Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Toward sustainable poultry production in africa

by B. Sonaiya


In most African countries, the first and second decades after independence (1960s and 1970s), witnessed a boom in the supply of poultry products at low prices to urban consumers. In the second decade, broiler production was introduced and with it came the requirement for processing and freezer storage facilities. At the beginning of the third decade there was further vertical integration resulting in the establishment of frozen poultry meat shops. Presently, in the fourth decade, the few large scale poultry operations are invariably fully integrated feed grain/poultry farms and processors with their own brand names.

Is this development sustainable? It is doubtful, but vertical integration had to come because of the lack of grain elevators, grain boards or grain surpluses from which poultry producers could purchase feed grains. An exception is Zimbabwe, which produces grain surpluses and hence 67% of national poultry production comes from large intensive operations (Kulube, 1990). There have been a few state owned grain monopolies (e.g. OPAM in Mali, NGB in Nigeria, and ONDAPB in Cameroon) all of which failed.

Generally, intensive poultry production has virtually collapsed in Africa. It is too easy to blame structural adjustment programmes (SAP) and, indeed, Adeyeye (1990) showed that in the pre and post-SAP periods, large scale poultry production had vastly different fortunes. The real problem appears to be the unsustainable nature of intensive poultry production systems developed in the post-independence period. This non-sustainability is due to technical, biological, institutional and socio-economic problems.


The biological and technical problems are interwoven. While any breed or strain of poultry can be raised anywhere, given that all the production requirements are provided understandably, unimproved and unselected local breeds are not as productive as improved and selected hybrid lines used in commercial production. However, the combination of feed and environmental constraints has kept the performance of the exotic strains below expectation in Africa. Also, the level of technical efficiency is low because of insufficient and/or improper equipment, inadequate training and motivation for operational personnel.

Because of the need for backward integration into grain production, newer intensive poultry farms were, and still are, situated in the rural areas far from their urban markets. This necessitates greater dependence on foreign exchange for the importation of vehicles, generators, farm machinery and processing equipment, as well as automated poultry production and semi-automated poultry processing equipment. In many countries, exportation of food, including poultry meat and eggs, is banned. Under such conditions, only multinational conglomerates and extremely wealthy business people with considerable export earnings from other sources can survive. The end result is that the cheap grains produced in the rural areas are converted into very expensive poultry products that only the very rich in the urban areas can afford (Smith, 1990).

Institutional problems are also implicated. Most training institutions are simply out of line with these large sophisticated poultry industries. The poultry units of most schools, colleges and universities cannot provide the necessary exposure and training in automated poultry production and it may be impossible for any of these institutions to provide the necessary facilities. A regional or sub-regional poultry training centre may be appropriate for this purpose. The national extension services (both public and private) find it difficult to properly serve these sophisticated farms which then have to use foreign exchange for expatriate support services, personnel and spare parts. In addition, financial institutions are currently restricting lending to poultry ventures.


There are two options for poultry development in Africa. One is to attempt to increase large scale intensive poultry production in order to respond to the urban demand. The other is to look at new channels for developing small and medium scale semi-intensive poultry production to serve both the urban and rural populations. Where possible, the two options should be pursued simultaneously. Where import restrictions are imposed, then the development of small scale production would appear more attractive.

Smallholder Poultry Production

Our field experience through surveys, study visits, on-station and on-farm research indicate that the problems of smallholder poultry production, though many, revolve around disease control, feed supplementation and housing, in that order.

Disease. Newcastle disease is the most important disease of poultry. Reports of mortality vary: 50% of the flock in Togo and Sudan; 70% in Nigeria, 80% in the Comoros, 90% in Zaire and up to 100% in Morocco. Sustained vaccination is recognised as necessary, but the available techniques are expensive to use and do not provide adequate cover for extensively reared birds. The development of the thermostable, orally-fed, pelleted vaccine holds great promise and should be tested in all countries.

