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The ‘big bet’ on chickens for Africa

Chickens kept by a local farmer in the village of Morrumbala

Local hen and her chick in a village of Mozambique, where production costs for farmers are 30% higher than the cost of importing chicken (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

With a growing appetite for chicken in Africa, BBC Africa’s Kim Chakanetsa investigates why the continent does not produce enough birds to feed itself.

‘If you have eaten a handful of spicy chicken wings in Angola recently or perhaps polished off a lemony “yassa poulet” in Senegal, there is a good chance your chicken travelled some distance before finding its way on to your plate.

‘It depends where you live in Africa, but chickens are increasingly migrating—in freezers—from Brazil, Germany or other European Union countries to the continent.

Imports of chicken to sub-Saharan Africa tripled between 2004 and 2014,
according to figures from the US Department of Agriculture.

‘Here’s a look at reasons behind the huge increase and what can be done to help fatten up the continent’s poultry industry—in four points:

1) Why chickens not cows?
‘Africa has a growing population, which is projected to double to 2.5 billion by 2050, and with that has come an increased demand for the consumption of meat, of one variety in particular. . . .

‘As more people move to the city, their dietary patterns begin to change and they are more likely to choose meat from a local fast food joint, or one of the global chains that have proliferated across the continent in recent years. . . .

‘The production of meat has not caught up with the demand…
driven both by the rise in the population but also by the urbanisation phenomenon,’ explains Calestous Juma, a professor
of International Development at Harvard University.

And the growth really is phenomenal.

By 2030, 50% of Africans, numbering more than half a billion,
are expected to be living in cities, up from 36% in 2010,
according to World Bank estimates.

2) Hungry birds
‘Many Africans will be familiar with the “road runner” chicken, which can often be found in the backyard roaming freely.

‘These birds tend to feed themselves and are known for being tough but tasty.

‘As a means to feed the family or make a small income these low-input birds tend to do the job.

‘However, when it comes to intensive farming, a steady supply of chicken feed which is made up of maize and soya is vital.

‘But weak agricultural systems in Africa mean that feed often has to be imported at a high cost, hampering farmers’ efforts to ramp up their grain production. . . .

3) Breeding a “super chicken”
. . . ‘”Many agencies that work in Africa try to come up with what they call locally adapted breeds but it is always a half answer because those birds will never convert animal feed into food as efficiently as the modern improved Western breeds,” says Mr Lovell.

‘Prof Juma puts this down to a lack of research facilities, which makes it harder to support breeding programmes on the continent.

‘He cites Kenya, where about 80% of the poultry production is based on less productive traditional breeds, as a prime example of the problem.

However, there is some good news on this front.

The African Chicken Genetic Gains project is on a mission to bring
‘more productive chickens to African smallholders’.

Led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI),
and backed by the deep pockets of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,
it aims to improve the genetic makeup of African chickens.

The initiative, which is initially being rolled out in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania,
is part of what the Microsoft founder has called his ‘big bet’ on chickens,
which also includes a promise to donate 100,000 of the birds
to families and communities in the world’s poorest nations. . . .

4) Import dilemma
‘One of the major obstacles for farmers in Africa is the flood of imports from Brazil, Europe and the US. . . .

‘In an attempt to bolster local production, various governments across Africa, including those of Botswana, Nigeria, Namibia and Swaziland, have attempted to address the issue by imposing import restrictions. . . .’

Read the whole article on BBC News: Why does Africa import so many chickens? 12 Oct 2016.

Find more information about ILRI’s African Chicken Genetic Gains project.

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