Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Reports from Projects and Studies

Scope for Backyard Poultry (BYP) Development under the Special Training Program of the Madhya Pradesh Women in Agriculture (MAPWA) Project

Dr Prema Kumtakar

Danida Adviser
Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh,
E-mail: [email protected]


The paper reports on a survey aimed at identifying the potential for poultry development among members of the Bharias tribe in Tamia block of the state of Madhya Pradesh in India. It was found that from 65 to 91% of the households in the ten villages surveyed kept poultry in flocks from 1 to 8 adult birds and that poultry keeping was the women's domain. In 54% of the households income from poultry contributed 11 – 20% of total cash income, the significance of that income being higher in the landless families. The main problems were identified to be lack of veterinary services, i.e. no medicine and vaccines and high mortality, especially in the young chicks.

Key words: Poultry, development, survey, tribes, India


Agriculture is the main occupation and way of life for the small and marginal farmer families. The decreasing size of the land holdings per family, shrinking with each generation, has put enormous pressure on the small farmers for raising productivity. The only option left to make agriculture a sustainable activity for liveli-hood security seems to be to concentrate on intensive integrated agricultural development.

The Madhya Pradesh Women in Agriculture (MAPWA) Project aims to improve the status and recognition of small and marginal farm women by not only imparting training and extension in low-cost agricultural technologies, but also under its special training program, to impart need-based training in allied subjects like cattle rearing, backyard poultry improvement, enrichment of fodder, as per the need and interest of the women.

Relevance of Backyard Poultry (BYP)

BYP has emerged as a key area of interest, particularly in the tribal districts of the MAPWA project area, where a large number of households are already rearing poultry. We have taken up training in poultry under the ‘special training’ program in some of these areas and have experienced tremendous enthusiasm from the women. The reason is that the entire rearing of small animals is the responsibility of women. It involves small money for selling and buying of poultry products and serves as a ‘reserve bank’ that provides ready cash and food. Thus our special training program has been received well and there is a further demand for the same particularly in the tribal areas.

A study was conducted in the Tamia block of the Chhindwara district to identify possibilities for taking up intensive and special training in BYP. The findings have been encouraging. A primitive tribe called Bharias dominates this block. Most of the Bharia population live in Patalkot, which is a group of 12 villages located in a deep depression (bowl) surrounded on all sides by high almost vertical mountains called ‘Kanats’. The area is approachable only by climbing down over 1200 steps. Patalkot is almost cut off from development due to its physical location. Bharias make a living by cultivation of small millet called Kodo-Kutki, collecting forest produce and hunting. Most of the households in Patalkot have BYP.

Methodology of study

Since Tamia block has the maximum number of poultry birds in the entire district this block was selected for the purposive study. 10 villages from Patalkot and surrounding areas were identified at random and 100 respondents selected at random as a representative sample for the study.

The respondents were interviewed in depth regarding their poultry rearing practices, problems and constraints and their suggestions were carefully recorded to assist us in drawing out a curriculum for the special training program. Two case studies were also recorded in detail for our knowledge to learn the traditional BYP practices presently prevailing in the area.


Table 1: Percentage households having backyard poultry in Tamia block-Chhindwara

No.Name of villageTotal no. of householdsNo. of house-holds having BYPNo. of farm families inter-viewed%having BYP
2Karayam Rathed44401090.0%
6Tamia Bharia Dhana66561084.8%
8Pandu Piparia1941251064.43%

Table 2: Significance of poultry income to total income.

No.Poultry income (% to total earning)No. of farm families in the sample% Farm families
Total 100100%

Suggestions of the respondents - farmers

  1. Assistance and support to develop BYP into a viable venture.

  2. Awareness and training to systematically plan BYP for sustainable income generating activities.

  3. Facility of low-cost feed and medication / vaccination facility to be made available in the villages.

  4. Provision of better variety of ‘desi’ birds, which could have better egg laying capacity.

  5. Support for better housing facility for the hens and chicks.


MAPWA project has a wide network in the rural areas and also the facility for extension services to reach out to the women in interior villages. There is a provision for need-based intensive training under the special training program. The farmwomen group activities are to commence leading to avenues, which will give supplementary income to the farm families. Training in poultry, sheep rearing and enrichment of cattle feed have come out as a felt need by the women.

