longer carry them. Even the food was much heavier.
"I saved enough to buy a Canter," he says. That was in 2007. Mutebi bought the truck during the mango season and the farmers in Bamunanika liked it. Bamunanika is one of the leading producers of mangoes in the country.
"The mango farmers liked it because now they could transport their produce to the market together," he says. They paid well too.
He solved the water problem by harvesting rain water. He installed four tanks, each with a capacity of 13,000 litres at the farm.
By the end of 2008, he had increased the layers to over 10,000 and constructed four other chicken houses.
Mutebi has got a fixed market for his eggs. At first, he was supplying hotels in and around Kampala, until he got a Kikuubo trader who buys all of them. "She pays more money than the hotels, in addition to paying for the fuel that transports the eggs from Bamunanika to Kikuubo," he says. The market is permanent and he alone cannot sustain it.
"My clients still needs more eggs than I can produce and I wish that I had other people producing eggs around here," he says. He has been trying to interest his neighbours to start rearing chicken, but only one of them has started. He says he likes teaching others the trick of his success. A few years ago, he was recognised by the National Agricultural Advisory Services and given the status of a model farmer.
At the moment, Mutebi says the price of chicken feed is so high, that profits have fallen dramatically. "When we started this business, a tray of eggs went for sh2,500, but we were making more profits than we are doing now with a tray at sh5,500," he says.
He adds that for the last six months, he has been operating under losses. "In fact, many of his friends who had fewer chicken have already sold them off and abandoned the business all together.
But last month, things improved and I think by the next harvest, they will have improved further," he says.
Another challenge was that when he had just started, he was faced with the problem of "foreign" chicken sneaking into his chicken houses. Some of them carried diseases that affected his chicken.
Mutebi says he succeeded in the business because he went into it wholeheartedly.
"By the time I decided to take it up, I had made up my mind that this is the business that will make me prosperous," he says. He also says he decided to reinvest most of his earnings into the business to expand it.
"The problem many people do is to eat not only the profits, but also some of the capital. I guarded against this by keeping up-to-date books of records for my farm," he says. He knew how much he was going to earn from 1,000 chicken and worked to achieve it.
Chicken, he says, are very sensitive animals. This is why they have to be carefully cared for.Some people lose up to 50% or even more of their stock in infancy because they do not have good brooders.
On his farm, Mutebi maintains a perfect brooder, where he keeps the chicks before they are ready for the main house. "Get involved all the time, seek knowledge from others, you will succeed," he says.
By Ugandan standards, he is living a good life. He is able to pay his children's school fees, including two at the university.
"I do not think that I would have been able to pay their school fees otherwise," he says.
By Joshua Kato
The New Vision Newspaper