Vet's Gamble in Kuku Kienyeji Pays Off After Ditching Dream American Job
What do you call a young promising Kenyan who leaves a flashy Diaspora life after less than 10 years to come back to Kenya to start a poultry farm? Crazy perhaps.
That’s exactly what Dr Tony Kiragu was labeled by his friends and peers when he decided to leave his accomplished veterinary practice in the US to come back to Kenya, the sleepy Naivasha to be precise, to try his hand in poultry farming.
To some, what he did is akin to quitting a well-paying job to eke out a living through gambling.
“Are you crazy man!” That was the reaction from most of my friends when I told them I was relocating back to Kenya to do kuku farming. Most of them thought I was nuts,” Dr Kiragu opens up as he takes Smart Harvest team on a tour of his eight-acre Nature Kuku Farm that he started in 2015 after he relocated to Kenya.
COLD, SUPERFICIAL LIFE
It is easy to understand why his friends were gobsmacked when he announced his plan to go back to his Motherland to rear poultry.
Look, the vet was on the fast lane doing remarkably well in the US.
Having relocated there in 2008 on a Green Card, he had hustled his way to the point he was allowed to practise as a Vet without additional training using a native’s licence.
“I mean by year seven I had settled in very well. I had two good vet related jobs and I was earning good money. But for some reason, I was not fulfilled.
My heart has always been in Kenya. Actually, three months after settling in the US, I knew deep in my heart, I would not last long here. Though the money was good, the life was fast, cold and unfulfilling,” says the 36-year-old with a degree in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Nairobi.
A VET IN THE US
Given that in the US and other developed countries do not recognise specialised degrees like Veterinary Medicine from most universities in Third World countries, being allowed to practise was a plus for him.
“I tried to get a job as a Vet but for a while nothing was coming through because my degree was not really recognised. But I got a breakthrough when I landed a job as a technician in an animal clinic,” he recalls.
It was here that his talent shone.
“The owner of the clinic noticed that I was very good with animals and I had hands on training and skills that were very useful in the clinic. Slowly, I rose through the ranks to the point of practising as a vet but under the proprietor’s licence,” the father of two narrates.
Having established good networks, numerous doors opened and life became good in year three, four, five, six... at year seven, he made the radical decision and came back home.
Although his move was foolhardy back then, now the naysers agree that what best describes the vet is a pure breed risk taker.
Dr Kiragu now runs Kuku Nature Farm in Naivasha town, that is well established agribusiness with a solid market and making a significant impact in the farming community in the area.
The ambitious vet specialises in hatching Kari Kienyeji chicken which he supplies to local farmers and institutions in the larger Nakuru County and hopes to tap into a wider market.
A walk through the Sh20 million establishment tucked in the outskirts of Naivasha town, one cannot help but appreciate the massive investment the vet has pumped into the project.
The hatchery which has capacity to hatch 50,000 eggs is a state-of-art machine that cost Sh8 million.
“Hatching eggs is a very delicate process and you need a good machine. That is why I went for quality. There are investors whose bought substandard ones that lead to massive losses.
Anybody who wants to invest in a hatchery should go for quality. And if you have a hatchery, a back-up generator is a must even if you have small incubators. Otherwise when there is a blackout you will lose all the eggs,” he says.
As a way of giving back to the community, the vet trains local farmers on best practice for a subsidised fee.
“I noticed that hybrid farmers are keen on management issues, but kuku kienyeji farmers are lax because of this mentality that these birds are hardcore and can survive without proper care. But I am trying to change that mindset and showing farmers how to take good care of this resilient breed for maximum yield,” he says.
Because the business is barely a year old and has not broken even, Dr Kiragu may not be earning what he was getting from his vet practice in the US, but he is a testimony to young people that agribusiness is worth the risk.
Are there days he wakes up and wonders “should I have stayed in the US a little longer?”
“Naaah... no regrets for me...,” he says with firm assurance.
“I may not be taking home millions, but I’m glad I made the decision to come back home. I love what I am doing. My joy is when a farmer comes back to me and tells me, their chicken are healthy and laying many eggs. I love the fact that I’m making a difference in the lives of young farmers.”