Six years ago, Charles Odira’s farm in Nyamasaria, Kisumu East was full of chicken, and anybody who visited the farm admired it.
Little did people know that Odira was grieving, and reporting losses, and was contemplating abandoning the business due to frequent reports by the farm workers about massive deaths of chicken.
One cool evening as he was making a lazy tour of the farm, a guest showed up.
“After exchanging short pleasantries, he told me that he had come for more. I was shocked what more,” said Odira.
The guest explained that he was a frequent client, and that he had a few days before bought 300 chicken at a Sh450 each, and that he loved them, and he was coming for more.
Little did he know that he was spilling beans.
“As he was explaining to me about the deals, my farm worker showed up, and the guest pointed at him from a distance, that he is the one he has been dealing with. I was shocked,” said Odira, adding that a look at his farm records did not show any of such sales.
This came just a few days after Odira’s farm worker reported that over 200 chicken had died, and he took Odira to a small shallow ‘grave’ where he had buried the chicken.
This was one of the many reports of death of chicken, or attack by predators.
With this tip, Odira confronted his worker who admitted that he had actually made some sales and forgot to record in the book.
It was during this period that Odira was approached by a group of investors who wanted his technical skills to help design some equipment for keeping crickets.
The Bachelor of Horticulture graduate from Egerton University was then involved in designing and fabricating different types of farm equipment adjacent to his poultry farm.
After a short stint with the group, he got sponsors, he got an opportunity to visit Thailand in 2015, to learn about cricket farming.
“I was shocked. Almost everyone in that country had cricket, and it was then that I learnt so much about this insect and its nutritional value,” he said.
When he came back to Kenya, he ventured into cricket farming, starting with one cricket pen. Six months later, the business was booming, and he made six more pens.
And when the business proved low cost in maintenance compared to poultry, he abandoned poultry farming and turned the chicken house into cricket house, putting up more pens.
Today, he has 12 cricket pens, measuring four by three feet, each containing 30, 000 cricket, in addition to over 50 crates each containing 1, 500 cricket.
How did he begin cricket rearing? Odira used some containers which he dropped in some dim lit area, with some chicken feed inside them.
In the morning, 50 cricket were already stuck inside the containers. He then transferred the crickets to the pen. Reproduction begun immediately, and within a short while, he had tens of crates full of cricket.
“Caring for cricket is easy compared to chicken,” he said.
A normal day in a cricket farm begins with checking the temperature and aeration. According to Odira, the first thing is to open the windows and doors to increase aeration.
The temperature in the room should be maintained between 28 and 32 degrees Celsius to activate growth and increase feeding and laying activities.
One then checks the feeding and breeding activities which took place the previous night, by checking the amount of food left in the feeding tray, and water container.
“When the food is significantly reduced, you know they had a good night. Same observation is made when the level of water also goes down, and the number of eggs laid goes up,” he said.
After the routine check, one then cleans the cricket pens, using a soft towel or cricket broom, and replaces the feeds. The process is repeated twice every day.
The cricket pens are divided into three; the parent stock pen, the consumption pen and the hatchery.
In the parent stock, this is where the mature crickets stay. Once they lay eggs, the eggs are transferred to the hatchery pen, where after nine to 15 days, they are hatched, and the young cricket transferred to the consumption pen, where they stay for between 74 to 90 days before they are mature for consumption.
“I used to spend about Sh80, 000 monthly to care for the chicken, but now I spend less than 10 per cent of that on cricket as there are fewer cases of diseases, and the food consumption is very low,” said Odira, He sells one kilo of cricket at Sh2, 800, and he manages to sell 30 kilos every month.
He also sells cricket eggs at Sh1, 000 per container carrying about 10, 000 eggs, and he harvests about 50 containers of the eggs every month.
Odira has also ventured on value addition to maximize on the profits, by producing cricket breads, which he sells at Sh50 per 400grams bread.
Odira has been marketing his products and promoting cricket farming through Gem Farmers Centre, a group of farmers drawn from Nyanza region.