Livestock Research for Rural Development (11) 3 1999 

Observations on family poultry units in parts of Central America and sustainable development opportunities

J G Mallia

Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College,
University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1

[Editors' Note: This article was published originally in the First INFPD / FAO Electronic Conference on Family Poultry (Editor:  Gueye Fallou) and is reproduced with the permission of the editors of INFPD and the authors]


Underdeveloped regions of the outlying coastal Belize, Guatemala and the Mosquitia (Honduras) rely on smallholder 'family' poultry production as their primary source of domestic animal protein, with the domestic fowl being the most widely kept poultry species. The extensive system of management is the most frequent. This system requires minimal costs, but mortalities due to disease and predation are very high, and poultry production is low and irregular. Coastal populations therefore rely heavily on fishing and hunting for animal protein, and few viable forms of poultry product marketing have been developed. Inland indigenous Indians in Guatemala raise large numbers of chickens ('pollo criollo') and turkeys ('pavo criollo'), under extensive or partially confined systems. Widespread and successful marketing of these species is present. Partially confined 'backyard' rearing of chicks until at least six weeks of age, with the associated development of feeding systems based on local products should reduce the markedly high mortalities due to predation. The segregation of turkeys from fowl may also have major impact on reducing turkey and chicken mortalities. Other sustainable interventions, such as disease prevention programmes for several of the outlying communities (Creole, Garifuna) are necessary, albeit challenging. Rural populations in Central America are very receptive to poultry veterinary outreach. A holistic approach using epidemiological studies and multivariate modeling are broad interventions that may have a widespread impact on the sustainable improvement of poultry production.

Key words: Central America, multivariate modeling, poultry epidemiology, sustainable development,  family poultry


The raising of family poultry in Belize, Guatemala and the coast of Honduras is as diverse as it is intense, despite the relative smallness of this area. The diversity is at least partly explained by the wide ethnic mix and cultures, coupled with marked differences in the terrain and climate patterns of the region. Substantial differences in the development and infrastructure and also the presence of tourism further complicate the picture.

Belize has a population of 200,000 (50% Creole, 30% Mestizo, 10% Maya and 10% Garifuna). About half of the country is covered by dense jungle and the rest is farmland, scrub and swamp. Belize is hot and humid year round. Rainfall is around 4,000 mm  a year, mainly between June and November. The Republic of Guatemala has a population of 11 million (56% of Mestizo and 44% Mayan). Guatemala's western highlands (up to 3800m) have night temperatures around freezing point. Days are chilly, overcast and humid during the rainy season, but warm in the dry season (October to May). The lowlands of El Petén and the Caribbean coastline are mainly jungle clad, punctuated by agricultural activity and expanding road systems. This area's climate varies from hot and humid to hot and dry. The Republic of Honduras has a population of 5.8 million (90% Mestizo, 7% Indian, 3% other ethnicities). The wettest months on the Honduran Caribbean coast and the Mosquitia are from September to February, although it rains practically all the time and floods frequently. Country information was derived from "Lonely Planet On-Line" (1999).

The considerable diversity in climate, terrain, ethnic groups and socio-economic development is at the basis of the significant difference in the importance of family poultry across the region. This report therefore focuses on specific areas and groups where smallholder poultry were putatively important. Emphasis was placed on regions where sustainable options for family poultry development were envisaged.

Family poultry, especially chickens and turkeys, are widespread across the region. However, the numbers and proportions vary considerably. Family poultry appeared to be the most important class of livestock in most of the outlying communities on the Caribbean coast. Although fishing is still the major source of animal protein, environmental restraints may oblige local inhabitants to seek alternative sources in the future. Chickens are kept for meat and eggs, and other poultry species are raised for meat. Some areas have an active market trade, where poultry are bartered or sold. Poultry types, breeds and management systems appeared to vary according to the area of the country, the size of the town or the village, the proximity to nearby cities and tourist centres and, particularly, the ethnic group under consideration.