With the economic benefits resulting from the group activity, it is hoped and expected that the migration in the tribal families could be reduced giving stability to the rural households.

The Role of Women in Poultry Development: Proshika Experiences

Md Fazlul Huq and Mr. Kabir Mallik

Proshika, Dhaka, Bangladesh
E-mail: [email protected]


Rural women in Bangladesh traditionally play an important role in livestock production. The paper outlines the NGO Proshika's experience in using poultry as a tool in poverty alleviation and it is concluded that poultry development has potential for capturing the inequitable distribution of income and employment in rural areas. In Proshika's experiences, women are able to operate and manage technical enterprises like broiler, layer and duck farms efficiently with a high return on the investment. Poultry production on a smaller scale like in the Smallholder Livestock Development Project, the Poultry for Nutrition Project and the Participatory Livestock Development Project are useful to improve the native backyard poultry under scavenging and semi-intensive systems, where women traditionally play the most important role.

Key words: Proshika, poultry, women, empowerment.


Bangladesh has a population of 123 million and a density of 755 people per square km. The country is classified as a developing country. 86% of the population live in rural areas and 48.9 percent are women. Female-headed households constitute 9 per cent of all households and 30 per cent of all poor households. Although the vast majority of the rural population is poor and illiterate, the women are the poorest and have a much lower literacy rate than men. The problems affecting the economic and social status of women in Bangladesh are huge and complex.

Women in the labour force

The size of the civilian labour force in Bangladesh is 56 million (in 1996–97) of which 45.8 million are rural and 10.2 million are urban. The number of men that constitutes the labour force is 34.7 million while the number of women is 21.3 million. In the case of women, most of the productive activities are performed within the household. Though they may appear to be unemployed, generally they are overworked. Women make a direct contribution to the economy through their participation in agricultural and non-farm activities and indirectly, they contribute through their work in the household (Alamgir, 1997). In the household, women are responsible for all the domestic work such as cleaning, cooking, washing, rearing of children, raising poultry and vegetables, tending animals.

Women in livestock production in Bangladesh

Rural women traditionally play a very important role in raising livestock. In most cases, they are solely responsible for goats/sheep and poultry. They also take care of the health of the animals and birds. However, the household job they perform is unpaid and the traditional extension service does not make much contribution to raise their skills. The women are by passed by banks and other money lending institutions.

The Constitution of Bangladesh grants equal rights to women in all spheres of life as it embodies the fundamental rights relating to women in Article 28, page 18, where it states “Women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of state and public life.” The article states further that, “Nothing in the article shall prevent the state from making special provision in favour of women or children or for the advancement of any backward section of citizens.”

Proshika, one of the largest private voluntary development organisation (PVDOs) in Bangladesh, has made a special provision for rural women to generate employment and income for them through its different development and employment and income generating (EIG) programmes, especially poultry development activities.

Proshika: goal, objectives and programmes

Proshika Manobik Unnayan Kendra, in short Proshika has been working on development activities for the poor since its establishment in 1976. The goal of Proshika is to promote sustainable development for poverty free, productive, environmentally sound, democratic and just Bangladesh. In order to achieve this goal Proshika's objectives are: i) structural poverty alleviation; ii) environmental protection and regeneration; iii) improvement in women's status; iv) increasing people's participation in public institutions and v) increasing peoples capacity to gain and exercise democratic and human rights.

