Livestock Research for Rural Development 26 (1) 2014 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Hay baling as a business for former street children in Kenya

S W Duiker and P Maina*

Department of Plant Science, The Pennsylvania State University, 408 ASI Building, University Park, PA, 16802, USA
* Children and Youth Empowerment Centre, PO Box 2855-10140, Nyeri, Kenya


Destitute children are provided with food, shelter and education in government and non-profit centres in many African countries. Their successful re-entry into society remains a challenge due to difficulty finding gainful employment. We report on an initiative to assist youth at the Children and Youth Empowerment Centre in Nyeri to start their own businesses. A thriving suburban dairy sector in Kenya has led to strong demand for hay. Hay can be produced in the rural areas, baled, and transported to the towns.

We introduced low-cost equipment to produce hay bales: Scythes to mow grass, and a push-through manual hay baler to make dense bales. Youth were trained in operating and maintaining scythes and construction of the manual hay baler. They formed a 4-person hay-baling team that made more than 500 bales for local farmers, being paid by the bale, enabling them to generate up to US$5 pp per day. Existence of an active hay market, skills training, a supporting organization, mentors, and project continuity over many years were identified as the key factors leading to success.

Keywords: employment, farmers, peri-urban, scythe, urbanization


The number of street children in the world was estimated to exceed 100 million in 2002 (UNICEF 2002). Just as in many other countries, their number has been increasing in Kenya as well. In the late 1990s there were an estimated 135,000 street children, but by 2007, experts estimated that their number had doubled, to between 250,000-300,000 (Ayuku et al 2004; IRIN 2007). A commonly accepted definition of a street child is "any girl or boy who has not reached adulthood for whom the street (in the widest sense of the word, including unoccupied dwellings, wasteland) has become her or his habitual abode and or source of livelihood and who is inadequately protected, supervised, or directed by responsible adults" (Le Roux 1996). Street children can be: (1) those that live on the street during the day (sometimes after school) but return to their family's house at night; (2) rejects and runaways who have left their family and now live day and night on the street, but with the option of being able to return home occasionally; or (3) orphans and refugees completely devoid of any family support structure who live entirely on the streets (Dowling 2008). These three classes make up approximately 70%, 20% and 10%, respectively, of the global street children population. Reasons for the growing number of street children include rapid industrialization and urbanization, inner-city decay, chronic unemployment, drought and famine, and breakdown of traditional family structures and values (Le Roux and Smith 1998).  

Street children distinguish themselves from other children in their generally poor emotional and cognitive development (Le Roux and Smith 1998). Their role models are typically the strong and aggressive, and trauma and violence are common part of their life. They frequently have a distorted concept of time and often suffer from depression and apathy. They are accepting of fate. On the positive side, street children highly value companionship and work in groups to make and share profit and offer each other protection. They are familiar with numerous coping strategies, are independent, resilient, and perhaps understand human nature better than other children. Unfortunately, society often stigmatizes street children. They are known as criminal, violent, poor, addicted to drugs, promiscuous, unsanitary, rude, uncivilized and untrustworthy (Le Roux and Smith 1998). Government centers have been created in Kenya to take these youth off the streets and give them shelter, sustenance and education until they are old enough to take care of themselves. However, the lack of functioning family networks and the negative image they have pose tremendous challenges for their reintegration into society. Besides removing children from the streets there is therefore the challenge of preparing them for employment and then providing them with the needed assistance to enable them to obtain gainful employment. 

The Children and Youth Empowerment Centre (CYEC) in Nyeri is one of the Kenyan government centers created to accommodate, educate, and rehabilitate street children. Created in 2005, the center provides children food and shelter and sends them to public elementary school. After attending elementary school, they can attend secondary school if they find a sponsor to pay their school fees. Those not able to attend secondary school are enrolled in training programs in agriculture, tailoring, carpentry and metal work. This paper reports on a CYEC program that assists youth to start businesses in agriculture developed with the assistance of Penn State University. We report on one initiative that enabled youth to develop a custom hay baling business.  

Rapid Appraisal of the agricultural sector in Nyeri and surrounding area revealed that the thriving suburban dairy sector created high demand for stored feed, especially in the dry season. Further investigation showed that Kenya has one of the largest and most vibrant dairy industries in Africa. Reformation of dairy policies and market liberalization in 2003 led to a thriving dairy sector with annual growth of 3-4% (Muriuki 2011). Dairy contributed 3.8% to the national GDP (> KSH 100 million), more than horticulture (KSH 65 million) or tea (KSH 47 million). Milk production grew from 2.5 billion liters in 1990 to 4.2 billion liters in 2009 and it is expected that by 2030 production needs will grow to 12.8 billion liters to meet demand from a growing population and an expected doubling of per capita milk consumption (Republic of Kenya 2010).  