'Creole' family poultry

The Creoles are the most evident ethnic group in most of Belize, the urban parts of Roatan (Bay Islands) and the Mosquitia. Their culture is more closely linked to the Caribbean Islands such as Jamaica than to that of other people in Central America. The main poultry species raised are the domestic fowl. Turkeys, Muscovy ducks,  geese and guinea fowls are occasionally raised. Formerly, turkeys and Muscovy ducks were raised in larger numbers.

Creoles living in large urban centres such as Belmopan and Belize City (Belize) do not rely heavily on family poultry, as industrially raised poultry and other sources of animal protein are easily available. However, family poultry even has a place within the city, raised under semi-intensive or backyard systems. They are even allowed to range freely at the periphery of the city. Smaller towns and villages have large numbers of poultry, and the backyard or extensive (free-range) systems are used. The backyard system appeared to be the more popular, although it requires more capital input and organization than the free-ranging system. Ownership and management were often, but not exclusively, the domain of village women who regard poultry as a useful source of eggs, meat and income.

Turkeys are narrow-breasted. Their feathers are usually black or bronze.  These birds are rarely raised.  It is not unusual for farmers to lose all their poults from diseases. Muscovy ducks (pied pattern) and geese (gray) are infrequently raised, or only in small numbers, as they are considered to be too unhygienic for raising in close proximity to the house, particularly if the compound is small and enclosed. Guinea fowls (helmeted, 'wild type' gray) are rare and raised as a curiosity and as 'alarm dogs' around compounds.

Chickens are widely kept, and usually are the large and compact types with a 'heavy breed' or 'Asiatic' conformation (e.g. Rhode Island Red or Sussex) but with proportionately longer legs (Mallia 1999c). Some poultry however have some 'Mediterranean' features (large single comb, long neck and slender, upright posture and a large, well-developed tail carried with prominent sickles at almost 90o to the line of the back in the males). However, white cheeks, white eggs and the non-sitting characteristic (also typical of Mediterranean-type fowl) are not present. There is clearly a strong negative selection pressure for non-sitting hens, as artificial incubation is not practiced in these communities. 

Results obtained from a population of  59 males and 126 females revealed that, on average, males weighed 3.89 kg (SE ±0.10) and females 2.90 kg (SE ±0.05). The naked-neck trait was also present, known locally as the 'Peel-neck chicken'. All chickens were soft-feathered, but highly variable in colour: white, black, brown, red, partridge, speckled, silver cuckoo and wheaten colour phases were present. The hens laid tinted or light brown eggs. Most eggs from free-range hens were successively recovered as they were produced, with 'nest-sites' ranging from boxes to old planks of wood propped against a wall, usually near the owner's house. Free-range poultry were fed on household scraps, discarded farm-produce and grains. This served as an incentive for them to come close to the household. As a result the poultry had a better diet, hens were trained to lay in a convenient location (facilitating the collection of eggs) and they roosted closer to the house. A reduction in predation, theft and losses from inclement weather was also achieved. Theft of mature poultry was a potential problem in the larger Creole centres, hence they were not extensively ranged in certain communities. Hens were cautious and defensive when with young, caring for them until weaning. However, this limited the number of eggs and chicks produced. Despite the substantial phenotypic variation among the fowl, no single 'type' was singled out as being more productive or prolific. Hens commenced laying eggs between seven and eight months, and laid less than 80 eggs per year. Growth and number of eggs laid, especially those kept in confined quarters, were probably linked to ration quality and quantity and particularly the presence of disease.

Poultry of different types and ages were allowed to range together, or were often housed together. Because of this husbandry system, it was impossible to assess the types of disease present and the actual risk of disease.

Rudimentary breeding programmes were applied to  birds raised in pens and compounds. The larger roosters were kept for breeding and changed with a certain frequency. Hens which had ceased to lay were consumed. It is clearly more challenging to control breeding in free-range poultry. For example, the identification of poor layers is not always successful. The female to male ratios under this system usually ranged from 5:1 to 10:1, depending on how many roosters were harvested for consumption, or the size of the pen or compound for backyard poultry, but also on market demands. A discreet exchange of poultry occurred among communities, so inbreeding was a possible concern only in the more outlying communities such as the extreme south of Belize and parts of the Honduran Mosquitia.

