It’s raining heavily when we reach Vincent Taracha’s home in the industrial town of Webuye in western Kenya. For decades, life in Webuye was defined by a paper mill industry called the Pan African Paper Mills. Locals and migrants, young and old, depended on it, working in the various sections of the huge factory that now sits forlornly on the hills of Webuye. For life has since ebbed out of the once vibrant paper mill when it finally closed its steel gates in 2008, taking with it hopes and dreams. And life has never been the same for the men and women of Webuye. The tales are as depressing as they can get; many have despaired, turning to locally brewed alcohol to while away the long empty days ahead, marriages have been broken, some children are no longer regularly attending school and its endless really. But while others chose to dwell in the void that has been left by the factory, Vincent took a different path. He turned to the next best thing he knew how to do: raising local chickens and selling them off at the nearest market to stay afloat. He shows us around his backyard where he keeps his flock of 30 chickens with immeasurable pride. “These are my source of livelihood, and I take very good care of them, because my family depends on them,” he says.
Vincent started keeping the chickens back in 2012 after waiting in vain for the factory to reopen its doors. He started with a modest eleven chickens. Back then he did not know how to properly take care of the chickens and so he let them roam freely within the compound and into the neighbourhood. “They were not very healthy, they got sick all the time, some died,” he says. So he went to the nearest agrovet shop and bought countless medicines which did not work. Until he attended a training where someone advised him to vaccinate the chickens. Back then, the vaccine he relied on was given to him in a syringe, pre-diluted. It was never sealed. And because of frequent power blackouts in the area, the vaccines could not be trusted either because the agrovet owner had to sell all the available stock before he could reorder a new batch, even if they were compromised. Until the I-2 thermotolerant Newcastle Disease vaccine was introduced and Vincent, together with other backyard poultry keepers was given small cooler boxes to store the vaccine for a limited period of time. But it made all the difference.
The vaccine protects the chickens against the Newcastle Disease which has a 100% mortality rate. This particular vaccine addresses the problem of cold chain as it can be kept at a certain temperature for a certain period without requiring refrigeration.
By 2013, Vincent’s flock had increased to 40 and he took advantage of the high prices to sell off some of his chickens at 1,000 Kshs (12 US$) each. He bought a heifer with the proceeds from the sales. The cow is now pregnant and Vincent cannot wait to start milking! But Vincent is not looking back as far as his backyard poultry business is concerned, he takes care of the chickens like they were his own children, he vaccinates every three months and he keeps a record of the vaccinations. He would like to increase his herd of cows and he sees the chickens playing a significant part in this plan. He can only keep 40 chickens at a time, his chicken coop is not very big and he likes to be able to manage them effectively. He takes one last look before we leave, “they are my roost, my source of income, and this vaccine has made the difference between life and death for them,” he concludes.
GALVmed is working with manufacturers and distributors to provide the thermotolerant I-2 Newcastle Disease vaccine so that backyard poultry keepers like Vincent can continue to nurture their dreams and sustain their livelihoods.