Sunday, July 8, 2012

What about a chicken farm?

On my recent field trips to 4 different watersheds in the Blue Nile Basin, two majors practices were the most promissing : fruit tree and poultry. Whereas my last post focused on the fruit trees (, here are some thoughts about poultry farming.

In Shambu watershed and in Maksenit farmers have little amount of chicken (2-3 in Shambu 5-6 in Maksenit) and wished they could increase their chicken production. In both sites the envisage farmers to own between 20-30 chicken each.

In Shambu, the reason for not having more chicken is the cold climate, that makes reproduction difficult. In Maksenit where it is significantly warmer the reason for not having more chicken is the lack of access to medicine to control diseases.

Chicken in Maksenit 
Shambu farmers would like to get an incubator, so that they could get more chicken. But they they that they cannot access an incubator and therefore are stuck where they are. I found on the internet the instruction on how to build a low cost incubator with local material : It looks very easy and even feasible for the Shambu farmers. But does it make sense to build an incubator in an area where electricity cuts are common? there is no way to guarantee constant temperature and therefore all the eggs will die. So after discussing with a friend who understands more, I discovered it might be easier to go for the natural way, it would be sufficient to keep a critical amount of chicken (about 8-10) together, in order to have less egg dying because a chicken decided to get some food for too long. And then increase slowly slowly the amount of chicken in the area.

Stays the disease problem, in which i haven't dug into it yet. But it would be worth looking better in the poultry option for Ethiopia. On my last trip to Kenya I had the chance to visit a chicken farmer who breeds his 200-300 chicken. In that also the way forward in Ethiopia?

200 chicks on a Kenyan farm
Nonetheless, one should never forget to look at market access. In Shambu an alive chicken goes for 80-120 birr, i just bought my frozen chicken 80 birr in the shop next to ILRI in Addis. Shambu chicken are expensive because there are very few chicken locally. But as production increases prices will fall. Bringing chicken to the towns meant to compete with "my chicken" that comes from a commercial chicken farm near Mojo (South of Addis). Will smallholder be able to compete with those low prices? 
A farm with 100 chicken in Kenya
A short look at the Kenyan situation might give some ideas. Smallholders have a hard time with poultry. They all produce when it is easy, then there is enough fodder. This implies that too many chicken come on the market at the same time, price falls and farmer get obliged to sell below production price. It is only a good business when one is able to produce in the more difficult dry times.

No wonder that in Europe, poultry chain in fully integrated. The integration allows to coordinate the chicken production (farmers get contract stipulating how many chicken he needs to grow by when even with which fodder and medicine) and make sure that a sufficient amount of chicken are available, not more not less...

I wonder under which conditions there is room for smallholders in Africa in the poultry sector. But for sure there is a transition time during which poultry might be a good business...

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