The consumption of poultry, in particular chicken, among Creoles is very popular. Industrially raised poultry meet this need only in larger centres. However, even large but relatively remote settlements such as Mango Creek (Belize) rely on family poultry, as many people cannot afford to raise poultry intensively or to buy, for their consumption, poultry produced intensively and brought over from other parts of the country (transport costs make them expensive). Although the demand is present, backyard or free-range (family poultry) did not sufficiently meet the need.

'Garifuna' family poultry

The Garifuna are of African descent, and were brought over to St. Vincent, and subsequently Punta Gorda (Bay Islands), from where they spread to the central-southern coast of Belize, in Dangriga, Seine Beight, Georgetown and Barranco. In Guatemala, they are present in Puerto Barrios and Livingston, on the Caribbean coast. In Honduras, they are widely present in La Ceiba, Tela, Trujillo, Barrio Cristales, Triunfo de la Cruz, Limon, Palacios, Brus Laguna, Puerto Lempira and the Bay Islands. However their culture and lifestyle are still relatively similar across all these areas.

The Garifuna rely heavily on fishing and agriculture for their livelihood, and raise mainly domestic fowl and a few Muscovy ducks. Almost all of the chicken population in the Mosquitia and several smaller Garifuna communities in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras are raised under extensive or backyard systems of management, with very little capital input. Individual women or groups of women own the  poultry. The numbers of poultry owned and even ownership change frequently.  Garifuna living in larger centres, such as Dangriga (Belize) and La Ceiba (Honduras) have a considerably lower reliance on family poultry enterprises.

Turkeys and other poultry were not observed. An adult male chicken weighs around 2 kg and a female 1.5 kg at 12 months. The chickens are very alert, hardy, long-legged and active fliers and foragers, which are excellent traits for free- ranging birds in the tropics. The plumage varies substantially, but partridge-type plumage and other dark coloured feathering such as gray and black are predominant. There is little evidence of genetic mixing with contemporary commercial hybrids such as Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, or the presence of particular genes such as those for naked neck (Na) and frizzle (F). Poultry scavenge for plants, seeds, insects and worms, but this diet is also supplemented with unsold and rejected farm-produce and household scraps. The poultry spend most of the day actively searching for food. They often show 'opportunistic feeding'; for example feeding on coconut meal, spilled grains, and insects and larvae that had a seasonal occurrence. This behaviour is considered to be especially important, as deliberate feeding of poultry is, at best,  erratic. The 'cafeteria system' is said to produce a diet that is as well balanced as complete feeds, the challenge being to determine the nutrient content of the available feed resources, and to provide such nutrient sources to birds in the appropriate moments (Branckaert 1990).

Poultry are vulnerable to weather extremes such as heavy rains and flooding, frequent in some areas such as the Mosquitia. This situation is aggravated by the lack of housing for poultry. Therefore the relative lack of involvement and skills in managing family poultry results in high mortalities due to climate extremes, but also predation and disease. The precise impact is impossible to assess as records are not usually kept. Predation from domestic cats and dogs in the smaller settlements is of a modest entity relative to that from wild predators. Theft is also a relatively small concern, probably due to the smallness of many of these communities. As flocks are not confined, poultry of different ages are allowed to mix freely, possibly having a deleterious effect on the health status of the flock. However, this is based primarily on reports on industrially raised or partly confined poultry. There is a marked paucity of epidemiological studies of poultry disease under extensive systems of management.

Breeding programmes are not seen in most family poultry units: matings are not planned, and even the choice of breeding rooster is quite arbitrary. The chickens are very precocious, reaching sexual maturity before 8 months. The hens are excellent mothers, guiding chicks to potential food sources most of the day, heeding distress calls from stragglers, and intervening when the young birds were compromised by the presence of other chickens and ducks. Not surprisingly, production traits appear to be negatively correlated with these characteristics. Meat yield is less than 70% of the live weight, and egg production possibly reaches 50-70 tinted or light brown eggs per annum, often much less. However, natural selection may be at least as important, and may be more so, than that done by the personnel involved. The female to male ratios under this system usually range from 5:1 to 15:1, depending on how many roosters are harvested for consumption, but also on predation: roosters tend to wander further afar from the village, and often leave after the hens when faced with a threat (predator). The predation rate on roosters is therefore said to be higher than that for hens. In the case of Muscovy ducks, the female to male ratios were around 3:1 to 5:1. They are raised in a similar manner to fowl, and fend almost entirely for themselves. They often scavenge in parts of the coastline where the fish catch is gutted on the beach. Although they coexist fairly readily with domestic fowl, the ducks are quite aggressive towards hens and their chicks when they are with their own ducklings. Most Muscovy ducks are variegated black and white.  The size differences between males and females is less marked than those in Europe and North America.