The losses in rural poultry from disease amounts to about 75 million chicks, guinea keets and ducklings each year. In addition, predators, particularly: hawks, snakes, dogs, cats and rats kill or wound a further 75 million poultry every year. The challenge is to develop and validate appropriate methods of flock management that are applicable to the extensive or semi-intensive systems. Fortunately, poultry do not cross national borders during their productive life and outbreaks can be contained within the country which will allow them to develop their own programme of control.

Such country efforts should, however, be coordinated at a continental level and assisted by such bodies as the Inter-African Bureau of Animal Resources (IBAR), the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), the Scientific and Technical Research Committee of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU-STRC) and technically supported by FAO/IAEA. A continent wide campaign against Newcastle disease should be developed (i.e. PANDEC: - Pan-African Newcastle Disease Eradication Campaign) patterned after the Pan African Rinderpest Campaign (PARC) since it will similarly require the establishment of a sero-monitoring network and distribution of ELISA kits for rapid field monitoring of the effectiveness of immunisation.

Feeding. An important problem concerning poultry production in Africa is the high cost of feed ingredients particularly: grains, protein concentrate and vitamin-mineral premix. While there is inadequate supply of grains for intensive production, field experience confirms at there are sufficient grains, grain by-products, oil seed cakes and other by-products to sustain small to medium-scale production. What is needed is the knowledge of the nutritive value of these available feedstuffs and of their efficient use in poultry feeding (Ngoupayou, 1990).

In order to further reduce the dependency on feed grains, there is the need to promote the use of other poultry species apart from chicken. Waterfowls (ducks and geese) are particularly relevant here. Waterfowls can use alternative feed resources such as snails and water hyacinth on ponds and lagoons. The muscovy duck, which belongs to the same family (Anseridae) as the goose, is the most common duck in Africa and an extremely good forager that thrives well under free-range. Waterfowl are more heat tolerant and less susceptible to disease than chickens or turkeys.

Geese are exceptionally good grazers eating far more grass and herbage than grains. They can be used to graze in places where ruminants would cause damage to crops. They can be used to control weeds in kiwi and cotton fields where chemical control is not practised or cannot be used. They can be kept in crops such as coffee, banana, pineapple and other crops which are tall enough to avoid being damaged. Five geese will consume as much grass as one sheep. A pair geese with access to good quality grazing and water can produce 45–75 kg of meat each year for twenty years or more.

In developing countries, most farmers have access and use of only a small area. To maximise this scarce resource, proper integration of several enterprises is required. The combination of waterfowl with rice-and fish is a good example. Poultry, in general, can be integrated with fish, rice, forages and other crops; as well as with other livestock. A good example is the combination of chickens and cattle by the pastoralist in their kraals which has the added advantage of the chickens deticking the cattle. Chickens also mix well with pigs with the same advantage of insect control. More attention needs to be paid to farming systems research that integrate poultry into cropping activities.

Housing. The complete free-range system, while cheap, also exposes young birds to predators. Poultry development projects that included housing increased egg production, especially if hens are kept in their houses until 10.00 a.m. Since most eggs are laid before 10.00 a.m. and in nest boxes rather than in the surrounding bush. Chick mortality can also reduced even by a simple chick run which protects from rain and predators.


Many African countries are currently unable to produce large feed surpluses over and above the needs of the human population. Therefore, the intensive poultry industry has become a liability rather than an asset. Smallholder rural poultry production, if properly developed, appears to hold prospects for sustainable poultry production. What is needed is a coordinated programme which addresses, at the same time, the problems of breeding, feeding, housing and disease control and specifically directed the small farmer. The programme should develop projects geared towards understanding rural poultry production systems and their weaknesses; developing and testing new methods which will not only overcome these weaknesses but will also be affordable and sustainable.

The following activities suggest themselves to included in a coordinated programme.

