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Lessons from field experience on the development of poultry production

By W. Bessei


Sustainable Development" was defined by FAO and approved by the FAO Council in 1988 as follows:

“Sustainable Development is the management and conservation of the natural resource base, and the orientation of technological and institutional change in such a manner as to ensure the attainment and continued satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations…..”

This definition contains two major components which are essential for sustainability. Firstly, the biological basis of sustainability (management and conservation of the natural resource base) and, secondly, the economic and socio-economic aspect (continued satisfaction of human needs etc.). Consequently, this paper will address sustainability of poultry development in two parts:


The basis of sustainable agriculture, which is an important component of the global biological system, is the maintenance of the biological equilibrium as demonstrated in a simplified input-output-system. Assuming that energy is the crucial factor in the global bio-system, then the only continuous external source stems from solar radiation. Consequently, energy output must not exceed the supply potential for direct warming and biomass production. The management of the environment (atmosphere, soil, water) which is the basis of production and metabolism of biomass is a second important factor. Products of metabolism, such as: heat, gases and minerals may be lost or recycled. These losses, however, not only change the balance encipher as they increase the demand for external resources on the input side, but may also damage the environment in the longer term. There is considerable potential for recycling of energy, nitrogen and minerals which can reduce these losses and help stabilize the biological equilibrium.

Taking livestock as a separate production system, it is evident that the energy balance is negative. It has been estimated that only 0.1 to 0.6 units of energy (in terms of consumable outputs) are produced per unit of energy on the input side (Zeddies, 1980). This negative balance has to be made up by a surplus of energy retained by plant production. Therefore, livestock production may be sustainable from the biological point of view, as long as its negative balance is counteracted by surpluses in crop production based on inputs either from recycling or solar energy-mediated production.

In most developed countries, however, the positive balance of crop production in terms of renewable resources has decreased during the last decade (Pimementel et al, 1973) and is not large enough to cover the losses in animal production and the overall energy balance of the agricultural sector is negative. Estimates of the agricultural energy balance in Germany revealed that 1 unit of energy input produced only 0.36 to 0.28 units of usable/consumable products (Zeddies, 1980) - the balance was made up by high inputs of fossil fuel energy. Considering that fossil energy reserves may only be available for a relatively short time, it is clear that the present agriculture production system is not biologically sustainable and, since livestock is an important contributor to the imbalance, the question must be asked can we afford to maintain livestock production at its present level. In addition to the negative energy balance, livestock have further negative effects on the environment, notably: methane and ammonia production which are known to aggravate/enhance the greenhouse effect and/or uncontrolled nitrogen and phosphorous outputs which could cause soil and water pollution.

The present situation may be justified because of the rapid growth of the human population and its need to feed itself. There is, however, no doubt that major changes must be initiated within the next decade unless a total breakdown of the agricultural system, and of livestock in particular, is to be avoided.

Examples and models do exist of farming systems, containing both crops and livestock, which have balanced or even a positive relationships between energy input and output (Nielson and Preston, 1981). Within these systems animal production plays an crucial role with regard to food supply and recycling of energy. A highly efficient system, which makes maximum use of renewable resources, is a mixed farming model incorporating multi-purpose agricultural crops and animals (ruminants and monogastrics), a biogas digester and a fish point. While ruminants are essential for the efficient recycling of energy from fibrous crop residues; monogastrics are used to recycle waste products which are not suited for human consumption, such as by-products, insects, etc.

The rest of the paper will demonstrate the relative efficiency of poultry production on different levels of intensity with regard to energy utilisation.

