Animal Products / Biodiversity / Breeds / Chickens / Consumption / Food Security / Gender / Indigenous Breeds / Nutrition / Pro-Poor Livestock / Science paper / Women

A chicken in every pot? New research makes the poultry case for food and nutritional security

‘Fighting Cock’ woodcut by Walter Williams.

A review paper just published online tells us more than (we might have thought) we’d like to know about how poultry production, conducted on small scales and in poor settings, affects food security. The review appears in Global Food Security (available online 2 May 2017). (See more information about the paper at the bottom of this post. Please refer to the paper to get the references for the research-based facts presented below.)

The highlights

  • Small-scale poultry systems are important in food-insecure resource-poor areas.
  • Chickens contribute to each dimension of food security—availability, access, utilisation and stability.
  • Chickens empower women.
  • Chickens have a low environmental impact and contribute to ecosystem nutrient cycling.
  • Chickens are an important source of genetic biodiversity and indigenous breeds.
  • Chickens contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The abstract
‘Small-scale poultry production systems are mostly found in rural, resource-poor areas that often also experience food insecurity. They are accessible to vulnerable groups of society, and provide households with income and nutritionally rich food sources. However, they also improve food security in indirect ways, such as enhancing nutrient utilisation and recycling in the environment, contributing to mixed farming practices, contributing to women’s empowerment, and enabling access to healthcare and education. Further, they may contribute to several of the Sustainable Development Goals, and to future food security through maintaining biodiverse genomes. In extensive small-scale poultry production systems, significant impediments to achieving these contributions are disease and predation, which can be reduced through improved agricultural and livestock extension and community animal health networks. For small-scale intensive systems, feed price fluctuations and inadequate biosecurity are major constraints.’

The introduction
‘Small-scale poultry . . . production systems have been integrated with human livelihoods for thousands of years, enhancing diet, income, and food and nutrition security of the rural poor. Currently, global livestock production systems are under scrutiny, given the projected environmental and food system impacts of increasing livestock production to meet the growing demand for animal-source foods . . . . This review highlights literature that demonstrates and describes linkages between [small-scale poultry] production and food security in low- and middle-income countries . . .  with limited resources (resource-poor settings). The potential contributions and impacts of extensive, small-scale scavenging poultry production systems in rural, resource-poor areas differs significantly from more intensive systems in urbanised settings; these differences are highlighted while the contributions of [small-scale poultry] to each dimension of food security—availability, access, utilisation and stability—are explored. Lastly, common constraints to small-scale poultry production in resource-poor areas, and, should these be addressed, their potential contributions towards achieving the United Nations’ . . . Sustainable Development Goals . . . are presented.’

The conclusion

The roles of [small-scale poultry] in [low- and middle-income countries] are many, and this review highlights the multitude of avenues through which they can contribute to improved household food and nutrition security.

‘As a highly available and accessible form of livestock in rural, resource-poor areas that often experience food insecurity, [small-scale poultry] are a significant source of income, nutrition and security for the poorest of households. In particular, the importance of these systems to the livelihoods of women, children, the elderly, and the chronically ill should not be overlooked. Barriers to maximising the potential impact of [small-scale poultry] production systems are significant, with high burdens of disease and predation limiting production and utilisation of poultry products, but many of these constraints can be addressed with local adaptations of management strategies, including the development of gender-sensitive training and extension materials. Finally, [small-scale poultry] production systems have persisted for thousands of years, and the local chickens within these systems are well-adapted to harsh environments.’

Recognition of their ability to survive and reproduce in these conditions, their value as a rich source of genetic biodiversity, and their potential to contribute to sustainable development should promote interest in investing in the protection and conservation of local breeds kept in [small-scale poultry] systems.

More excerpts (lightly edited to remove acronyms and scientific references)

  • Small-scale poultry production systems, largely composed of chickens, account for the majority of the poultry population in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Four categories of family poultry production are described by researchers: small extensive scavenging (1–5 adult birds), extensive scavenging (5–50 birds), semi-intensive (50–200 birds), and small-scale intensive production (more than 200 broilers or more than 100 layers). The largest number of households worldwide are engaged in ‘village poultry’ production, which encompasses the first two systems and are composed of mostly indigenous or sometimes crossbred species.
  • In these free-ranging systems, birds largely scavenge for feed, although supplementary feed may be given, and housing, if provided, is simple and made from locally available materials.
  • Flocks are self-propagating, with broody hens laying 30–80 eggs per year in 2–4 clutches, and spending time between clutches to rear chicks.