Inbreeding among chickens is possibly a concern, and fertility may be quite low in some of the smaller, outlying coastal communities. Community isolation and infrequent introduction of new specimens into the village flock are the prime reasons. Low stocking density and few new additions of birds result in little fighting among males. Fighting is almost unknown among females once a peck-order (or despot system) is established. The nest-site is usually unknown, hence estimating the average clutch size, hatchability, chick survivability and other important information could not be estimated. Chicks remain with the hen until weaning, few clutches are therefore laid, and poultry production is low and irregular. As a result coastal populations are obliged to rely heavily on fishing and hunting for animal protein. A further consequence is that few or no forms of poultry marketing are developed among the Garifuna.

There are no social or religious restraints on the consumption of poultry for the Garifuna. Even if industrially raised poultry were to arrive at some of the more remote areas, it would not be affordable to many. Unfortunately, despite the demand, the present system of family poultry production is not sufficient, or is not consistent enough, to provide a reliable source of animal protein among these people.

'Indian' and 'Mestizo' family poultry

The Mestizos have a Latin-Hispanic culture, similar to that found in many other parts of Central America. They predominate in Honduras and in the larger towns and cities in Guatemala. However, Indians still predominate in non-urban settings, especially in the highlands of Guatemala, and the raising of turkeys is part of their highly traditional culture. Indians and Mestizos are also very visible in the northern half of Belize. Family flocks are usually associated with crops (eg: maize) and other livestock species, as observed in other parts of the world (Sonaiya 1990a).

The main poultry species raised are the domestic fowl and turkeys. However, Muscovy ducks and geese are widely raised in parts of the region. 'Criollo' or indigenous poultry are raised within the city and under semi-intensive or backyard systems (e.g. in Antigua and Guatemala). Birds are even allowed to range freely at the periphery of some of the larger cities (eg:  La Ceiba, Honduras). However urban dwellers, usually Mestizos, rely mainly on industrially-raised poultry.

Most towns and villages have large numbers of poultry. Extensive husbandry systems (backyard or free-range) are used (eg:  in Solola, Guatemala).  Poultry raised under the free-range system are housed at night and supplemented with feed. Birds are managed and owned almost exclusively by the women of the household, although men and children may also be involved. For example, men and children are responsible for bringing crop residues from the fields to the compound.

Turkeys are all of the traditional narrow-breasted phenotype, with prominent, long legs. A survey of 47 males and 79 females revealed that males weighed 11-13 kg and hens 5.9-7.2 kg. The commoner colour phases were black and bronze, but other varieties such as red, buff, grey and variegated birds are also present. They are raised together with chickens and other poultry in most regions, and are not considered a challenge to raise. It is not unusual for a turkey-hen to loose all its poults from diseases.

The historic importance of the turkey in Central America and the high esteem it is regarded with by indigenous Indians has been documented (Mallia 1998a). However, the present range of indigenous turkeys in Central America is very discontinuous. Climate and ethnic group of a region are important features that determined the number of turkeys present and the husbandry system(s). Turkeys tend to be raised mainly by Indians, less so by the Mestizo and Creoles, and not at all by the Garifuna. Although present in all agro-ecosystems in Central America, the success of raising turkeys is very variable. Most areas where mixed flocks (chicken and turkey) have long been present have a turkey population that has been largely decimated. A report on indigenous turkeys in Oaxaca, Mexico, suggested that blackhead, caused by Histomonas meleagridis, may be responsible for the markedly high turkey chick mortality in mixed flocks (Mallia 1998a). There is a possibility that drier areas can support mixed flocks slightly better because earthworms are fewer in number and tend to surface to the ground less than under humid conditions. Earthworms are vectors for the caecal worm (Heterakis gallinae), and H. meleagridis can remain viable for long periods of time within the worm. For example, in the region of Zacapa, Guatemala, the climate is sub-desert, and very hot and dry. Turkeys and chickens are kept in a free-range system or together in large outdoor pens.

