When I was invited by friends to a farm that keeps reptiles and birds, I turned down the invite. But as I disconnected my friend, another one called and mentioned crocodile meat, and I gave in.
Off to Ndagani market along Chuka Meru road, a few kilometres from Chuka town in Tharaka Nithi county.
I was looking forward to fresh crocodile meat, which I had never tasted before.
I got to Cefra, a farm filled with beautiful creatures. It is owned by a banker, Franklin Riungu, but run by Barnice Wambui, 26.
Wambui says she has a passion for bird farming and has a strong background in livestock keeping.
As we wait for the crocodile meat to boil, Wambui takes us through the farm, which sits on a three-and-a-half-acre plot.
“We have crocodiles and a good number of exotic, ornamental birds from China, USA and South Africa, among other countries. We plan to continue breeding as many crocodiles as we can to attract more visitors like you,” she tells us as we step into a wet blanket.
Wambui says the blanket is soaked in a disinfectant, which kills germs that one might have stepped on along the way.
The economics graduate from Chuka University says crocodiles require proper care and space to thrive.
“The bird sanctuary is always a wow factor for visitors, who enjoy birdwatching, and the crocodiles occupy different ponds, according to their ages,” Wambui says.
Another space is set aside on the farm for growing vegetables and fruits to feed the birds, and this in turn cuts the cost of feeding them.
Wambui says they get higher orders for the crocodile delicacy, especially during the weekend, but the ones that are in the farm are for breeding, tourism and educational purposes.
“We have customers and visitors coming from all corners of this beautiful country and abroad to taste crocodile meat,” she says.
HOW IT STARTED
Riungu was not on the farm during our visit, but we spoke to him on the phone.
He said starting such a venture is not a one pocket affair. He got the first stock from a crocodile farm in Karen, and that is where his interest to rear reptiles was born.
He did not divulge further details, saying Wambui would give us all the information we needed.
Wambui said one must apply for a permit from the Kenya Wildlife Service to be allowed to operate such a farm. Agency officers must confirm that one has the capacity to run it.
“They must ascertain that you will be able to feed the crocodiles appropriately before they issue you with a permit,” she says.
The crocodiles are fed once a week, since they go for long periods without hunger, since their digestion takes time.
After almost an hour learning about crocodiles, we get to the birds. The exotic birds add colour to the farm. Their bickering makes the farm so natural, you would think you were in a forest.
As Wambui takes us around, showing us the more than a thousand birds, she tells us the birds are for training farmers and promoting domestic and international tourism.
“I would encourage farmers from this region to try bird farming. They are more profitable than the dairy cows and goats,” she says.
The farm boasts of birds like the Ring necked pheasant, the Frizzle, Silky, gorgeous peafowls among many more.
There are also a number of ostriches and tortoises.
“We also have jersey giant, Cayuga duck, vulturine guinea fowl, Egyptian goose, Fan tail pigeon, love birds, and American pekin,” Wambui says.
The birds are a major tourist attraction, and farmers and students from nearby universities gain a lot from learning at the farm.
The birds consume little food compared to local kienyeji chicken.
“A frizzle can lay approximately a hundred eggs in a year and one egg goes for Sh,200,” Wambui says.
The farm also trains farmers on poultry farming.
She says that she has more than twenty farmer groups from Tharaka Nithi, Meru and Embu counties have been trained at the farm.
As we left the birds, Wambui told us they have amazing character traits. Birdwatching is a good stress reliever.
She said that they are fed on daily bases on vegetables, fruits and all kinds of grains.
After farmers get their training, Cefra farm supplies them with fertilised eggs.
The farm has a training hall where they train farmers on poultry farming and tissue culture banana farming.
The farm boasts of a plant laboratory where they produce tissue culture banana seedlings for sale.
Wambui urges the youth to turn to bird and other types of farming, instead of relying on white collar jobs that are hard to find.
She also urges parents to encourage their kids and teenagers to visit the place during the upcoming holidays and enjoy the scenery and the recreation centre that is almost in completion.
For the sake of visitors coming from outside Tharaka Nithi county and other countries, Cefra has a modern accommodation facility and an entertainment joint.
“Crocodile meat is very nutritious and tasty. Try it," she says as we are served.