Breeding and Reproduction

Evaluation and selection of indigenous breeds. There are many types, breeds and strains of indigenous poultry in Africa which are well adapted to their environment. There is need for their genetic improvement in order to:

Evaluation and adaptation of imported breeds in the hot climate. Basic breeding projects conducted in collaboration with foreign breeding farms should provide adequate data about local breeds and guidelines on the best route for genetic upgrading.

Development of hatching and starting centres (cooperative or private) to produce day-old-chicks, keets ducklings, poults and goslings and raise them to 28 days before deliver to farmers.

Feed Research and Development

Alternatives, substitutes and supplements must be sought in order to minimise feed ingredient importation. In countries with marine resources, fish (all marine animals) meal potentials must be exploited (e.g. shrimp head meal, fish offal, periwinkle shells, etc). In landlocked countries, slaughterhouse by-products must be recovered, processed and utilised. Examples are vegetable/blood meals (Sonaiya, 1989), poultry offal meal and feather meal. Development of small-scale feed mixing concerns (either cooperative or private) is essential at village or community level.

Health Management

Regional cooperation in vaccine production. Disease surveillance, control and monitoring must be developed to maximise the efficient use of available human and material resources.

Training on a regional basis. Training in disease diagnosis, epidemiology, environmental health and disease prevention must be provided, not only for health personnel, but for the farmers as well.

Entrepreneur Development

There is a need for a strong effort to encourage and assist entrepreneurs: feedstuff suppliers, equipment manufacturers, hatcheries, chick starting centres, as well as, marketers, slaughter and processing plants, financial services to develop and improve input supplies to the small scale poultry producers.

Cooperatives are particularly well placed to involve people in production and marketing; and to develop closer links between producers, retailers and consumers of poultry eggs and meat.

Information Management

Development, documentation and dissemination of information on the appropriate methods of data collection, collation, storage, retrieval and application on the field is essential. The information gathered can be used to promote rural poultry in primary and secondary schools as well as by the poultry advisor in a unified extension system. The establishment of a regional training and demonstration programme for training all levels of personnel, particularly farmers, is imperative. Agricultural schools, research institutes, universities, government ministries and parastatals, non-governmental organisation (NGOs) and the private sectors must all be actively involved in information dissemination and training.


To coordinate these five areas of activity and others that may be developed, the newly developed African Network on Rural Poultry Development (Sonaiya, 1990) appears ideally suitable. It is commonly assumed that small-scale farmers know best what is good for them and that changes from outside do more harm than good. However, it must also be said that there are inevitable gaps in the farmers' indigenous knowledge resulting from isolation and lack of scientific research and expertise. The real challenge to improving poultry production and the welfare of the rural poor in Africa is to assist in bridging this information gap.


Adeyeye, V.A. 1990. The impact structural adjustment programme on the livestock sector: A case study of poultry industry in Oyo State, Nigeria. Paper presented at the National Conference on Nigerian Livestock Industry and Prospects for the 1990s. Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research, Kaduna, November 10–22, 1990.

Kulube, K. 1990. Smallholder rural poultry production in Zimbabwe. Paper presented at CTA International Seminar on Smallholder Rural Poultry Production requirements of Research and Development. Thessalonii, Greece, 9–13 October, 1990.

Ngoupayou, J.D.N., 1990. Country report on Smallholder Rural Poultry Production in Cameron. Paper presented at CTA International Seminar on Smallholder Rural Poultry Production - Requirements of Research and Development. Thessaloniki, Greece, 9–13 October, 1990.

Smith, A.J., 1990. Poultry. CTA - Macmillan Publishers Ltd, London, pg. 11, 179–191.

Sonaiya, E.B., 1989. Animal by-products a their potential for commercial livestock feed production. Proc. National Workshop on Alternative Formulation of Livestock Feeds in Nigeria Ed. G.M. Babatunde. The Presidency, Lagos: 289–315.

Sonaiya E.B. ed. 1990. Rural Poultry in Africa: Proceedings of an International Workshop. African Network on Rural Poultry Development - Thelia House Ltd, Ile-Ife, 266 pp.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page