We thought it appropriate this week to start sharing with our readers some interesting information about entrepreneurial success stories on our continent. Admittedly, a lot of information without practical examples becomes monotonous. One mildly encouraging piece of news, we are going to be focusing on several entrepreneurs who are turning their visions into practical solutions for the continent.

We always believe there is a future in any business venture, especially when no one else believes in it. In African markets, the chicken business is largely recession-proof, and now Gideon Gono is taking aim at this market, as things are not yet that competitive at the top end of the spectrum.

At first glance, Gideon Gono, seems to be lurching about. And furthermore, on first sound his remarks seem to be mere hallucinations. It is easy to see why Gideon Gono wants to move into the African market, with chickens, you are looking at 35 to 36 days to get your returns. Despite how the economic downturn strikes at the heart of the continent, the commodity is never at risk of becoming a commodity with shrinking margins, chickens always defy financial recessions.

For those unaware, Gideon Gono is the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, who has amassed wealth, slowly and quietly. Even though he claims to have begun as a small-time chicken farmer in the 1970s, it’s only now that his Lunar Chickens project has virtually become something of substance. Gono is not new to business, as his other notable foray into the flower export business was halted by the imposition of a Western embargo on him, and he now runs Lunar Chickens from the site he used to produce his flowers.

The general public will always greet his steady wealth accumulation with scepticism, however, for the wise entrepreneurs, the moral of the flower story is that once there is an insurmountable impediment right in front of you, it is wrong to lose determination to create wealth, just create another income stream for yourself. Even in desperate times, always have a knack for reinventing yourself and your business empire.

Vision and Future

For the umpteenth time, let us remind ourselves as entrepreneurs, that to be successful we should never tire of being excited about our vision and future, and Gono is too excited about his future as a possible chicken magnate. “By 2020, I must be the first chicken billionaire in Africa,” he has boldly declared.

Still, it would be wrong to underestimate the power of having several different visions for your business as an aid to steady continental growth, or the strength and determination to make those visions a success. According to Gono, he has a Zimbabwe vision, a SADC vision, a COMESA vision, and not to be forgotten an African vision.

“Within those visions is a desire to see Africa being self-sufficient in terms of its food production,” he stated as a matter of fact. “I have chosen to focus on the chicken side of food and the situation at the moment is that Zimbabwe consumes on average between 5 000 and 5 800 tonnes of chicken per month. Now local suppliers are only producing 2 000 tonnes per month and the rest is being imported,” he added.

Well, up to a point, in your relentless pursuit for entrepreneurial success, you should always have your vision tied to the reality on the ground. Pursuing business ventures blind-fold, is the major reason for many disappointments suffered by most of our aspiring entrepreneurs right across the African continent. Do you know the numbers, which you need to, satisfy?

Competition and Empowering Others

“There are basically three major producers in Zimbabwe of which we are the second,” he said, in apparent reference to Irvines and Suncrest. “So we are hoping that with time, we are going to spread the production of chickens throughout the country. We would like everyone to get involved whether with a 100 chickens behind someone’s backyard, 500 chickens and so forth, we want to find meaning out of chicken,” he emphasized.

“I have always argued that if you want to empower people say through mining, tell them that they must wait for at least five years before they can get a return; this is for a small mining operation. If you want to invest say through tobacco growing, tell them to have patience, to wait for a year, they get their money, through maize, four, five months. But through chickens, you are looking at 35 to 36 days to get your returns. So we believe that we have got a formula for quickly empowering people in a manner which is also nice, chicken is nice when you eat it,” he added.

Gideon Gono also believes the rural areas need to be empowered, and he seeks to play a more inclusive dominant role, through allowing those in rural areas to partner him. “The way we hope those in rural areas will participate, we would concentrate on technology-related activities, grow the breeders, hatch the chicks, give them to look after, bring them to our slaughter facilities, and take it to the market. Once you begin doing chickens above 500 at a time, you can’t now slaughter them by hand, the traditional way,” he hastily stated.

Furthermore, the more business focussed rural farmers can also be more involved through feed meal facilities. Gono says, ”Where we make our own feed, we want to involve farmers in growing the inputs, the maize, the soya beans that goes into feed but right now the challenge; we didn’t grow enough maize in the country or soya. It kind of like militates against volumes that we would want to produce.”

The Business

Lunar Chickens is a chicken farming business, with highly-automated, large-scale chicken farming processing complexes that are driving the Zimbabwean chicken market. Through high technology, Lunar Chickens has witnessed skyrocketing business, and has managed to corner the market, aided by the attainment of the famed Halal certification. And moreover, because of the Halal certification, quality control is a priority at Lunar Chickens, since prevention is better than cure, such that elimination of the potential for disease-causing microorganisms is particularly a high alert task.

Lunar Chickens as a massive highly-automated operation is split into various units, that include the “Breeder-land”, “Meat-land”, and the “Slaughter-land”, where several processes are undertaken. Due to the highly-automated nature of the business, the only downside is that even with the meat-land having seven large houses that are holding 45 000 chickens each, only a small staff compliment can be involved.

The “Breeder-land”, is where the eggs are laid by the layers, and then taken into highly-automated chicken incubators where machines keep hundreds of eggs at a time warm. Due to the highly-automated nature of this process, it has enabled Lunar Chickens to commercially breed chicks, and the target is to produce one million eggs a day within the next year, just for domestic consumption, and then the vision is to capture the entire African market.

From the hatchery building, the eggs are collected from the coops and taken to incubate. The next process is called the setter stage, where the eggs are kept warm and periodically rotated by state-of-the-art machines for at least 18 days, whilst placed in large automated walk-in incubators. Before the eggs begin to hatch after 21 days, a process called candling, which is an X-ray process is done for 3 days on the eggs.

After hatching, the chicks are wheeled to an inoculation area, where they are sprayed with a vaccine against the common diseases. Afterwards, this is when the money starts rolling into the business, since some of the day-old chicks are bought by out-growers, and others are delivered to different markets by Lunar Chickens trucks.

Otherwise the rest of the chicks are taken to the “Meat-land,” these large grow-out houses are under controlled temperatures. Ultimately, without being too generous with praises, this is a hub of impressive instrumentation and control. For instance, each house has a floor covered with a dry bedding wood chips, whilst the chicks are automatically fed a diet of chicken feed and water, under special lighting to keep the birds calm.

After a full-cycle 36-day grow-out, the birds are taken to the “Slaughter-land”, this is where you will find automatic neck cutters, automatic feather pickers, washer which scrubs the outside body of the defeathered carcasses, and then the cleaned carcasses are immersed in a “chiller” of cooled, chlorinated water.

Interestingly, the internal temperature of the chicken must be brought down to -18C before any further processing. At the end of the slaughter process, that takes only about an hour, irrespective of the format, the meat is packaged by workers at the processing plant, and loaded into cases, and later stored in a temperature-controlled warehouse.

Like Gideon Gono says, “so chickens make business sense,” develop your own business strategy that makes business sense. A possible consequence of looking too much into the negative image portrayed by the media, is that we forget to pick the lessons to be learnt from the pacesetters setting the pace for us.

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