The Coban area is also close to Zacapa and traditional Indians predominate, but the climate is cool and wet. Although mixed groups of poultry are present, turkeys are relatively rare, while chickens, Muscovyu ducks and geese predominate. In Livingston, Guatemala, with a hot and humid climate, mixed groups of poultry are also present, and here too, turkeys are relatively few. Chickens are the commonest category of poultry, although many Muscovy ducks are also kept. In the part of Livingston peopled by Garifuna, turkeys are absent, emphasizing the importance of cultural differences based on ethnicity present even within the same town. The Chiquimula area, contiguous with Zacapa is also hot and dry, but the population is predominantly Mestizo. There are relatively few mixed flocks of turkeys and chickens raised in the traditional manner, once again due to cultural differences.

Waterfowl are very numerous in the region between Zacapa and Puerto Barrios and also around Lake Izabal in Guatemala, but chickens still predominate. Turkeys are relatively uncommon in the hot, humid coastal areas. The province of El Petén is in a rapid state of development, especially along the recently widened jungle highway. Poultry are the commonest group of domestic animals present, especially chickens. In frontier homesteads in newly-logged jungle areas, free-range turkeys are reared successfully. This may be due to the lower rate of ground contamination by H. meleagridis and H. gallinae. Interestingly, even in El Petén, villages that have been established for a few years appear to have the usual very high proportion of chickens when compared to turkeys.

Northwestern Belize is contiguous and well linked with Guatemala and free-range turkeys are here widely present, unlike the rest of Belize. Indian villages in the western highlands of Guatemala in the Chichcastenango and Quetzaltenango areas supply many of the larger urban centres with turkeys. For example, many of the turkeys in Solola and Panajachel are purchased as poults or young adults at the weekly Chicastenango market. Many of these smaller villages are  unfortunately relatively inaccessible, so the management strategies for the relative success in breeding turkeys could not be identified. However, villages such as San Antonio Palopo, near Panajachel, do not allow their turkeys to range freely with chickens. Turkeys are  kept enclosed. Furthermore, the pens are made of elevated, compacted earth. This facilitates drainage and discourages growth of vegetation. It also minimizes the mixing of chickens with turkeys, and presumably does not create a favourable environment for earthworms.

Chickens are widely kept, and are generally similar to those described under 'Creole' family poultry, but with greater phenotypic variability. They are  mainly of the 'Asiatic' type, but poultry with a light frame and 'Mediterranean' features are also frequently present. The naked-neck trait is widely present throughout Belize and Guatemala, and rarer in coastal Honduras. Chickens with the rump-less trait are present in Livingston, Guatemala. In the crater villages around Panajachel, Guatemala, poultry with a 'muffled face' phenotype are present, similar to that observed in the Auracana (Latin American breed) and Faverolle (French breed). There are no predominant colours  and all are soft-feathered and lay tinted or light brown eggs.

Management practices for chickens are similar to those described for 'Creole' family poultry; however, feed supplementation was more significant, and flock size tended to be larger. For example, flocks of 50 chickens are not uncommon. Furthermore,an organised marketing system is in place. A healthy exchange of poultry stock takes  place through local and distant markets. This reduces the possibility of inbreeding and also encourages families to raise larger numbers of poultry, as selling them beyond the village level is feasible.  Poultry, particularly the sale of chickens and turkey therefore represent a guaranteed source of income for some Indian families, particularly the women who look after the poultry, as occurs in other parts of the world (Sonaiya et al. 1999).

The general conditions necessary for a successful implementation of poultry development programs were summarized by Traoré (1999). The following are specific conditions and opportunities that focus on family poultry in parts of the Central American region.