In order to achieve these goals and objectives, Proshika has formulated certain strategies, which are implemented through the following programmes:

  1. Organization building among the poor
  2. Development education
  3. Promoting self-reliance through EIG activities: (i) A Livestock (ii) Irrigation (iii) Sericulture (iv) Apiculture and (v) Fishery Development Programme.
  4. Environmental protection and regeneration: (i) Social Forestry Programme (ii) Ecological Agriculture
  5. Universal education.
  6. Health education and infrastructure building.
  7. Gender Relations Co-ordinations Cell (GRCC)
  8. Urban poor development.
  9. Housing
  10. Impact Monitoring & Evaluation Cell (IMEC)
  11. Development Support Communication (DSCP)
  12. Disaster preparedness and Management.
  13. Institute for Development Policy Analysis and Advocacy (IDPAA)

Commercial poultry development programme in Proshika

About 89 per cent of the rural households rear poultry. The poultry development programme is one of the largest components under the Livestock development programme in Proshika

Proshika works both with commercial poultry rearing and is involved in a semiscavenging model through three collaborative projects in 55 thanas. The Proshika poultry development set-up is as follows:

a) Training for livestock support services and poultry rearing:

Preference is to women to equip them to participate in vaccination, as paravets and as advanced paravets. Some women are trained as feed sellers and simultaneously to give extension service. A practical oriented training course is on “Poultry rearing and project management”. It is for group members to provide them technical skills and knowledge about project planning and proper implementation processes.

b) Credit support from a revolving loan fund:

Women groups are provided loans from a Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) for poultry production. The poultry projects have been categorised into 5 types: a) Broiler rearing, b) Chick rearing, c) Layer farming, d) Cockerel rearing, e) Duck rearing.

c) Development of parent stock farm & hatcheries:

Proshika has developed a demonstration farm in the Human Resource Development Centre (HRDC) at Koitta, The demonstration projects include: mini scale dairy, poultry hatchery with a commercial parent stock farm (broiler & layer), fodder production, biogas, etc. This hatchery is producing 9000 broiler chicks and 2000 layer chicks weekly. A modern controlled poultry hatchery has been operating since 1998 with the capacity of 30000 broiler chicks weekly. Another poultry hatchery in Payrabondh at Rangpur is under construction at the time of writing and two modern poultry hatcheries with commercial parent stock farms are planned. The objectives of these farms are to ensure the supply of Day Old Chicks (DOCs) to the broiler and layer project holders.

d) Livestock Compensation Fund:

Proshika developed a livestock and poultry compensation fund to compensate losses due to death of animals and poultry. The Fund has minimized the risk of financial losses due to projects undertaken by the people.

e) Technical staff:

The technical extension services are provided through trained livestock and veterinary graduates, who are deployed in all the Area Development Centres as technical workers. They provide technical support, instructions, advice and act as facilitators in skill development training courses.

Commercial poultry project cycle

Organized groups of poor women are provided credit from the Proshika Revolving Loan Fund. The units used in implementation of the poultry project are shown in a figure 1.

Figure 1. Units used in implementation of the poultry project.

Figure 1

One study found that a group member could earn a net profit of Taka 1,000 per month through a Chick Rearing Unit besides doing all her household work. From the Layer Rearing Project a woman can earn a net profit of Taka 800 to 900 per month. An impact assessment survey was conducted during the period December 1994 - February 1995. The Impact Monitoring and Evaluation Cell (IMEC) of Proshika and the Horizon Pacific International prepared the Report jointly. The report showed that in female-headed households included in the project earnings on average are 68.1% higher than in control households. Savings are 409% higher.

Proshika Collaboration Projects and its impact

Proshika has been operating three collaborative projects. A large collaboration project is on the “Participatory Livestock Development Project” (PLDP) in 28 thanas. This is recently undertaken by Proshika in collaboration with Directorate of Livestock Service, financed by Asian Development Bank (ADB) & DANIDA. Proshika also has operated collaborative projects on “Poultry for Nutrition” (PNP) in 17 thanas with the Ministry of Fisheries & Livestock, financed by the World Bank.

