For 33-year-old mother-of-seven and poultry farmer Helena Kindole in Chanya village in Tanzania, one of the main barriers to growing her chicken business is a lack of access to health services. But not for herself or her family – for her animals.
With smallholder poultry farming often a lifeline for millions of low-income and rural families – accounting for 80% of poultry production in the region – access to medicines and vaccines is just as important for livestock as it is for people. And yet, logistical, infrastructural, and supply challenges are hindering access to veterinary services across the African continent and therefore, holding back smallholder productivity.
At the same time, a rapidly industrialising poultry sector in many developed countries, and an increase in grain prices globally, coupled with cheap imports from more developed markets and low access to animal health care is driving inequality between small- and large-scale producers, threatening to squeeze out smallholder poultry farmers.
Thankfully, this is starting to change. Animal health initiatives are helping local hatcheries to vaccinate chicks against common and damaging diseases before selling them to small-scale farmers, who rear the chicks until they are six months old, eventually selling them to neighbours, restaurants, and other businesses nearby.
For women like Helena, who make up nearly half of the global agricultural workforce in developing countries and in sub-Saharan Africa, the poultry sector offers a crucial source of income and healthy animals are essential for decent livelihoods.
Equipping farmers with the right tools can help to set them up for success to compete alongside more industrialised production systems.
Introducing vaccinations at local hatcheries can strengthen small-scale producers’ sustainability and commercial clout. Supporting these hatcheries with the necessary vaccination equipment and expertise means they can provide customers with large numbers of chicks that are vaccinated against common poultry diseases, such as Newcastle disease and Infectious bronchitis, the former of which contributes to 60% of poultry mortalities in many African countries. This reduces the risk of bird loss, contributing to improved income and more successful businesses overall.
PREVENT project in Tanzania/Iringa, 2021, Helena Kindole. Credit: Colin Dames/CEVA
But implementing vaccination measures alone is not enough, as a lack of technical support and knowledge on zoonoses and other infectious diseases that affect poultry can also hinder productivity. Training on animal health practices, market development opportunities, and advice on biosecurity, good management practices, and more are also crucial pieces of the puzzle. Providing this can help to level the playing field between large scale, industrial hatcheries and small-scale producers.
The PREVENT project (Promoting and Enabling Vaccination Efficiently, Now and Tomorrow) is one example of an initiative working to improve poultry production for Africa’s rapidly growing population. In just two years, this four-year initiative has administered 159 million vaccine doses and vaccinated 49 million hatchery chicks. It has also trained 100 field technicians who have conducted 2,600 farm visits and held over 1,400 farmer meetings across four countries in sub-Saharan Africa, to date.
A low-input but high-producing sector, raising chickens offers a reliable pathway out of poverty for many rural households. A small-scale producer can easily sell their chicks or chickens at the market as they are more affordable for the consumer than beef, for example, but also bring a myriad of other benefits. They add value to social structures, are high in protein, and, on top of this, can directly benefit women who in fact make up the majority of smallholder poultry farmers in the developing world.
Small-scale chicken farmer in Tanzania/Arusha, 2015. Credit: Karel Prinsloo/GALVmed
Against the backdrop of a global cost of living crisis, record-breaking temperatures, and ongoing conflicts, closing the inequality gap for smallholder farmers is critical to build a sustainable future for all. Supporting small-scale producers with training, animal health measures, and much more can help to level the playing field, one small-scale producer at a time, just like Helena.
Writen by Enrique Hernández Pando, GALVmed’s Executive Director, Commercial Development & Impact.