Poultry farming earns prudent varsity student Sh24m monthly

Sirjeff Denis feeds chickens in Ukonga, Dar es Salaam. PHOTO | OMAR FUNGO

What you need to know:

But the 22-year-old, third year student of petroleum chemistry is different from his colleagues.

Jeff, as he usually likes to be called, was raised in a very challenging environment that forced him to start engaging in income-generating actitivies when he was a boy. “When I was in Standard One at Gongo la Mboto Jeshini Primary School in Ukonga in 2001, I used to catch fish at the nearest ponds for consumption at home,” he recalls.

Dar es Salaam. When you meet him at the grounds of the University of Dar es Salaam, Sirjeff Denis is just like any other student.

But the 22-year-old, third year student of petroleum chemistry is different from his colleagues.

Jeff, as he usually likes to be called, was raised in a very challenging environment that forced him to start engaging in income-generating actitivies when he was a boy. “When I was in Standard One at Gongo la Mboto Jeshini Primary School in Ukonga in 2001, I used to catch fish at the nearest ponds for consumption at home,” he recalls.

“Life was a challenge because my mom — a primary school teacher — was earning a very low pay and my dad used to do some odd jobs. Sometimes he got nothing, leaving the burden of feeding the family entirely to my mom.”

His mother, Mrs Elsa Denis, 42, teaches at Masaka Nursery and Primary School.

Jeff is a the second born and the only boy in the family of four. At the age of 22, Jeff makes Sh24 million from poultry farming a month and at least Sh1 million from selling vegetables.

Now he expects to earn more money from selling rice grown on 20 acres in Ifakara in Morogoro and from 20 acres of maize in Dodoma. He is not an ordinary young man.

Little shining star

At the age of 2.5 years, his mother enrolled him at Baby Mary Nursery School in Ukonga. In a week’s time he was able to write numerals.

At the age of three, he could read the alphabet and do some arithmetic. According to his mother, teachers at the school wanted to enroll him for Standard One when he was four years. “I told them he was too young for that. He had to wait for one year,” she said.

His mother says when he was enrolled for primary school, Jeff had no competitor in his class. He scored A’s in all subjects despite the difficult learning condition he went through.

She says at Standard Two, he earned a scholarship from the Church of God’s Prophecy. He joined Kajiado Hill Academy in Kenya. When he completed Standard Six he returned home and joined Form One at St Anthony Secondary School in Mbagala.

“At St Anthony he got a fee discount after he passed the National Form Two examinations with flying colours. That was a big relief to me because his sisters were also schooling,” she says.

Surprisingly, he got Division Two in final Form Form exams. He joined Ihungo Secondary School for his A Level studies.

“He was also performing well. I remember him receiving cash after emerging the best in Biology and General Studies in the Regional Mock Examinations in Kagera.

“He sent Sh200,000 to us. It was the prize that we spent on starting a poultry farm that later collapsed because it was not profitable,” she says.

His entrepreneurial interest

His family was once relying on chicken farming to earn an extra income. But due to large demand of finance and family responsibility his mother who was operating the business stopped running it.

Jeff was hurt and promised to revive the business after getting capital.

While in Kenya, Jeff learnt that unlike many Tanzanian youth, Kenyan youngsters took bold stands on issues that matter. That made Jeff confident.

Moreover, to increase his poultry farming skills, Jeff volunteered to work at Dar-Chick Farm in Kibaha District between November 2010 and February 2011 after competing Form Four and before starting A Level studies.

Upon completed his A Level studies he joined the three-month mandatory National Service training and completed it in July 2013.

While at the National Service, Jeff saved nearly all the money that the recruits were given to buy basic items.

“I was given Sh50, 000 per month. While my friends spent all the money mainly on delicacies, my plans were to revive poutry farming back home. I came back with Sh140,000 and bought 50 chickens,” remembers Jeff . When he was applying for a university course, he chose one that would make him get 100 per cent of a student’s loan.

He did not like teaching. Medical schools were conducting long courses, requiring at least five years of learning. He didn’t want that too.

“I read somewhere that the government was encouraging local students to undertake engineering studies related to oil and gas because massive gas exploration was being carried out and those students would receive 100 per cent of loans. It applied for a course in petroleum chemistry and I was selected.”