Proshika has recently completed a collaborative, three year project entitled “Smallholder Livestock Development Project” (SLDP) with the Directorate of Livestock services (DLS), Govt. of Bangladesh and financed by DANIDA & the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

The target beneficiaries of all the aforementioned projects are poor and mostly women. The strategy is to provide micro-finance and technical services through NGOs for livestock enterprises suitable for the poor and to develop the capabilities of DLS, NGOs and rural communities to plan and manage livestock development activities and in the process alleviate poverty and improve economic and nutritional status of the rural poor through self-employment. Saleque has detailed the organisational set-up in these proceedings.


Of these three projects, SLDP has been completed. The project was originally designed to undertake a range of economic activities in the context of small-scale livestock development, but ended up concentrating mainly on activities related to poultry development. However, the integration of other species of livestock with poultry enterprises has already been introduced in the PLDP & PNP projects. The project is based model develop by DLS and BRAC (see Saleque in these proceedings).

An impact study conducted by Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute (BLRI) (Alam, 1997) in 5 districts of Bangladesh evaluated the impact of interventions made by the (SLDP) on the socio-economic conditions of the poor people. The study found that the average size of the loan received per beneficiaries was Taka 2588 with a range from Taka 1,000 to Taka 10,000, depending on the type enterprise. The loans were repaid by weekly or monthly instalments the repayment rate was 99 per cent. The total net income per household was Taka 455.3 and the average net income per household from SLDP activities was Taka 102.1 per week. The average weekly income of beneficiary households has increased by 31 per cent after membership.

With the increase in income, the households made substantial progress in savings. The total cumulative savings per beneficiary after membership was Taka 1475.7, which was made up of Taka 568 form group savings and Taka 908 from own savings. At the same time, the consumption of all food items and investment in assets has significantly increased. The project has ensured empowerment of women in the study areas and increased their participation in household decisionmaking. The generation of income and employment from the SLDP activities has enhanced the status of women in the family.

Constraints and its probable solution

The constraints for implementation of poultry projects at the farmers level are as follows-

In order to overcome these constraints, Proshika has developed 2–3 feed seller projects in every Thana. Proshika trains group members to undertake these feed seller projects. They receive credit from Proshika and keep concentrate ingredients for the poultry rearers. Feed formulation, quality and the Proshika livestock technical workers ensure good storage conditions.

As vaccines against gumboro, Marek and IBD are not produced locally; Proshika is importing all these vaccines from abroad.

To ensure good prices of eggs and broilers by the farmers, Proshika has set up a marketing venture in Dhaka where eggs and broilers are collected from the farmers by group members and sold.


In order to increase the poultry production by the poor people, the following recommendations should be implemented:


Mass poverty in Bangladesh stems from structural deprivation and is caused by the interplay of several factors.

Proshika has tried to address these factors in its different development strategies. Poultry development is one of the potential areas under Proshika's livestock development programme, which has a potential for capturing the inequitable distribution of income and employment in rural areas.

In Proshika's experiences, women are able to operate and manage impressive technical enterprises like broiler, layer, duck farms etc. efficiently with a high return on the investment. On the other hand, poultry production under SLDP, PNP and PLDP are useful to improve the native backyard poultry under scavenging and semi-intensive systems, where women traditionally play the most important role.


Alma, J. (1997). Smallholders livestock Dev. Project in Bangladesh: The Socio-Economic Impact, Survey Report, Economic & marketing Research Division, Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute (BLRI) (published as a paper on this Internet address:

Proshika Research, Evaluation and Monitoring Unit and Horizon Pacific International (1995). IMEC Survey report: Impact Assessment and Internal Monitoring Implementation Report: Stage One, Proshika.