Chickens and food availability

  • Poultry are generally the most numerous livestock in resource-poor areas, where their contributions to food availability are both direct, through supplying nutrient-rich and culturally acceptable products for human utilisation, and indirect, through enhancing crop, vegetable and other livestock production with the provision of manure and pest control.
  • Rural poultry supply 70–90% of poultry products in Africa and contribute 20–32% of total animal protein intake.
  • There is high demand for meat from indigenous chicken breeds, due to their suitability to local taste preferences and cooking methods.
  • Meat (both muscle and organ meat) and eggs from indigenous chickens constitute a high-quality food source, densely packed with essential macro- and micronutrients.
  • Consuming foods with high concentrations of bioavailable nutrients is particularly important for infants and young children, with limited gastric volume, pregnant and lactating women who have increased nutrient requirements, elderly people who may have decreased intestinal absorption capacity, and those who are ill.
  • Eggs, containing all nutrients required to support the development of a chick, have a ‘nearly perfect balance of nutrients’ to meet human nutrition requirements.

  • Eggs have been recognised as the lowest-cost source of protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, iron and zinc and are also a good source of folate, selenium, vitamin D, and vitamin K.
  • Liver and eggs are among the best sources of vitamin A available.
  • Although animal-source foods are significant contributors to dietary energy and protein, it is their concentration of micronutrients and their ability to counter multiple micronutrient deficiencies that make them particularly valuable food sources.
  • It has been shown that regular animal-source food consumption has significant positive benefits for children’s nutritional status, linear growth, and educational outcomes, leading to increased income and productivity in adulthood.
  • The consumption of animal-source foods in low- to middle-income countries should not be tempered by the known health risks associated with overconsumption of animal-source foods seen in high-income countries.

  • Small-scale poultry production is commonly used as part of mixed or integrated farming systems, which allows farmers to use resources efficiently, spread risk and protect against shocks.
  • The scavenging feed resource base utilised in extensive and semi-intensive poultry production transforms feed ingredients in the environment that are less suitable or unavailable for human consumption, including plant seeds, earthworms, and insects, into palatable and nutrient-rich food products for people.

Chickens and food access

  • In resource-poor settings, chickens are amongst the most affordable livestock, and they may be sold or exchanged for sequentially larger and higher-value species, building a household’s asset base, or used to provide income in times of need. As such, they are the first rung on the livestock ladder
  • Village poultry brought an average annual income of USD13 to households in Ethiopia; USD27 in Haiti, USD55 in Mozambique and USD124, or 50% of the per capita income, to households in Nigeria.
  • Researchers have estimated that ten laying hens can earn Nigerian households USD100 per annum, and in Indonesia, ten laying hens vaccinated against Newcastle disease can generate more than 25% of the monthly household income.
  • In Lao PDR, village poultry production produced a net household annual income of USD67. With control of Newcastle disease and Fowl Cholera, net household incomes from meat production were between USD97 in remote areas, USD120 in rural villages, and USD108 in regions with access to the cold chain.
  • There is typically a consumer preference for local chicken meat due to suitability of taste and texture, and the minimal use of pharmaceuticals during production.
  • Although production is low and markets are limited, local chickens and eggs fetch a significantly higher market price, from 1.5 to 3 times the cost of a commercial product.

  • Income from the sale of small-scale poultry products allows households to purchase a greater variety of food, and cover schooling and healthcare costs.
  • Village chickens can make significant economical contributions to households, both as a small source of regular income, or as a liquid asset, which can be used by households to access food.