An estimated 1.8 million small holders (typically 2-3 cow dairy farms) produce more than 80% of Kenya's milk (Republic of Kenya 2010). Dairy cattle is concentrated in the highlands of Rift Valley, Central, Western, Nyanza and Eastern Provinces, but is also important in the lowlands of Coastal Province around Mombasa (PKF Consulting 2005). Dairies are concentrated around population centers because most milk is marketed without processing or cooling. Land is in short supply in towns so feed needs to be brought in. This has created a market for dry hay packed in dense bales that can easily be transported. Currently, however, most marketed hay is produced on tractorized farms due to the unavailability of cost-effective harvesting and baling technology for the poor. Among small holders in Kenya, grass is customarily cut using the slash, a very laborious and time-consuming method of harvesting whereas small, affordable baling equipment is unavailable. There are tractor-pulled PTO driven mowers and hay balers in some areas but cost and scale of operation make this technology impractical for small scale farmers and landless youth. These observations led us to search for cost-effective tools to harvest and bale hay. 

Methods and Materials

This work has been taking place in the context of a 'service-learning' class at Penn State University which was first offered in 2009. Undergraduate students work on exit program strategies during each Spring semester, which culminates in a 3-week period in May-June when the students travel to Kenya with faculty members to implement these strategies in collaboration with the staff and youth at the CYEC. After completing the Penn State class, several students have returned to Kenya to offer additional service. In addition, faculty members sometimes travel independently to Kenya to provide focused training to the Kenyan youth as needed. The time and financial records presented in this paper were kept by the Kenyan youth as part of their business development.


Zawadi Youth Enterprise 

The CYEC exit program led to the formation of the Zawadi Youth Enterprise (ZYE), a Community Based Organization, which was formalized in 2011 to help youth with business development. The organization has currently 15 active members. In order to gain membership, a youth must be a student, alumnus, or employee of the Children and Youth Empowerment Center. He or she must apply for membership with the organization’s secretary and make a cash subscription of 2500 Ksh (US$30) or pledge to provide services equaling this amount within three months of joining. The organization has a board which includes a Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer (all of these being youth members of the ZYE), and an adult advisor of the Youth (the Director of the CYEC). 

The goal of the ZYE is to promote a spirit of financial self-reliance among the youth and provide a platform to help them create businesses using their acquired skills. The Zawadi Youth Enterprise has developed three main income generating activities. These include agriculture, tailoring, and arts. Main activities in the agriculture program include crop production and animal husbandry. The youth tend to a Shamba (garden) where they raise fruit trees, vegetables, and fodder. Greenhouses, an irrigation pump, and a drip irrigation system help produce vegetables throughout the year. A dairy cow, dairy goats, chickens, and rabbits are kept for milk, eggs, and meat as well as manure for the shamba and biogas digester. Beekeeping is another important activity. Products are sold to the CYEC and to the local market. In December of 2011 hay-making was started. 

The Zawadi Youth Enterprise is searching for ways to set up a self-sustaining organization to help the youth start independent businesses. Originally, youth were provided by the CYEC with room and board and a small allowance. In return, they were expected to work at the Centre as directed by supervisors. This arrangement did not stimulate them to become independent, since there was no direct connection between the work they did as individuals and the return. Therefore, a different model was initiated in 2011, in which the proceeds of each business are for the youth engaged in that particular business.  They receive help with their enterprise (such as land, inputs, use of tools, transportation) through the ZYE. In return, they pay back variable costs plus a percentage contribution made out to the ZYE.  The percentage is higher when the youth stay at the CYEC and lower when they provide for their own room and board (typically when they do work away from the CYEC). As an example, the rate for the haymaking team, which resides on customers' farms, was set by the members of the ZYE at 15% of gross revenue. The new model stimulates the youth to develop strategies to expand their businesses, such as looking for customers for the haymaking business and promoting their business to potential customers.  