Cultural attitudes

Creoles, Garifunas, Indians and Mestizos have no religious or cultural attitudes that may negatively influence the consumption of poultry, especially chickens. Indians have a particularly strong tradition for raising turkeys under backyard or free-range systems around village homes and gardens. Other ethnic groups, particularly Creoles and Mestizos, would probably be interested in raising turkeys, particularly if an extension service to discuss management and disease problems was available. Fast growing broad-breasted turkeys may find limited acceptance in regions of Central America with a high proportion of traditional indigenous Indians (Mallia 1998a). Creoles are reluctant to raise waterfowl close to houses and gardens unless large bodies of water are in the vicinity. Garifunas mainly fish and grow crops. Raising livestock is not one of the major occupations of these people. However, poultry products are popular and widely accepted, and this may serve as a greater incentive for raising them more efficiently and possibly in larger numbers.

Size of production unit and marketing systems

The size of production units may be increased, but only if there is a consistent local supply of feed to permit this, as feed can account for 60% or more of production costs (Gunaratne 1999). Poultry production should be structured to guarantee a consistent quantity of produce for the market. It is clear that isolated communities, e.g. in the Mosquitia, will be restricted to production for a very local market, whereas regions with numerous adjacent towns may cater for a wider market, e.g. most villages in Guatemala. The rapid development of (non-package tour) tourism, for example in the southern Belize and Honduran coastlines, will also create a window of opportunity for local produce. Aside from a reliable source of poultry for themselves, they can earn income through the production and sale of poultry and products to local restaurants. This already occurs in parts of the region, for example in Monkey River Town, Belize.

Large-scale poultry units where an intensive husbandry system is practiced are popular for urban centres or areas with an established tourist infrastructure (e.g. parts of the Caribbean coast and Guatemalan highlands). These areas have a market that requires a steady reliable source of poultry products, and intensive systems are generally already in place in these areas. However, it is unlikely that there will be any overall direct benefit to certain social groups if poultry products are too expensive. Furthermore, smallholders probably cannot compete with, or even participate with the raising of large, commercially grown flocks. Therefore the presence of industrial poultry farms does not replace the requirement for a parallel family poultry system in urban, peri-urban and rural areas (Sonaiya et al 1999).

Semi-intensive and backyard systems may be further encouraged around large towns, and possibly small cities to cover the niche market for urbanites who cannot afford intensively-raised poultry. Intensive systems of raising poultry may also not be financially viable, long term, due to the strong dependence on external inputs (Traoré 1999). Another market is for people preferring a more 'natural' product, e.g. slower-growing, tasty 'pollo criollo' (local chicken) or 'pavo criollo' (narrow-breasted local turkeys). The marketing system is in place in many parts of Central America, so the concept of buy-sell or barter of poultry at the market is well established within local tradition.

Disease, breeding and management systems

Although breed productivity, in terms of eggs, meat and offspring appears to be rather modest, the current ecotypes may be ideal for the conditions under which they are raised. It is probably futile to alter or 'improve' local strains unless this exercise is coupled with the introduction of intensive management systems. In other parts of the world, indigenous birds have been found to be highly productive (Mathur et al 1989). It is perhaps better  initially to assess the productivity potential of the current poultry genetic pool, and identify management and disease prevention strategies that can improve production.

Extensively-ranged poultry should be routinely supplemented and encouraged to frequent the vicinity of the household. This practice will improve the diet, encourage hens to lay eggs close to the house, be convenient for the collection of eggs or segregating an incubating hen. If poultry are encouraged to roost close to the house, problems of theft, predation and losses from inclement weather are lessened. Improving poultry housing may also be significant,  particularly in Garifuna communities. As reported elsewhere, this would probably result in lower chick mortality (Kitalyi 1998), reduction of disease (Tadelle 1996; Kaiser 1990), predation and theft (Kitalyi 1999).

Brooding hens incubating eggs in an enclosed area, with early segregation of chicks to induce the hen to lay again may be a useful strategy for backyard systems of management. These systems also have the advantage of having control over the diet of newly hatched chicks, minimizing chick predation and decreasing the incidence of disease as no mixing of chicks of different ages would occur.