Extensive versus Intensive Production Systems

In Africa and Asia more than 80% of rural farmers, even landless people, keep small flocks of poultry (chickens, ducks, guinea fowl and pigeons). These birds do not receive any regular feeding but survive through scavenging and obtain their feed from locally available natural resources. There is no doubt that this type of production is sustainable from the biological point of view since all the inputs stem from renewable resources. The total production of such flocks is small and does not allow for any substantial off-take. The energy efficacy of such a bird for food production is very low and only approximately 4% of the feed energy is used for production (Tab. 1). Since energy requirements for maintenance are covered by scavenging, any supplementary feed will be used for production thus increasing overall energy efficacy. The production system will be sustainable from the puristic and biological point of view as long as the feed supplement derives from the positive energy balance of crop production. In many cases, however, fossil energy inputs are required to produce sufficient feed. It has been estimated that fossil energy accounts for approximately 20% and 30% of the total production inputs for grains and ready mixed feed (including transport, milling and mixing), respectively. Using these figures we can split the total energy inputs of poultry feed under extensive and intensive production systems into fossil and renewable energy (Tab. 2). It becomes clear that only marginal inputs of fossil energy are required to produce progressive increases of egg production under improved traditional systems. Under intensive production systems, the share of fossil energy in the feed is more than 30%. Additional inputs of fossil energy will be required for housing and equipment which will further increase the energy imbalance and reduce the sustainability of intensive poultry production.

While these figures may differ from country to country, the trend is clear and should be considered when poultry production strategies are developed.


While the biological definition of sustainability has to be considered in long-term, it may be too ambitious or not relevant in with regard to the present situation concerning animal production and poultry in particular. Economic and socio-economic aspects are important as is the need to satisfy the growing requirements of the population may, temporarily, have a higher priority than long-term sustainability.

Within this context, “sustainability” of poultry production should fulfil the following:

This definition does not strictly exclude the utilisation of fossil energy.

In this aspect the development of poultry production has been given a high priority by many countries. The rationale for the promotion of poultry production is:

The strategies adopted to achieve these objectives has varied considerably. The following section describes the development of poultry production in Bangladesh, India and Nigeria with regard to sustainability.


Nigeria provides an interesting example to demonstrate both the potential and constraints regarding poultry development. Traditionally poultry have an important role in the livestock sector of Nigeria (Sonaiya, 1990). In 1963/64 it was estimated that poultry meat supplied about 12% of the total demand for meat and was third after beef and goat meat (FAO, 1990). Since almost 100% of poultry were kept in small backyard flocks, productivity was relatively poor. The main production constraints at that time were probably a scarcity of feed and a lack of veterinary support.

This situation changed during the 1970s when the Government initiated poultry development projects and cheap, imported maize became available (Williams, 1989). Between 1972/76 and 1982/86 the domestic poultry meat production almost doubled from 51,500 to 95,800 metric tonnes. This development was favoured by the following factors:

These measures created an economically favourable climate for poultry production at the farm level; and there is no doubt that poultry production was considered sustainable from the farmers' point of view. However, sustainability on the national level was undermined by the following:

Under these conditions, the newly developed modern poultry industry became highly vulnerable since it was depended entirely on the availability of foreign exchange and on the prices of export commodities (such as oil) and imported goods (poultry feed and equipment). Therefore, the downturn of the oil market in 1980's had a serious effect on poultry production. Structural reform programmes which lowered the exchange rate of the Naira and later the import prohibition on maize made feed supply both expensive and unpredictable. The inability to replace imported feedstuffs with locally available raw materials led finally to a serious reduction in production of broilers and eggs.


India has seen poultry production as the fastest growing agricultural sector during the last decade. In the late 1960s there was a clear strategy to develop poultry production and increase the supply of eggs and poultry meat to satisfy the growing human population (Fig. 3). This resulted in a tremendous increase in production from < 1.8 billion eggs in 1960 to 25 billion eggs in 1990. Broilers started later but the speed was even faster than that of egg production and the annual broilers production increased from 4 million in the early 1970s to over 200 million at the end of the 1980s (Indian Poultry Industry Yearbook). Population growth meant, however, that the per capita availability grew at a much lower rate.