Analysis of a Traditional Grainand Scavenge-Based Poultry System in Nicaragua

Niels Chr. Kyvsgaard,a Luz Adilia Luna,b and Peter Nansena1

a) Danish Centre for Experimental Parasitology, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, 1870 Frederiksberg C, Denmark. E-mail [email protected].

b) Proyecto de Investigación Avícola, UNAG, El Sauce, Nicaragua


Like in most developing countries most rural households in Nicaragua keep poultry. The present paper is based on a research project entitled “Improvement of traditional poultry management - a multidisciplinary approach” the objective of which is to identify possibilities for improvement of the traditional free-range poultry production in the smallholder sector of developing countries. The results that are reported are preliminary and based on data collected for 12 months in 19 households. The study is located in project area of the Integrated Rural Development project “Manual López” in Nicaragua. The results that are reported are preliminary and based on data collected for 12 months in 19 households. The preliminary findings show a pronounced seasonality in egg production and cost of the main feed supplement sorghum. Mortality was moderate in adult birds at 1–2% per months, but high at 20% in chicken although the birds were protected against Newcastle disease. Predation by hawks and cats accounted for 50% of the mortality. For the landless (female) farmer the seasonal price fluctuations of sorghum is a serious problem and call for appropriate credit arrangements of the type applied by the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.

Keywords: Nicaragua, poultry, traditional, scavenging

1. Professor Peter Nansen deceased on 26 October 1999.


Traditional poultry production is an almost omnipresent activity among smallholders in the developing world. The production systems are based on scavenging or semi-scavenging and investment is normally limited to rustic housing. There seems to be important differences in level of feeding, care and outputs, but generally the systems are poorly described in term of management strategies, practices, productivity, diseases, losses, and economy with the exception of examples from Nigeria (Matthewman 1977), Mali (Kuit et al. 1986, Wilson et al. 1987), Sri Lanka (Gunaratne et al. 1993) and Central America (Mallia 1998).

The present paper describes a set of studies, which were set up as part of the research project “Improvement of traditional poultry management - a multidisciplinary approach”. The objective of the project is to “identify possibilities for improvement of the traditional free-range poultry production in the smallholder sector of developing countries. The project will aim at finding such solutions which do not affect the low capital investment which normally is found in these systems”. Research is carried out with collaborators in both Nicaragua and Tanzania. The present paper will present some of the preliminarily conclusions from the research in Nicaragua with emphasis on poultry strategies, production- and disease parameters. A description of how family strategies shape poultry management is given elsewhere in this volume (Brorholt et al. 1999).

Material and methods

Our study was conducted in the Northwestern part of Nicaragua in El Sauce municipality. The people of the municipality are Spanish-speaking mestizos. The area is located at 13°N and the altitude is between 200 m in the valley and 1000 m in the mountains. Mean monthly temperatures range from 25 to 30°C in the valley. The mean yearly precipitation is 1750 mm (range: 866 to 2734 mm from 1963 to 1987). There are normally 2 crop cycles per year, the early one from May to July and the late one from August to November. The main crops of the area are maize, sorghum (a drought resistant long season variety of Sorghum vulgare), beans (on the slopes) and sesame (in the valley).

The area is relatively easy to access. People can reach El Sauce town within 3–4 hours of walking, on horseback or by truck-operators. The local trade is based on a combination of small shops in the hamlets, tradesmen and shops in El Sauce. Tradesmen and shop-owners make use of bus connections to two departmental capitals, which can be reached within 2 hours.

The municipality is supported by a number of development activities of which the most comprehensive is the Integrated Rural Development Project “Manuel López” (PML) funded by DANIDA through the Danish NGO Ibis. As part of this project an improved management scheme including better housing, feed supplements (Kyvsgaard and Urbina, 1996) and Newcastle disease vaccination is promoted.

