Some venture areas may get so widespread that the niche entrepreneurs get panicky and drop them to reach for more rewarding pastures to plough. This is the case with many poultry businesses in Nigeria that have been abandoned.

Considering the rate at which Nigerians embraced poultry farming in the 90s and early 2000s, the nation ought not to be experiencing the current shortfall in production which necessitated the large scale imports in the last ten years. According to official figures, Nigeria spent over N650bn on the importation of poultry products in 2014 alone, to meet local demand of well over 1.5million metric tonnes. Ironically, Dr. Ahmed Mohammed, former boss of the Veterinary Research Institute, Jos, said in 2015 that Nigeria had more birds than humans with an estimated 180million birds raised by different cadres of poultry rearers in the country. That may be so; yet, as of July 25, 2016, consumers are complaining of high cost of products (chicken, turkey, eggs) and even in some cases, scarcity of a favourite meat type popularly known as ‘soft’. The products are expensive because local production is not in sufficient quantity to bring down prices. We are stuck with the imported products which have been affected by the drop in the value of our local currency.

Chicken ‘soft’ actually refers to the meat product of the ‘broiler’ breed which are reared for table meat while layers are raised for egg production. Presently, much of the table chicken found in cold stores these days are layers and cockerels. Cockerels (Cocks which usually come in white or speckled feathers), are not necessarily bred for meat or eggs. They are by-products of pullet (layer chicks) production. In the process of hatching the eggs produced by breeder birds to generate layer chicks, some eggs hatch as males. These are the cocks. They are not only different from the pullets because they cannot lay eggs, they also do not possess the characteristics of the table-meat species (‘soft’) and so are far less meaty and tasty than the broiler (soft) species.

As ‘cut-off grades’ of the layer production process, day old cocks cost about 20% of the cost of the pullets hatched with them. These are the breeds that Nigerian poultry farmers have opted to grow on their farms, whereas they are not the choice of consumers. When allowed to mature beyond six months, cocks can get to attract good pricing when bought as presents during festive seasons, especially the white ones because they are traditionally accepted as local breeds. In fact, when given as gifts to old people in the village, they are readily accepted as ‘original’ chicken, particularly because they take longer to mature and their bones are hard to crush. However, cocks are not the routine choice of regular consumers.

I have raised cocks before. I did this with the understanding that they might not fare well in the market during the off-seasons. It costs very little to buy and keep them. The mortality rate is much lower than that of broilers and, they do not require as much processed feed as do the layers and broilers. Unfortunately, regular poultry farmers take them to the marketplace to compete with the broilers only to come back and complain of ‘no market’. A newcomer who pays attention to these gripers would feel too discouraged to go into poultry business yet, it is one of the simplest venture areas in agriculture with a short gestation period and good return on investments when done properly with realistic projections. In this piece however, I am trying to project a current gap which local entrepreneurs must brace for and close.

An entrepreneur is a solution provider. An astute entrepreneur sniffs out the gaps in the marketplace and goes all out to bridge them. Today, ‘chicken soft’ is scarce in the market because government has placed a ban on imported poultry products, though some of it still find their way in. The imported products in the cold stores are broilers. They are soft, meaty and tastier. These are the birds served in popular fast food restaurants. They are definitely more in demand, all-year-round than the cocks. However, it is a lot more challenging to raise broilers. Broilers require light to feed 24 hours every day; they have to be protected from extreme weather conditions and they also require well-formulated feeds to thrive. When they survive and hit the marketplace after about eight weeks, their market value would be worth the farmer’s while.

A farmer who wants to succeed in today’s market must be aware of these trends to survive. Cold store operators are resisting the ban on imported chicken but the entrepreneurs who must enter the market to address the needs of the cold store owners must be prepared to meet their needs: They need a local substitute that would be acceptable to their customers at affordable prices. Arguing the case on the floor of the Federal House of Representatives, a member, Abubakar Amuda-Kanike held that the industry could provide 1million jobs and save the country almost N400bn if importation is summarily arrested. A well-directed and realistic poultry venture at a time like this could rake in a good share of that market and save the nation in huge amounts of forex.