Chickens and women’s empowerment

  • In many [low- and middle-income countries], poultry are often the only livestock under the independent control of women.
  • In Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, it was found that village chickens belong almost exclusively to women, who are responsible for the care of the birds, and for selling chickens and eggs.
  • Men are often involved in the construction of shelter for the chickens, or in their treatment or slaughter, however even in male-headed households, women are often responsible for decision-making on issues related to chicken production.
  • Income from the sale of poultry products is often the main source of income for female-headed households, whereas male-headed households usually have multiple income sources.
  • A research study found that 35% of women’s income in the Niger Delta of Nigeria is derived from family poultry.
  • When small-scale poultry are reared by women, it is possible for this income to be under the complete control of women, increasing their empowerment, which in turn enhances household food security.
  • It has been found that 90% of income under the control of women is channeled back into their households or local communities, in contrast with only 30–40% for men, and that women use their income to increase the quantity and variety of foods purchased, on medical care, and on schooling for children.

  • In this way, women’s income leads to greater improvements in household health, education and nutritional status than men’s income, and has a positive impact on household food security.
  • Village poultry production systems are a particularly important income-generating activity for women, as they place little demand on mothers’ time, allowing adequate time allocation to child care, a crucial element to achieving good nutrition.
  • The inclusion of women in small-scale poultry training programs to become community vaccinators increases the knowledge and standing of women within their household and the wider community.
  • Livestock interventions that target species under the control of women, including small-scale poultry, may enhance the impact upon household food and nutrition security through the empowerment of women.
  • Data from the FAO indicate that female farmers receive only 5% of agricultural extension services; that only 15% of extension workers are women; and that only 10% of agricultural aid goes to women. This situation indicates the current bias towards men in the agriculture sector.
  • Much of the training, communication and extension materials are directed at men, and women, who are the main carers in small-scale poultry production systems, may not receive the information they need.
  • Lower literacy levels among women also decrease the utility of written communication materials, with oral or visual materials being more effective in these settings.
  • Ensuring gender equity in the selection of community animal health workers can allow more effective communication with male and female poultry keepers, and a gender sensitive approach at all levels of the intervention is necessary to ensure that women benefit from interventions involving poultry-raising activities.

Chickens and food utilization

  • It is found that in many contexts taboos prohibiting the consumption of eggs by children and pregnant women exist, meaning that even if nutrient-rich food items exist in the household, it might not be utilised by all the members in the same way.
  • In the absence of Newcastle disease control, it has been observed that households very rarely utilise chicken and eggs, preferring to keep the eggs to produce chickens that can be sold, often to allow the purchase of staple foods and other less nutritious food.
  • Control of Newcastle disease increases the availability of eggs and healthy chickens for consumption.
  • The addition of even small amounts of animal-source foods to a largely vegetarian diet counteracts this inhibition, thereby enhancing overall micronutrient absorption.

Chickens and food stability

  • Through increased opportunities for schooling and the empowerment of women, small-scale poultry production systems can contribute to the food security of future generations.
  • Future food production challenges are unpredictable and likely will include new diseases or more virulent recurrent diseases, and environmental changes necessitating alternatives. Therefore, a healthy and diverse genetic reservoir in food-producing animals remains as crucial as ever.
  • Research has suggested that non-commercial flocks, including those found in many low- and middle-income countries, could potentially represent the reservoir opportunity for alleles ‘missing’ from commercial pure line stocks.
  • Thus, conservation of the indigenous genepools raised under small-scale poultry production systems may not only contribute to ecosystem health, but may ensure the long-term survival and productivity of poultry as livestock.

  • Selective crossbreeding can combine desired characteristics of indigenous and commercial chicken breeds. The Kuroiler chicken was developed in India in 1993 as a high-yielding, fast-growing dual-purpose bird that retains its indigenous feather colours, ability to evade predators, disease resistance, and suitability to rural environments.
  • In Thailand, the Kai Baan Thai (Thai Village chicken) has been developed as a fast-growing broiler that retains the meat texture and flavour characteristics of indigenous chickens. This is an example of the commercial adoption of indigenous poultry genetics to supply a high-end, niche market.

Support for this research work was provided by the governments of Australia, Tanzania, Timor-Leste and Zambia, as well as the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

More information
Read the research paper: Small-scale poultry and food security in resource-poor settings: A review, by JT Wong, J de Bruyn, B Bagnol, H Grieve, M Li, R Pym and RG Alders, in Global Food Security, available online 2 May 2017.

Visit the site of the African Chicken Genetic Gains project, which is led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).


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