Hatching an idea: From a funeral home to egg incubators

Geoffrey Kago feeding ostriches Mr Kago started rearing ostriches in 2005 Photos: Peter Njoroge

With a capital of around $10 that he saved while hawking cigarettes in the streets of Kenya's capital, Nairobi, Geoffrey Kago started a business in 2002 that is now valued at $120,000 (£75,600).

It all began with an idea that he had been hatching for a while - to build egg incubators in order to have a more stable source of income.

Besides peddling tobacco, he had taken up casual jobs as a stone mason and labourer, and then as an apprentice carpenter, including a two-year stint in a funeral home.

His carpentry skills equipped him with a solid knowledge to make wooden electric incubators.

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Don't wait for donors. Don't wait for the government. If you have an idea, start scratching and looking for funds for that idea ”

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"After the incubator-making business, I was able to get my own chicks, and from my own chicks that's when other people came and told me: 'Can you make me another incubator?', and then I saw a business," he told the BBC series African Dream.

Besides building incubators for sale, his company - Kaki Village Enterprises - now rears chicken, geese, ostriches, quails, ducks and guinea fowls. It also offers training to farmers and does business consultation.

The firm directly employs seven people - in a farm at Gitaru Kikuyu, on the outskirts of Kenya's capital - and indirectly many more, Mr Kago said.

By rearing birds other than chickens he aims to show their viability as alternative sources of meat and eggs.

He also says they are cheaper, arguing that guinea fowls, for instance, are grazers and quails consume a tenth of the feeds eaten by chicken. He also says they are more resistant to diseases and good sources of white meat.

He said that at the moment he is trying to promote a Cameroonian type of quail that is big and easy to rear. According to him, it is also rich in proteins and could help people who are ill.

"We've introduced it in our Kenyan menu. It's convenient to keep and cheap," the entrepreneur told BBC Africa's Ruth Nesoba.

Painful memories

Mr Kago said he gradually acquired the skills necessary to run his business.

Geoffrey Kago

  • Age: 37
  • Married, with two children
  • Previous jobs: Stone mason, labourer, carpenter, cigarette hawker
  • Started Kaki Village Enterprises in 2002
  • Hobbies: Travelling, visiting science exhibitions and sometimes dabbling in politics

"I put myself in secondary school. So I had a history of 'If your parents cannot do it, can you do it for yourself?'," he explained.

"All this technical training that I possess today, it's my own initiative to go and understand it, to go and do research, and to come up with what I needed for my own innovation and for my business to progress."

Stakeholders who have sourced his innovations include the Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Africa Medical Research Foundation (AMREF) and NGOs involved in poverty alleviation projects.

But things have not always gone as planned. Mr Kago remembers a time, in 2004, when he was starting to learn to rear ostriches and more than 100 eggs that were about to hatch were lost because of a power cut.

He said that he had invested a lot of time and money in them.

Bird Mr Kago says he rears other birds to show their viability as alternative sources of meat and eggs

"Even today it pains me to remember that. 120 eggs of ostrich went to waste due to someone that switched off the power."

But he did not bury his head in the sand and a year later things got better when someone else asked him to incubate some eggs for him.

"I said yes… I never knew how to hatch ostrich but after 42 days I found an ostrich inside my hatchery. I was very excited. In fact, I've never been excited like that even today.

"And from that day, it prepared me to do the research of ostrich, and out of it today I have a very elaborate research on how you can breed and rear ostrich."

Challenges

Mr Kago said that people in his line of business have to take into account other potential problems.

"Sometimes you're doing a new bird, and that new bird nobody has kept, so you face the first consequences of the challenges of diseases and the other things, and the feeding also."

And what advice would he give to budding entrepreneurs?

"Look for resources and fund your own projects. Other people will meet you on the way. They'll come and help you.

"Don't wait for donors. Don't wait for the government. If you have an idea, start scratching and looking for funds for that idea because at the end of the day you're the beneficiary of that idea."

African Dream is broadcast on the BBC Network Africa programme every Monday morning.

Every week, one successful business man or woman will explain how they started off and what others could learn from them.

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