The introduction of artificial incubation to backyard or semi-intensive systems of management would maximize the laying potential of sitting-type (broody) hens as it would eliminate the cessation of lay during incubation. Incubators or surrogate sitting-type hens are, of course, essential for breeding non-sitting types. The use of rustic, non-sitting chicken breeds is recommended if this set-up is feasible, as these chickens are often highly productive even under hot environmental conditions (Mallia 1999a). However, pens have to be constructed (one-time input), and a consistent supply of feed must be guaranteed to the enclosed hens and chicks. Programmes relating to new types and patterns of poultry disease, and the use of local feed products would have to be implemented simultaneously and maintained for some time for sustainable results. This investment may rapidly give dividends. For example, women volunteers for raising rustic, local chickens can be recruited and quickly trained to run a self-sufficient poultry unit. They can use small incubators kept within the household, and can construct economical backyard pens. Production of eggs and chicks in these conditions far exceeded the project prognosis (Mallia 1999b). Co-operation with non-governmental organizations to develop rural poultry production in other parts of the world such as West Africa (Traoré 1999), Bangladesh (Mustafa and Saleque 1996) and India (Rangnekar and Rangnekar 1999) have also given successful results. However, the lack of a continuous supply of supplementary feed is a major obstacle in much of the Mosquitia and parts of Southern coastal Belize, and is destined to be a major limiting factor in poultry production.

The raising of ducks has large potential, especially in the wetter regions of Central America. Cultural resentment against ducks within the compound area must be avoided. For example, a village pond may be dredged so as to encourage feeding and nesting in specific sites to reduce predation of ducklings. Supplementing with kitchen / field produce and waste should occur in the pond area, away from homes. The fragmented range of  turkeys and the reduction of numbers of turkeys in many of their traditional areas are major concerns and warrant particular scrutiny (Mallia 1998a). Turkeys should be segregated from chickens when possible, and housed in pens. The run should be dry, possibly elevated and limed to discourage the occurrence of blackhead, one of the major limiting factors in family-type management systems of turkeys (Mallia 1998a). Controlled burning of areas close to the village may be employed with caution for extensively ranged turkeys.

Epidemiological surveys and the keeping of records are  important for collecting long-term information regarding disease and productivity (Traoré 1999). While the presence of Newcastle disease, IBD, fowl cholera and fowl pox, among others, are known to affect family poultry production (Aini 1999; Sonaiya et al 1999; Traoré 1999), actual incidence rates are often not available. For example, as many as 750 million poultry in Africa die each year as a result of various diseases (Sonaiya 1990b), but here too the value is only estimated. Furthermore, environmental and management risk factors are rarely identified and ranked, nor is their interaction assessed. This partly explains why field trials and studies with Newcastle disease vaccines in Africa were disappointing (Traoré 1999). On a brighter note, holistic epidemiological studies and multivariate modeling have already started to contribute favourably to poultry production (Mallia 1998b).

Questionnaires can be used for collecting information in family poultry management systems. Questionnaires are inexpensive and data collected may be readily utilized by extension workers or scientists for short-term projects (Mallia 1998a,1999a). However, although they are highly informative, they cannot replace long-term observational studies based on in situ monitoring systems. Information gathering systems such as questionnaires and monitoring systems could form an integral part of a global system of epidemiological studies for various diseases affecting family poultry.

Sustainable family poultry development in Central America and elsewhere depends on the interplay between the environment, local resources, community size and agricultural practices, poultry management systems, political, cultural and the general socio-economic milieu. The resulting complex agro-ecosystem can be assessed by the use of multivariate modeling that allows for a holistic approach to problem-solving. The paucity of holistic, epidemiological studies that simultaneously assess the role of various risk factors concerning disease and good management practices, with poultry production as the outcome must be corrected. In this manner, control of risk factors and management practices can be ranked according to the positive contribution towards poultry production, allowing for possible interactions between the variables under consideration.

Through the International Network on Family Poultry Development (INFPD), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has shown its interest and commitment to family poultry development (Sonaiya et al 1999). INFPD therefore represents the ideal organization that can serve as a forum for discussion, and co-ordinate holistic epidemiological studies on family poultry.


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Received 15 June 1999

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