Mene Blessing has built a parallel system that takes care of the poultry value chain from the production of alternative feeds to the final consumers ensuring that farmers who take up the alternative feeds for their poultry are guaranteed sales of their products.
The New Idea
Mene is revolutionizing the livestock industry by providing alternative feeds for farmers, positioning them to produce livestock at a much cheaper rate, and provide more protein for the African populace. Blessing is working to reduce the cost of protein by creating a market for alternative livestock feed made from readily available waste materials. He is turning neglected abundant seeds that ordinarily were considered waste materials into useful products for poultry and other animals. Through UNFIRE (Unorthodox Feeds Innovation for Rural Enterprising Smallholder Farmers) Blessing has built a system that provides farmers with alternative means of feeding livestock with quality and less expensive feed. Starting with feeds for poultry, he provided an alternative which costs 60% less than regular options, enabling them to increase their output and their incomes by 80%. The feeds are made from agricultural waste products such as mango seeds, maggots, and sea weeds. This alternative is unique, culturally acceptable and suitable for a range of poultry and livestock.
He has improved the livelihood of community farmers by increasing their income. He built a parallel system that ensures that the prices of feeds go down and stays down, ensuring that the production costs for farmers are greatly reduced giving them the opportunity to spend less and rear more birds. Farmers on average spend 70% of their production costs on feeds. With these alternative feeds, Blessing helps farmers to spend less and produce more. He also designed the system to ensure that the birds from the farmers get to the final consumer. In order for the alternative feeds to thrive and compete favorably in the market, he ensures that everyone on the value chain benefits from the program.
Nutritional deficiencies contribute to the high rates of disability, morbidity, and mortality in Nigeria, especially among infants and young children. Protein-energy malnutrition is considered one of the leading causes of infant mortality.
In Nigeria Feed production is low and the prices of chicken and eggs are high. The Livestock sub-sector accounts for about 25% of the Agricultural GDP and 5.83 % of the national GDP. Feed is 70 – 80% of production cost for poultry farmers.
The demand for grain to feed chickens has impaired human food security, poultry farmers are competing for grains against other consumers. For poultry farmers, it is a survival issue because if they do not feed their birds they will die and their businesses will crumble. Grain traders, on the other hand, are struggling to meet the demand for grains. The demand is so high that poultry farmers are trying to lay their hands on grains from anywhere they can. Grains which was grown in northern Nigeria used to be exported to neighboring countries, particularly nearby Niger, but the reverse has been the case since September 2007.
Food exports to neighboring countries have slowed, Nigerian merchants have to cross into neighbouring countries to buy grains from farmers. Poultry farmers and general consumption of grains make demand in northern Nigeria higher. With lower purchasing power consumers use the money they would normally use for buying eggs and chicken to purchase grains which are more important to them. Making poultry farmers suffer doubly with high cost of input and low sales with feed so expensive, the farmers are struggling to keep their chickens alive.
A lot of poultry farmers who could not source grains have sold out and went out of market making them jobless, unable to feed themselves and their families thereby increasing the poverty margin in the country.
Blessing set up a new system which gives value to all the stakeholders along the poultry value chain. He designed an alternative market by introducing new feeds to poultry farmers where they spend less on their production costs and produce more poultry products for human consumption. He produces the feeds using abundant waste products such as mango seeds, maggots, and seaweed and in turn gives it to local farmers who he trained to effectively use the feeds. His goal is reducing the prices of feeds and he is putting measures in place to ensure that the prices keep going down for local farmers to produce more, earn more and enliven their lives and their communities. Blessing realized that chicken and eggs were expensive and out of reach to the average person in Nigeria, they were only purchased on very special occasions such as Christmas and New Year celebrations. He looked at the contributing factors and realized that farmers spent 70% of their production cost on feeds, he also realized that most farmers relied solely on corn feeds and most of the corn which is consumed by Nigerians comes from the Northern part of the country which has not been safe for some time now. Blessing decided to research alternatives and he came up with an alternative that would cut costs drastically, reach the farmers at the shortest possible time and will be easily scalable. He focused first on using mango seeds, he engaged the services of a biochemist and a nutritionist and while conducting research they discovered that for the mango seeds to be safe for chickens to consume they had to remove the tannin contained in it.
Blessing outsourced the collection of raw materials to local youth groups in communities where mango seeds are abundant. In addition to making an income out of it, Blessing gives them an endorsement of his brand which brings a sense of pride to them in their community by buying up the mango seeds he is also keeping the environment clean. This youth group acts as a form of protection ensuring that mango seeds will not be completely bought over by some other company. They become the ambassadors of the brand and are also watchdogs.
