A hole here, a hole there: a brooding pot has holes strategically placed around it to help chicken farmers warm their brooders using charcoal, in a sustainable way without incurring huge costs and losses.
Just as the brooding pot cannot hold water like other pots, so do brilliant business ideas without start-up capital.
Sheila Khai knows this only too well, when she reflects back on the struggles and hardships she has undergone since she ventured into the world of self-employment, though with no regrets.
All that she haboured were well crafted ideas and business plans that remained just that, ideas.
It was frustrating, she admits because being a woman, she had no property on her name that she could use as collateral to secure a loan. Her only hope were household items that could not guarantee anything substantial.
“Nothing comes for free but through sheer hard work. There is no shortcut to success. You have to sweat for a certain period in order to attain your desired goals in life,” she offers.
When she brought a group of women in Nakuru County together to pool resources and invest in manufacturing charcoal powered brooder pots made from clay, they had no idea the deal would turn into a giant enterprise that would transform their socio-economic livelihoods.
At the beginning, members of Virtuous Women Group were only three, but as reality descended on most women, the group expanded to the current 14.
Our interview at their premises along Geoffrey Kamau Road is constantly interrupted as poultry farmers flock into the well-stocked shop to buy brooding pots.
“Being a woman and with a passion to see women change and grow their endeavors, I joined other like-minded women to start table banking, where we could pool resources and loan amongst ourselves at a fee,” she says, noting that, that is when their name ‘Virtuous Woman’ came to being.
“The idea was to create a platform to mobilize women and provide opportunities for them to have their own business and access the market for the product at competitive rates,” she adds. They had to work on a common agenda to be able to succeed but they had no capital to start with.
Reserved, soft-spoken and reflective Ms Khai says starting the business was a challenge. But as a team, the group members approached the Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) where they secured Sh100, 000 funding which they used as seed capital.
“When we started the business, we had Sh10, 000 only. We could not buy pottery wheels and raw materials. We did not then have capacity to hire workers,” explains Ms Khai who coordinates the group’s activities.
She says the group has been invited to different exhibitions across and outside the country to showcase its range of products.
The demand for the Virtuous Women Group’s brooding pots in neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania has triggered a frenzy of activity among its members who want to exploit the opportunity to turn around their economic fortunes.
Ms Khai adds, “There was an exhibition that we were invited to showcase our goods in Nairobi and we made very good sales. After we showcased our products at the East Africa Expo, we gained a foothold in seven African countries. We also have many local clients.”
She says the innovation is not only designed to help poultry farmers who do not have electricity raise chicks but also to cut on electricity costs for those connected to the national grid.
The brooder, molded from clay soil, resembles a traditional cooking pot with small protruding stumps to raise it from the ground. Holes are strategically placed around it to allow for ventilation for slow burning of the charcoal while emitting heat.
Bits of charcoal are placed in the pot and lit, to allow for gradual release convectional heat to the surrounding keeping the chicks warm.
“Chicks require heat for the first five weeks when feathers are developing. After this period, they can maintain their own body temperature,” she explains.
According to the coordinator, the glowing coals are then covered with wood chippings and ash before the pot’s brim is closed .With a two-kilo tin full of charcoal, the brooding pot operates for up to 30 hours warming about 300 chicks aged less than three weeks.
The brooder pot whose retail price ranges from Sh1000 to Sh1500 is made from refined clay. Clay soil is a poor conductor of heat. That means the radiation of the heat in the brooding house is slow.
“Cooking apparatus made from clay keep foods warm longer than their metal variants. The brooding pot operates on the same insulation concept as traditional cooking pots. The charcoal burns to release convectional heat that to keep the chicks’ brooding area warm,” Ms Khai explains.
The risk of injury to the chicks is diminished as the holes are few and around the neck of the pot.
The holes at the top of the pot also help in regulating the amount of oxygen circulating in the charcoal chamber. Low amount of oxygen facilitate prolonged hours of burning, the coordinator says.
“Apart from helping farmers who are not connected to electricity, the brooder pot comes in handy during power outages. Just like the bulb brooders, the chicks move far away from the pot when the heat is more than they need. A safety guard must, however, be placed around the pot to prevent the young fowls from burning.
To find the market for their products, the group has tapped on social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram. It runs a page known as Virtuous brooder pots where they advertise their products.
The group attended a training offered by the Women Enterprise Fund where they learnt entrepreneurship, book keeping, online marketing, record keeping and making investment plans.
“When we come for meetings, we first finish our table banking activities then embark on pottery,” adds Khai, whose flexibility guarantees timely delivery of orders.
Among the lessons she says the group members have learnt include the need to set high standards and targets which she admits have been their guiding factors everyday they open the shop.
“In the world of business, you must set yourself high targets if you want to succeed and at the same time, you must ask yourself what levels you want to reach and from there strive to make your dreams come true,” adds Ms Khai.
She advises all would-be entrepreneurs to be patient saying that despite the challenges, there is joy in self-employment and only those who have a strong will reap the fruits of their labour.
Women Enterprise Fund Regional Credit Officer Ms Janet Ratemo says coming together has occasioned a shift in perspective that has led to a better standard of living for the women.
She notes that the fund is offering opportunities to women especially in rural areas, to transform their socioeconomic status through development projects.
“The fund has disbursed Sh14.5 billion to 7,800 women groups in this region. Am delighted to say that the repayment rate is 98 percent as I encourage women to visit us and get financing to start projects that will give them income to feed their families and pay school fees for their children,” states Ms Ratemo.
The credit officer further reveals that the fund finances 60 percent of Local Purchase Order on tenders made by women.
Women Enterprise Fund Regional Credit Assistant Ms Phyllis Muthoni says they are unlocking access to finance for women enterprises to create sustainable green and decent jobs, ensuring that women in Kenya are not left behind.
She adds that women should embrace the fund to solve the social, environmental and governance challenges in their communities as the only way to alleviate poverty.
By Anne Sabuni and Dennis Rasto