Identification of hay-making as a business opportunity for former street youth 

The ZYE has access to two parcels of land (16 and 5 ha, respectively), which are envisioned to become 'ecovillages'. The ecovillages are to be agriculturally based communities where ZYE members can develop their businesses (along the lines of the 'Kibbutz' model). The 16 ha site is at Lamuria, about 1 hr driving distance north of Nyeri. Due to orographic effects the climate in Lamuria is semi-arid, while that in Nyeri is semi-humid (Table 1). Lamuria is located in the savannah zone of the Upper Ewaso-Ngiro basin characterized by grasslands and open bushlands. In 2010 a team of Penn State students and faculty, working collaboratively with the CYEC youth, identified haymaking as a business opportunity for dryland farming in Lamuria. Reasons for choosing haymaking included: (1) Grass was already established on the land limiting the need for large investment before income could be generated; (2) Low, and highly variable rainfall at Lamuria led to frequent grain crop failure, but hay production, despite varying from year to year due to rainfall variability, would be unlikely to completely fail; (3) Soil tillage would not be needed, limiting the potential for soil erosion and soil quality degradation on this sloping site; (4) A market survey showed that hay bales were sold for a high price (KSH 200-300, US$ 2.30-3.50) in Nyeri; (5) Transportation costs to move hay bales from Lamuria to Nyeri would be manageable due to a well-maintained road from Lamuria to Nyeri; (6) A neighbor in Lamuria was already engaged in the hay baling business and was able to sell 1200 bales in 2009. 

Table 1 : Climatic characteristics of Nyeri and Lamuria




Altitude (masl), m



Average annual rainfall, mm




After evaluating several options for grass mowing equipment, we settled on scythes. Scythes are an improvement upon the slash, but cost is modest. In one movement, a mower will cut about a 3 m x 10 cm swath with a scythe, compared with a 0.5 m x 5 cm swath with a slash. Scythes leave a uniformly cut sward in contrast to that left by slashes. Scythes do not require input costs for items such as gasoline or oil, which often present a challenge for the poor in Africa. Finally, it would be possible to set up a local manufacturing capacity in East Africa to make and distribute scythes, which would solve the issue of replacement parts.  

The parts of a scythe are illustrated in Photo 1. Different types of scythes are available: American scythes have a straight, stamped blade and an intricately curved snath. The European scythe has an (almost) straight snath, and a curved blade hammered out of steel. Because of its lighter weight, simpler design, and ease of operation, we chose to use the European scythe. The European scythe is sharpened using two techniques: (1) peening, which involves hammering the very edge of the blade on an anvil to make it paper thin; and (2) honing or whetting, which is the sharpening of the edge with a stone. Peening is done approximately once a day, while honing needs to be performed about every 15 minutes when mowing. In the U.S., cost of a scythe blade is US$65, and a snath US$60. Peening anvils are available for US$12 and a flat head hammer for US$29. A whetting stone costs US$8 and a holder US$12. The cost of these items can be reduced substantially if a local manufacturing capacity can be set up in Kenya or if blades can be sourced from Asia. Recently, we found scythe blades imported from China costing $4 which were imported by AFRITOOL in Swaziland. The Zawadi youth is able to make snaths using local materials.

 Photo 1: European scythe
Manual hay baler 

We found a design for a small manually operated hay baler at Tillers International (Photo 2). The baler uses push-through technology, i.e. bales are pushed through a compression chamber using a manually operated plunger. Teffera et al (2012) evaluated vertical and horizontal type hay presses and concluded that the vertical hay press was more affordable, pressed hay into higher density bales, and enabled completion of a bale in less time than a horizontal baler. However, differences in design may make a big difference since these authors reported high friction of the plunger of the horizontal baler plunger sliding over round bars whereas the baler here used slides over the ground floor and is held in place by the plunger guides which slide in wooden slits in the side of the baler. This contrasts with other manual haybaler types available in Kenya, which employ a compression box which needs to be opened each time a bale is ready to be tied up. Dogs keep the hay from springing back when the plunger is retracted. A prototype was built at Penn State University in the fall of 2011 to prepare for building of a baler in Kenya.

Photo 2: Zawadi hay baling Team showcasing the manual hay baler at National Dairy Master Plan Launch in Nyeri, Kenya, June 2012

The first Kenyan baler was built using metal parts made in the U.S., but the second baler was made entirely from locally manufactured materials by the Zawadi youth in May of 2012. The cost of the materials was KSH 10,706 (US$ 127.40). Cost details are shown in Table 2.  The haymaking technologies were demonstrated by the Zawadi Youth at the National Dairy Master Plan Launch in Nyeri in June of 2012, where the scythes and baler received much interest from dairy farmers, cooperatives and farmer associations. After discussion the youth set a sales price for the baler of KSH 30,000 (US$ 350). This price is substantially below the cost of another manual hay baler model available in Kenya that is not push-through and, in addition is made of metal (which makes it very heavy). The latter model is sold for KSH 142,000 (approx US$1700). Several farmers expressed interest in purchasing a baler and several have been delivered at time of writing.  

