February 2003 -- Ngozi, a small town in the north of Burundi. This is home to Thérèse, who lost her husband five years ago. She is 45 years old but looks closer to 65. Her days are spent working the land a few miles from the mud hut, thatched with banana leaves, where she lives with her two daughters and ten grandchildren.

But as soon as her work is over, Thérèse rushes home to take care of her dozen chickens and cockerel. By day they graze around her hut but when night falls she must bring them inside to sleep in the kitchen where she can watch them and protect them from predators.

Thérèse doesn't sell the eggs her chickens lay, she prefers instead to keep them so that they hatch and grow into chickens. They are a sort of piggybank -- she sells one whenever she needs to buy maize, soup or aspirin for herself or her grandchildren.

Poultry keeping is making an important contribution to the livelihoods of the most vulnerable rural households in developing countries. Chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl all provide a source of income, improve nutrition and help meet family and social obligations.

Poultry raised on family farms also make a significant contribution, along with the commercial sector, to meeting the rapidly growing demand for poultry products in many developing countries.

During the last decade, the consumption of poultry products in developing countries has grown by 5.8 percent per year, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

In developing countries, FAO is supporting family poultry production in integrated agricultural projects totalling more than US$ 2.5 million for 2003. Poultry and other short-cycle species such as pigs, sheep and goats, are important elements of FAO's Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS).

Launched in 1994, this Programme helps Low Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDCs) improve food security both at national and at household levels. Today, it is operating in more than 70 countries.

The SPFS helps Nigeria improve poultry production. In 2000 in this country, family poultry accounted for approximately 94 percent of total poultry keeping and 83 percent of the estimated 82 million adult chickens. In Ethiopia, another country operating within the SPFS, rural poultry accounts for 99 percent of the national production of poultry meat and eggs. Overall, in sub-Saharan Africa, 85 percent of all households keep poultry, with women owning 70 percent of the hens.

Another example of the contribution of poultry to the household economy comes from a study on income generation in Tanzania. The study showed that a single hen can produce, after five years, 120 kg of meat and 195 eggs (6.8 kg) in a system where the investment is insignificant and runs by itself, with little risk for the producers.

A major motivation for promoting family poultry is that "Women are often the main beneficiaries," FAO expert Emmanuelle Guerne-Bleich says.

Among the prerequisites for successful programmes to improve household poultry production, the FAO expert cites:
  • a tradition of keeping poultry and consuming poultry products;

  • a local or national market;

  • availability of feed resources;

  • the local capacity to undertake disease control;

  • access to reliable drugs and vaccines;

  • an institutional environment (Government or NGO) capable of initiating and supervising a poultry programme in rural areas.

The Bangladesh model

FAO experts are currently cooperating with the International Network for Family Poultry Development (INFPD) and DANIDA to extend the awareness of the Bangladesh model for family poultry production to other developing countries (Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Benin, Kenya, Mozambique).

The Bangladesh poultry model is based on a semi-scavenging production system which ensures sustainability and reduces chicken mortality. The model is an interlacednetwork ofsmall farmers who each have a specific function and are committed to four different parts of the production cycle: as breeders, as rearers, as mini hatcheries keepers and as producers of the end product (eggs).

Small farmers depend on each other as suppliers for a part of the chain. Eggs sold in nearby towns generate regular income. Vaccination training, improved housing and better feeding options reduce chicken mortality.
The Government through the Department of livestock and a number of NGOs provides the institutional structure behind the Bangladesh model.

"The smallholder model developed in Bangladesh is one of the most structured and carefully designed programmes in any developing country. Chicken mortality has been brought down to an acceptable level and the resource use efficiency, mainly relative to feed, seems even to be competitive with the intensive poultry production," Ms Guerne-Bleich says.

In Bangladesh, the family poultry sector represents more than 80 percent of the total poultry production, and 90 percent of the 18 million rural households keep poultry. Landless families form 20 percent of the population and they keep between five and seven chickens per household.


Emmanuelle Guerne-Bleich
+(39)06 5705 6660
emmanuelle.guernebleich@fao.org or

Simon Mack
+(39)06 5705 3764

FAO Media Relations Office
+(39)06 5705 2232