As Zambia bids to fulfil its food production potential, Hybrid Poultry Farm continues to provide an affordable, high-quality and customer-focused solution for retailers and QSR operators
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Lewis Bush
“Zambia has enormous (and largely untapped) potential to produce food.
Home to 40 million hectares of arable land, an abundance of water resources, fertile soils and a low population density, the country is enviably-placed to contribute to Africa’s food production needs.
However, the fact remains that agriculture contributes a little over eight percent of GDP despite the sector employing almost half of Zambia’s population. The southern African nation is still reliant on copper mining, an industry which is subject to price volatility and provides employment to just two percent of citizens.
“Greater development in agriculture would not only provide the much-needed diversification of the economy, but also position the country better to tackle the great stress that will be placed on global food supplies due to climate change, urbanisation, and soil degradation,” explains Richard Keeley, CEO of Hybrid Poultry Farm.
“Other benefits would include food self-sufficiency, significant employment and the opportunity to export food products into the surrounding region.”
Poultry is a vital component of Zambia’s food production ecosystem, seen as the most cost-effective and accessible form of protein for much of the country’s and wider continent’s population.
For Keeley, entry into this sector was a natural step in terms of prior experience and his natural interests.
“I have had a passion for agriculture and the food industry since I can remember,” he says. “I was in the tea industry for about 12 years prior to joining Hybrid in 2003, where I was heavily involved in the commercial aspects of agriculture.
“However, I was always interested in getting involved in the production side as well, and I guess joining Hybrid was the pathway to a production and commercial oriented career as my tertiary education was focused on agriculture and business.”
Built on knowledge
Hybrid Poultry Farm is based in the heart of the Zambian capital of Lusaka, its major operation revolving around the importation, hatching and rearing of parent broiler stock from key supplier Cobb Europe.
“The poultry industry in Zambia is very competitive and we have seen two major players exit the sector in the last three years,” adds Keeley, who goes on to explain why he thinks Hybrid has been able to withstand such competition.
“Our company has been around for over 55 years and the wealth of knowledge and experience that we enjoy ensures that we provide quality products and services exceeding customer expectation at very competitive prices.
“We have a rich heritage of excellence in customer service that we endeavour to better in every succeeding year. We have established systems of tracking value throughout the production chain to ensure our esteemed clients get products that are fully traceable back to the grandparent stock and offer value for money.”
This is reflected in the fact that Hybrid Poultry Farm’s bio-secure facility is rated in the top four in the world in terms of setup and biosecurity credentials.
Further, the company also provides laboratory and consultancy services, the former being a litmus test for the robustness and quality of its biosecurity procedures.
In the area of consultancy, Hybrid draws on a team of technical experts in poultry management which provides training and production advice to farmers all over Zambia.
They also contribute on a more academic level, delivering seminars to address issues such as winter brooding, disease management, feeding regimes and effective ventilation, issues which all have a significant impact on the bottom line for the farmers.
“Farming is not a hobby and we go the extra mile to ensure that the farmers who grow Hybrid chicks make a profit and grow their businesses sustainably,” adds Keeley.
“In terms of our own processes, we are always looking to improve our systems to take advantage of the advancements in technology and make our operations as efficient as we can.
“Over the last couples of years, we’ve invested $5 million into the expansion of the abattoir, and $6 million into environmentally controlled broiler houses, expansion of breeder farms and the delivery fleet, among other priorities.
“We are already seeing returns on these investments to a greater magnitude than we initially anticipated, as we are now able to tap into markets that we had no capacity to venture into previously.”
This investment in continuous improvement is testament to the firm’s willingness to embrace change and adopt Kaizen principles.
Indeed, these pillars of Hybrid’s company culture will help steer it into a new growth phase.
“The future is bright, and we see ourselves being the poultry powerhouse in the region, drawing synergies from our sister companies in East Africa,” Keeley says. “We continue to expand and invest capital in the various projects that we believe will yield the returns that our stakeholders require.”
The company’s aims are bold – it wants to double the business in terms of output within five years, helping it to expand its market share.
“Our strategy is very clear,” Keeley continues. “We have a 10-year vision of where we want to see the business, not just in Zambia but also with our associated companies Kenchic Ltd and Tanbreed Ltd. This is broken down into a medium term, five-year plan with annual implementation handbooks.
“It keeps us on track as we monitor and evaluate the progress, successes and challenges, and ensures that all efforts and resource utilisation are aligned to the vision and goals of the company.”
Central to these efforts are, of course, the Hybrid Poultry Farm staff.
“Our employees are the stars of the show,” says Keeley. “We don’t cut corners in recruitment and management of our talent which gives us an edge in production management.
“All staff are continuously trained and coached to ensure they buy in to our winning ambition of being a least cost producer of the highest quality, and this gives us competitive advantage in the market.”
Indeed, the company spends around $500,000 a year on tailor-made training and development schemes, programmes which are delivered in-house by experts or via external consultants from around the world.
Hybrid also routinely sends staff abroad to gain experience, while its graduate training initiative aims to draw in the best of Zambia’s talent pool entering the market every year.
Continuing to contribute
Offering employment and personal development opportunities for local people is just one way in which Hybrid Poultry Farm is contributing to its community.
The company engages in a number of corporate social responsibility activities, something which Keeley highlights as crucial to Hybrid’s identity and a differentiator for the business.
“Most of our initiatives focus on orphans as the country has a high prevalence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which robs children of their parents too early in their lives leaving them vulnerable,” he explains.
This custodian focus extends into environmental issues, Keeley highlighting the work carried out in the area of waste management and recycling, conserving resources and operating under a triple bottom line mentality.
For example, Hybrid is part of the Plant A Million tree campaign in Zambia and has replanted sections of its farm where commercial activity is not taking place.
By operating responsibly on these three fronts (financial, social and environmental), Keeley is optimistic about the role both Hybrid and the poultry industry at large can play in Zambia’s ongoing drive to become self-sufficient.
While he acknowledges the industry faces challenges, as with many sectors, he concludes by restating his confidence.
“The role of the poultry industry in the larger agricultural picture of Zambia is undisputed and will continue to be a big contributor in the future.
“In the heart of the culture is a love for poultry products and you can see it in every celebration that chicken must be a part of the protein options to complete the feast. Chicken is the most affordable form of protein, although the per capita consumption is behind that of its neighbour South Africa.
“With the population growth rate expected to increase, combined with limitations of land availability, it will get increasingly difficult to acquire massive plots to practice ranching for cattle or large-scale crop growing.
“These challenges are not shared by the poultry industry, which makes it ideal to champion food production capacity in the future.”