Table 2: Input costs for construction of manual hay baler

Part name

Number purchased

Cost per unit (KSH)

Total cost (KSH)

Steel rod (12 mm diameter) for tension rods

4 ft



Steel rod (16 mm diameter) for plunger pivots

3 ft



Nails (3" long)

1 kg



Carriage bolts (6") with nuts for plunger








Angle iron for plunger

10 ft



Springs for dogs (to be cut in two)




Bolts (3") plus nuts




Bolts (4") plus nuts




Large washers




Square iron for dogs




Flat steel for plunger guides (2"x2"x0.125")




Steel rod for roller ( 10 mm)




Timber (2"x4", 9ft)




8'x4' blockboard








Note: KSH 84 = US$1 (July 2012)

Hay making training 

In December 2011 Penn State faculty provided training in scythe mowing and hay baling. Eight scythes and peening and honing equipment purchased from Scythe Supply in Maine, USA, were sent to Kenya for this training. A manual hay baler was made in the workshop at CYEC by the trainer and youth interested in haymaking. The haymaking training took place at the Wambugu Agricultural Training Centre, located near the CYEC in Nyeri. The practice field consisted primarily of Rhodes (Chloris gayana Kunth) and Star grass (Cynodon spp.). Starting early in the morning, when dew was still on the grass, a group of about 8 Zawadi youth was trained in mowing and sharpening techniques until approximately 11 am during a two-week period. At the end of the morning, hay made the previous day was baled. At the end of the day, grass cut that morning was collected and put in a storage shed to shelter it from rain. Under the excellent drying conditions in Nyeri it was possible to cut grass in the morning on a sunny day and collect dry hay at the end of the afternoon (4pm). The market required a minimum weight per bale of 15 kg, which was easily accomplished with the manual baler.  

Custom hay baling business 

After the training 4 ZYE youth continued with the hay making enterprise. They quickly identified farmers near Nyeri interested in hiring them to mow their grass and bale the hay. This was a departure from the original idea of making hay at the ecovillage site in Lamuria. One reason was the lack of living and workshop facilities in Lamuria. Another reason was poor stands of grass in Lamuria due to local herdsmen grazing the site in the absence of fencing. The other reason was the ease with which customers were found. Working under the custom operator model, the youth made more than 500 bales for local farmers between January and February (Table 3). Their first customer was a farmer in Mweiga. The hay baling team mowed 1.8 ha and made 362 bales in 15 days. They were paid KSH 80 (US$ 0.95) for each bale they made. The farmer provided them with lodging in the field and purchased the sisal to tie up the bales. After subtracting costs for repairs and contribution to the Zawadi Youth Enterprise (15% of gross revenue to pay for facilitation of their enterprise by the CBO), their net return was almost KSH 400 (US$ 4.76) per working day. Their second customer was in Niarifu. The hay baling team mowed 5 acres (2.0 ha) and made 177 bales in 15 days. They were paid KSH 90 (US$ 1.07) for each bale they made. The farmer provided them with lodging at 5 km from the field, but the youth had to purchase the sisal to tie up the bales. After subtracting costs for repairs and sisal and contribution to the Zawadi Youth Enterprise their net return was KSH 220 (US$ 2.62) per working day.  

Table 3: Area mowed and baled, gross revenue, costs, and net revenue of Zawadi hay baling Team in Mweiga and Niarifu, Kenya, January/February 2012




Acres mowed and baled



Days worked @ 8 hrs/day



Bales produced



Payment per bale (KSH)



Revenue (KSH)



Lodging expenses (KSH)



Repairs (KSH)



Supplies (KSH)



Number of youth in team



Payment to CBO (KSH)



Savings for future (KSH)



Net revenue pp per day (KSH)







Good grass stand - level surface with few rocks and shrubs. Lodging in field. Farmer provided twine.

Poor grass stand, rocky, shrubs. Lodging 5 km from field. Some rainy days unable to make hay.

1 acre = 0.405 ha. Exchange rate - US$ 1 = KSH 84 (July 2012)

The fenced field in Mweiga had a thick stand of mostly Rhodes grass with few trees or rocks, in contrast to the field in Niarifu which had a poor grass stand, many shrubs and small trees, and rocks. This led to more damage to the scythe blades, loss of time to make repairs, and small number of haybales for the time spent. The daily travel to the field was also time consuming, taking the youth almost one hour in the morning and evening. The youth now inspect a field before committing to a job to make sure hay baling will return a profit and determine distance of lodging from the field.

Discussion and Conclusion

The vibrant dairy industry in East Africa opens up opportunities for landless youth to create hay baling teams engaged in custom hay baling for local farmers. Principal among factors that helped the youth develop a viable hay baling business were: 


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Received 20 December 2013; Accepted 21 December 2013; Published 1 January 2014

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