How UNFIRE helps feed Nigeria at a bargain price

Social entrepreneur Mene B. Orits helps Nigerian farmers feed their families, and the rest of the country, while also offering young people and women a means out of poverty.

"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win."

You might recognise that as Sun Tzu in his Zhou dynasty military treatise, “The Art of War.” But it's also the M.O. of Mene B. Orits, an entrepreneur in southern Nigeria, who uses Tzu's wisdom for a different kind of fight: social change. “I don’t ever want to struggle with securing funding for my venture,” Orits said. “Never!”

“When the season comes to raise five million dollars or more to scale nationally or internationally, I will raise the funds because investors can clearly and undoubtedly see our plans working.”

Orits plans? To help smallholder poultry farmers, who raise about 70% of chicken livestock in Nigeria, increase their incomes by halving the cost of feed bags.

He's getting the job done with the help of Nigerian “youths” between the ages of 18 and 35. Youths are tasked with collecting readily available raw material like mango scraps, Napier grass or cassava waste - used to create “protein-rich” poultry feed - from farms, juice manufacturers and households. Collectors are paid about $100 per tonne.

Orits, 27, and his team at UNFIRE (Unorthodox Feeds Innovation for Rural Enterprising Smallholders) use that material to produce chicken feed bags which they sell for $8, a more affordable option than traditional corn-based chicken feed bags, which cost farmers about $17.

“For the farmers, the extra money is spent on more poultry stock,” Orits said. “What this means is that the farmer who previously had 50 chickens now rears 100 chickens. What we have succeeded in doing is adding capacity to the farmers’ productivity and consequently his or her income.”

UNFIRE is a real game-changer for smallholder farming families, who often operate in residential areas like backyards and raise between 30 and 200 chickens. 

Some farmers with sufficient capital may choose to set up coops away from their homes, allowing them to raise as many as 2,000 birds. Because of the variations in operations, farmers, in Orits experience, “generate between $600 to $4,500 per annum.” Many farmers, particularly those on the lower end of the earning spectrum, are forced to complement their income with second, or even third, jobs:

“You can find a full-time farmer who is a plumber, electrician, cab driver, or carpenter. They engage in these other activities on a part-time basis to have pocket money or extra money they can use to sustain themselves, their families, and their poultry livestock while they wait for harvest.” 

As for distribution, that's where UNFIRE earns points for empowering some of Nigeria's women. They're trained in marketing and entrepreneurship by qualified professionals, including members of associations like Nigeria's Institute of Strategic Management, to serve as UNFIRE feed vendors in their communities. Female vendors in the UNFIRE distribution network are able to earn more than $60 per week, according to Orits.

“We prefer working with these formally unemployed women, including full-time housewives, who have in one way or another engaged in local trades or sales activity either as a petty trader or market seller,” Orits said. “This is because such persons make excellent vendors and are rich in social capital and have goodwill with the local community stakeholders.”

In an 18-month pilot with Jorsey Ashbel Farms, UNFIRE succeeded in rearing 3,000 chickens, which produced more than 45,000 eggs, and 32 pigs for a total output of more than 14 tonnes of livestock products.

“The focus,” Orits said, “was primarily based on making protein-rich food as cheap and affordable as possible for those at the base of the pyramid. We found the pilot effective in tackling protein-energy malnutrition among ailing children and women who were prone to maternal neonatal deaths, eclampsia, birth asphyxia, etc.”

The UNFIRE system works, which is why Orits and his team are confident they'll succeed in making a difference in the war on poverty.

Mene B. Orits is one of seven finalists in the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards, who featured on Virgin.com in the past weeks. Learn about the other finalists and share your own project.