When he joined the university in 2013, Jeff saved some money meant for meals and accommodation to increase capital for poultry farming.

“I saved 75 per cent of the money I received for meals…by eating bread and drinking water. Many found it strange because Sh7,500 could enable me to buy me a comfortable meal but I decided not to do so. I saved Sh1 million and I pooled it into my farm and today I can proudly say I made a wise decision. My business, Jefren Agrifriend Solutions, is growing.”
Jeff sells 4,000 chickens every month, making a turnover of Sh24 million.

He has also ventured into crop farming. He has 20 acres of maize and 20 acres of rice. “I grow vegetables and earn Sh900,000 every month.”

He told this paper that initially he faced difficulties in selling chickens, but later he found a solution. “People are very hard to accept new products. I had to incur more costs on feeding chickens that were to be sold,” he explains.

Now the problem has been solved. When he is not sure of selling chickens early he processes them for sale later.

Jeff has employed seven permanent workers whose salaries vary depending on their positions. He also provides seasonal jobs in his farm for about 20 people.

“I feel proud of seeing people consuming chicken and vegetables I produce,” he says.

According to him, four of his 20 petroleum chemistry classmates are involved in agribusiness and two of them are in poultry farming. Jeff mentored them.

Since he has knowledge in chemistry, Jeff makes his own chicken feeding formula.

He admits that many people fear of broilers, claiming they contain high levels of chemicals. He points out that only a few unfaithful people do that.

To solve that challenges of fake or substandard chicken feeds, he buys a feeding formula in Kenya and improves it using the chemistry knowledge he got at the university.

“With my own formula, I also cut the cost of feeding chickens. When I make my own feed I can save up to Sh20,00 because one 50kg sack of chicken feeds can cost up to Sh70,000 but if I make it myself, I spend Sh50,000. I’m comfortable.”

Simple life

Few of his fellow university students are aware of his agriculture business and Jeff lives a simple life. He eats at the cafeteria and does not wear expensive clothes. He has few pairs of shoes.

He has chosen to live a simple life to enjoy privacy and focus on his two main issues: studies and business. “But striking a balance between studies and business is very challenging.”

He could buy a car, but he has chosen public transport. For all the three years, Jeff has been staying at Mabibo Hostel in Ubungo.

He pays part of the costs for his sisters’ education. His elder sister, Beryl, studies at the University of Dodoma. She does not enjoy a 100 per cent of the loan from the Higher Education Students Loans Board. Thus, Jeff covers the gap together. He also pays for her meals and stationery. “I also bought a laptop for her.”

He has also been paying for his younger sister’s secondary education since she was in Form Two at Kaloleni Secondary School in Moshi. “I also help my mom with some foodstuffs,” he says.

His commitment recognised

His success and commitment to the communities through agricultural entrepreneurship earned him recognition from the elite South Africa-based African Leadership Academy (Ala) that collaborates with the MasterCard Foundation Africa to offer the prestigious Anzisha Prize to the most promising African entrepreneurs aged 15 -22.

The competition held last year invited 494 applicants from 33 countries. Jeff was one of the 12 Anzisha Prize finalists that were selected from the highly talented applicant pool. As a finalist, he was inducted into a network of Anzisha Fellows that receive ongoing business development skills, professional guidance and mentoring from Ala and its partners.

Jeff’s accomplishment of being a finalist was highlighted on Ala’s website and YouTube site, as well as on ‘How we Made it In Africa’ and CNN.

Some other international organisations such as the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) have also recognised him. He featured in SAGCOT ‘s 2015 Annual Report in an article entitled “Tanzanian Youth Transforming 2nd SDG [Sustainable Development Goal] into Reality”.

He has also spoken on agribusiness and entrepreneurship at Unleash Farm potentials and at the “Kilimo Kwanza (Farming First)” symposium organised by Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture. He has led ANSAF-hands on farm training through a programme called “Kijana na Kilimo (Youth in Farming)”.

He has also been named the Tanzania Student Entrepreneur of the Year by the University of Dar es Salaam’s Entreprenuership Centre. He also received an award of Sh5 million during an entrepreneurship competition run by Tanzanian business leader Reginald Mengi.