The development of India's poultry industry was encouraged by tax concessions on income derived from poultry. In addition, special credit lines for poultry development were established by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABBARD) through the cooperative and commercial banks. These credit lines covered breeding, rearing, vaccine production and marketing activities. Also, there was insurance available to protect poultry farmers against high losses through epidemic diseases and other hazards.

The import of breeding stocks, equipment and feed ingredients was licensed by the government in order to control foreign exchange.

In an attempt at self sufficiency regarding the production parent stocks and grandparent stocks, the government established a national breeding programme. A time schedule was set when to prohibit the importation of parent stocks first and then later grandparent stocks would be prohibited which would allow the national poultry breeders time to develop competitive breeds. This objective, however, was not achieved and the Government allowed international breeding companies to move into the market on a joint-venture basis with national companies. Today most, if not all, reputed breeders are represented in India. One prerequisite for the import of foreign breeds is the participation in the Random Sample Test conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Although most of the poultry equipment and vaccines are now locally produced, there remains certain equipment, drugs, etc. that have to be imported. In order to prevent a negative import-export balance in the poultry sector, there is a list of materials permitted for import, if in exchange, the equivalent of foreign currency can be earned through export of certain products, eg., grandparent stocks may be imported against exportation of chicks or hatching eggs.

While India has proved its self-reliance in foodgrain production, even under difficult conditions, during the last five years, maize imports are still required for poultry production. During years of bad monsoon and, consequently, short supply of grain for poultry, various alternative feedstuffs have been tested. These have resulted in reduced production and the importation of maize but, at present, it is considered economically sound even if it has to be paid for a in foreign currency.

It is hoped that India will increase maize production for poultry sector in order to supply the planned feed demand for layers and broilers in the coming years. Approximately, 9.5 million tonnes of feed will be required to feed the estimated population of 145 million commercial layers and 750 million broilers in the year 2000.

With regard to protein-rich ingredients for poultry feed, India produces sufficient amounts of oil seed cakes (groundnut, sesame, rapeseed, sunflower). Soybean production has been introduced recently and will contribute to improving the quality of protein in poultry rations.

In general, the poultry industry in India has proved to be sustainable during the last 3–4 decades. This was mainly due to the following factors:


In contrast to Nigeria and India, where poultry development was aimed initially at commercial production, the development in Bangladesh was focused on the small-scale rural poultry keeper.

There are about 65 million chickens in Bangladesh which are widely distributed among rural households. Approximately 60 percent of the landless and 80 percent of rural households with land keep between 5–15 local chickens which primarily scavenge. Production and reproduction of chickens under these conditions is poor: mature body weight is between 1–1.3 kg, annual egg production is about 40–60 eggs per hen and hatchability between 80–90 percent. Survival rate, particularly of young chicks, is as low as 50 percent due to diseases and predators.

There is, with the exception of BIMAN Airways, no industrial poultry production in Bangladesh, and attempts by private companies have failed so far to establish modern poultry farms. Since Bangladesh is not self-sufficient in foodgrain production and as alternative sources of raw materials for a compound feed are scarce, any commercial poultry production would depend heavily on imported raw materials. In view of the shortage of foreign currency, it is unlikely that commercial poultry production can develop on a sustainable basis. As an alternative approach, the Government has decided to improve the existing small-holder production through the following measures:

The development strategy is based on the following institutions and procedures:

The village-based poultry production Bangladesh is almost sustainable from the biological point of view. Most of the basic feed are obtained from scavenging and the feed supplements provided are based on home-grown grain and by-products. Although the output of poultry meat and eggs as shown a continuous increase during the last decades, it may be questioned whether the rapid growing demand for poultry products can be satisfied in the future. The problems of increasing small-scale and extensive poultry production have been dealt with in various publications (FAO, 1984, 1987). The strategy chosen by Bangladesh during the last few years to train large numbers of village extension workers and to organise the distribution of vaccines up to the village level has been successful. The long-term sustainability of the institutional framework and training programmes has yet to be confirmed.


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