Once feeds are sold to farmers Blessing guarantees the sales of their products, he does this by organized women vendors. The women vendors get recruited and trained and they operate like a franchise. They must be women who already have experience doing similar business and they must also have knowledge of the communities involved. He empowers them to sell the poultry products from the farmers who are involved in his program. The women are given small finance for the sales of the chicken and those who have a good track record are also given credit facilities for them to stay in business and not quit when they face financial constraints. Blessing’s company places a fixed price that the chickens would be sold for, they also train the women vendors on good customer service relation and in recording financial data.
He trains the farmers on how to use the feeds and also trains them on biosecurity to avoid them losing the chickens.
Blessing carried out the pilot partnered with an already existing farm and he involved 27 farmers and 20 women vendors and produced 54 tons of feeds which he used to produce 3070 chickens and 4500 eggs. He wants to set up a factory where the seeds are abundant, he intends to produce a ton per day to be able to reach a lot of farmers and the factory will work for 10 hrs a day. He has also started conducting research on sea weeds and maggotry to produce more alternative feeds. He is presently designing the factory with local fabricators that will manufacture the machines for mass production of the feeds. Blessing is also currently looking at using the existing distribution system, especially the retailers that sell any kind of feeds to also sell his feeds when they get into the market.
Blessing is a registered member of SIFADA a network that gives farmers loans in feeds and not in cash, he wants to use this network to distribute the feeds to farmers.
Blessing has been resisting the idea of turning these ventures into a for-profit business to ensure that it continues to meet its mission. He has been advised to turn this into a social enterprise so that it can be self-sustainable.
He is open to sharing knowledge but also wants to ensure that there is a system in place that ensures that the poultry farmers benefit in the long run.
Mene Blessing was born in Delta State Nigeria. He lost his childhood friend to malnutrition, although he did not know what the cause was at the time but he knew his friend if he had better nutrition would have survived and contributed to the development of the society.
He was raised in a home where excellence was the watchword. His dad taught him discipline and tutored him full time when he lost his job this made him finish his school curriculum in three months, way ahead of the school. His dad also ensured that he did very well in his school.
In the secondary school Blessing fell in love with the school's laboratory, he would clean it up every day for one whole year, he eventually became the senior prefect for the laboratory. He alongside friends would read textbooks before the topic was taught by the teachers and would use what they have read to ask questions during such classes. He became a member of JETS club in the school asking questions that challenged his teachers during their classes. This made his school pick him as one of the best chemistry students to represent them in a chemistry competition at the state level.
After secondary education Blessing got admitted into the University to study veterinary medicine, he did very well in his courses because he wanted to continue the culture of being excellent in his studies but this idea changed when he attended a program that challenged him to begin thinking about his vision and purpose for life. After this program Blessings desire to learn more grew he attended motivational seminars and read books from inspirational leaders. This helped him develop the philosophy that there are two universities in the University. One is the one where you read and the other he termed the University of purpose where you study what your purpose in life is. Blessing began spending his spare time reading about entrepreneurship. He decided that his purpose was not in line with his course of study he decided to change his course to Chemistry education which he felt was more in line with his life purpose.
Blessing joined the impact business club in the University, SIFE (Students in free enterprise), and AIESEC. In the impact business club Blessing became deeply involved and then rose to a leadership position, he decentralized the club into parts and gave students the opportunity to organize events, fundraise and also produce food.
He came up with the undergraduate business conference, through this program they invited people who came and inspired the students to begin thinking differently, as entrepreneurs and not necessarily as job seekers.
He alongside a friend started a bean flour company supplying bean flour to people in his university and the environs. Through the impact business club, Blessing helped the other students have a hands-on experience by getting them to try their hands on several businesses while they were still in school. To leave a legacy in his school he started the Toast masters club. He was able to get in touch with the toast masters in the USA, he got 20 members registered and they committed their time and money to the club. He mentored the toast masters club members and they represented their school in a competition where they came out tops.
Blessing after his university education he became worried about the fact that people could only afford to eat good meals occasionally, he looked at the key issues that contributed to the high prices of animal protein and discovered that feeds are corn-based and corn is expensive. He decided to reverse this trend he engaged the services of a nutritionist and a biochemist and they conducted researches and came up with alternative feeds for poultry farmers.