Bonney Mutungi injected about sh15m in a poultry project four years ago, hoping it would make life easier during retirement. But then, fate struck...
By Francis Kagolo
Bonney Mutungi injected about sh15m in a poultry project four years ago, hoping it would make life easier during retirement. But she was forced to sell all the birds and close the project just after three years.
Mutungi used to collect 180 trays of eggs per week from 1,400 layers in July 2011, selling each at sh6,000 and would earn about sh4.3m a month from eggs alone. But the joy was short-lived.
Production reduced to 80 trays in the first week of August. A week later, she could only get 30 trays, yet some young birds also died.
“I lost over sh4m in the first three weeks of August, 2011,” she laments. “A veterinary doctor told me that the chicken had been fed on maize bran mixed with unpalatable substances like sand.” Her four big poultry houses in Kyampisi, Mukono district are now empty.
But Mutungi is not alone; thousands of poultry farmers in Uganda are languishing in poverty due to losses from the incessant adulteration of animal feeds in the country.
The Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) and agriculture ministry officials estimate that over 80% of the feeds on the market are contaminated with substances like sand, ash and sawdust.
“Adulterated feeds can kill poultry and animals,” explains Dr. Juliet Sentumbwe, the assistant commissioner for meat and dairy in the agriculture ministry.
“If they don’t cause death, they stunt the poultry’s growth, leading to low productivity and increase in disease burden, which more than double farm expenses.”
An empty chicken house was all Mutungi stayed with after her chicken died. PHOTO/Francis Kagolo
Which areas are worst hit?
Animal feeds production increased from 32,000 tonnes in 1993 to 45,000 tonnes in 1999 and is estimated to have doubled by today. Poultry feeds account for nearly 80% of all processed animal feeds, according to the 2002 national animal census.
The more the production and market increase, the more the sector attracts unscrupulous dealers.
Dr. Sentumbwe says feed adulteration is widespread , but it is more pronounced in the districts that have a high concentration of poultry; Mukono, Kampala, Luweero, Mpigi, Jinja and Wakiso.
The UNBS surveillance officer, Vitalis Shaka, cites landing sites and various business hubs mainly Kisenyi in Kampala, as the most notorious places where adulterated feeds are sold.
Shaka says that some medium and large feed milling companies also add sand to mukene (silver fish) and shells to the feeds, just to increase the weight and maximise profits.
Ironically, the mainly youthful feed dealers in Kisenyi have no regrets for the ill-famed business.
“I have to pay school fees for three children, feed them and pay rent. How do you expect me to handle all this?” Robert Matovu alias Dong-Pie, retorted when asked about their dealings in Kisenyi.
Asked whether he was aware that mixing feeds with sand would kill their customers’ poultry, Matovu playfully said “no”.
A 2006 study conducted by Dr. R. Nalwanga, then a lecturer at Makerere University, discovered that “except one, all locally–produced commercial feeds had lower than the advertised protein levels.”
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that most feed manufacturers, especially small-scale ones, lack basic training in animal nutrition and feed milling technology.
It is worsened by the lack of quality extension services to empower farmers to demand for quality feeds. Uninformed, farmers end up buying expensive feeds of inferior quality.
Farmers are advised to mix their feeds to ensure good quality. PHOTO/Francis Kagolo
According to Dr. Sentumbwe, feeds account for over 70% of farm costs and, therefore, they have a significant effect on the farmers’ production costs and profits. No wonder, many farmers have abandoned the livestock business.
Also, the fact that women like Mutungi constitute more than 50% of the farmers who use animal feeds, especially on poultry schemes, they are the most affected.
Pastor Solomon Male, the secretary general of the Uganda Poultry Farmers’ Network (UPAFEN), says to discover that mukene was being mixed with sand, Male first bought 200kg from Kisenyi in 2010.
“After mixing the fish meal with maize bran, egg production reduced by over 20%. I slaughtered one of birds and found a lot of sand had clogged in its gut,” Male explains.
He believes that a 100kg bag of mukene may contain between 40kg to 60kg of sand or pebbles.
“I have used almost all Ugandan feeds but none is completely free of adulterations,” says Male, who also doubles as the UPAFEN spokesperson.
He adds that unless checked, feed adulteration will continue impeding the Government’s poverty alleviation plans.
The poultry and livestock sub-sector’s contribution to the total market value of goods and services produced in Uganda (GDP) has reduced from 25% two decades ago to only 4%, according to the 2008 animal census.
Besides, its share of agricultural GDP has declined from 30% to 13.1% in the same period. Dr. Sentumbwe attributes the problem to feed adulteration.
Lack of relevant legislation
Uganda’s animal feeds industry is basically private sector-led, but there is no clear legislation and institutional framework to guide and regulate it. And, the problem is likely to persist unless the Government expeditiously passes the Animal Feeds Bill.
The Bill, which was supposed to operationalise the Animal Feeds Policy of 2005, provides for various penalties for offenders. Any firm or person convicted of adulterating or selling adulterated feeds would be fined not exceeding sh480,000 or imprisoned not more than 12 months.
Such would be a deterrent punishment, but since it was first presented in Cabinet in 2005, Sentumbwe says the Bill was shelved and the policy is yet to be implemented, seven years since it was passed.
The policy provides for the registration and licensing of feed manufacturers, importers and distributors and establishing an effective animal feeds inspectorate; but so far no action has been taken in this direction.
Rose Sanyu lost thousands of chicken after they fed on fake feeds. PHOTO/Francis Kagolo
Asked why the Bill had delayed, Bright Rwamirama, the animal husbandry state minister, hinted at “contradictions” and “problems” within the ministry.
Rwamirama advised UNBS to use the Minimum Standards of Animal Feeds, which the Government gazetted in 2009, to bring sanity in the sector as they wait for the Bill to be passed.
The standards require accurate labelling, comprising of the manufacturer’s name, address and the amount of nutrition present in the feeds, among other measures.
The Police say they have been rendered ineffective in cracking down unscrupulous feed dealers.
“Some dealers may be selling adulterated feeds, but I haven’t heard of any arrests made so far,” Judith Nabakooba told New Vision then while serving as the Police spokesperson.
“Normally when fighting fake products on the market, UNBS takes the lead. I am not aware of any efforts to that effect.”
Shaka said UNBS would sensitise feed dealers before enforcing the existing mandatory standards, but insisted that the Animal Feeds Bill should be passed to achieve efficacy.
The situation may not be any better in other east African countries. In Tanzania, feed dealers reportedly mix expensive, high-quality cottonseed cake from Tanzania oil mills with the cheaper, fibrous cottonseed cake from Uganda and Kenya oil mills.
In her 2006 report, Dr. Nalwanga says the mixture is then sold at the price equivalent to that of pure Tanzania-cottonseed cake to raise profit.
Sentumbwe advises farmers to be vigilant and start on-farm feed mixing as the country awaits proper legislation to be enacted.
Dr. Ben Manyindo, UNBS’ executive director, warns that Ugandan traders and farmers stand losing out on market opportunities in the EAC, COMESA and the EU if the matter of quality and standards are ignored.
“I have been rearing poultry for over 20 years. Initially, it used to be lucrative because I used the proceeds to educate two of my children up to university,” says Pastor Male.
“Today, poultry farming is an avenue for people to become poor. If one invests about sh3m into rearing chicken, chances are that he will buy feeds which will kill or retard his flock’s growth and he goes back to zero.”
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