For this study we selected nineteen farms representing three geographical zones (two in the valley, one on the slopes) and two management strategies (a traditional and a more intensive based on participation in the PML activities). The farmers were participating voluntarily; the selection was based upon their willingness to make daily observations during 12 months. Initially, structured interviews about management practices, feeding and diseases were carried out. During 1998 the housewife or one of her children made daily recordings of egg production, egg use for consumption, sale and incubation, as well as any movement in the flock composition whether due to mortality, home consumption or sale. The data were filled in forms, which were crosschecked at the weekly visit by the second author of this paper.

Results and discussion

The data presented here are preliminary, as a thorough analysis has not been performed yet.

Social context and production practices

There were pronounced differences in wealth among the families participating in the study. A few families depended entirely on chicken for their income, whereas most families had other sources of income from agriculture, cattle, and seasonal labour or in one case a permanent job as a schoolteacher. The wealth ranking of the participating families was mentioned from the poor to the richer:

Poultry is important to these farmers in a number of ways expressed in the interviews and also reflected in the recorded production data.

The flocks in this study housed between 10 and 36 hens (median 14), 1 to 8 cocks and their offspring. The chickens were scavenging during the day, supplemented with sorghum, and kept in small poultry shelters at night (promoted as part of the PML project) or more traditionally, sleeping in a tree. The flock sizes varied according to season. Many birds, especially hens, were sold for consumption at Christmas, which reduced the flocks considerably, where after the flocks were built up again during the following year. Generally, there was no deliberate selection of the hens used for breeding. The cocks were selected from phenotypic characteristics. Incubation was always performed naturally on the farm. Eggs were selected carefully and not considered good for incubation when they were more than 3 days old. The nests were rather rustically made in boxes of carton or wood. The women considered that incubation gave better results in the dry season compared to the wet season.

Productivity and feeds

There were significant variations between farms in laying productivity ranging from 70 to 150 eggs per hen per year. The nature of this variation could be attributed to feeding regime, selection of breeding animals and differences in environment in the farm surroundings.

Sorghum was the basis of the supplemented feed on all farms. Immediately after harvesting and threshing in January and February, the chickens were left to feed on residual grains on sorghum spikes. The farms following the more intensive feeding regimes with “home-made concentrates” had a slightly higher productivity than the farms feeding traditionally with whole sorghum grains, but the practice of mixing feeds was mostly used in cases of feed shortages to “make the sorghum last longer”, so the impact on the yearly production was limited.

When we calculated the consumption of grain in relation to output, we found that it generally required 150 grams of sorghum to produce an egg. This figure is the overall mean and there was a marked variation between farms and months. We have furthermore assumed that the layers eat half of the grains fed to the flock. Although these chickens were finding a significant proportion of their feed through scavenging, their total grain consumption in relation to output seemed to be in the same order of magnitude as in the poultry industry. However, it is important to notice that the market value of the homegrown sorghum fed in the traditional system was only around one third of the cost of the maize/soybean concentrates used in the intensive systems.

There was a significant seasonal variation in egg production. Productivity peaked in January and May/June. The productivity was high in January (12 eggs per hen per month), where there is plenty of sorghum from the new harvest, but declined again towards the end of the dry season, where the farm surroundings became bare and dry (8 eggs per hen). With the onset of the rains, productivity rose again in May and June (11 eggs per hen). The environment is lush green with a great variety of feeds (insects, caterpillars, grass shoots) in the area used for scavenging. The productivity gradually declined towards the end of the rainy season and the lowest productivity was found immediately after the rainy season in November (5 eggs per hen) and associated with change of feathers of the hens and also by the hurricane Mitch. A research project is presently running to determine the composition of the scavenged diet according to season (M.Sc. student M. Hernández, Universidad Nacional Agraria, Managua)

Disease and predators

The mortality rates among adult birds were only 1–2 % per month whereas it was almost 20% per month for the chicks. Economically, based on market values, the chick mortality accounted for three times the value of the losses in adult birds. In adult birds losses due to theft are as serious as losses due to disease. In chicks losses due to diseases accounts for approximately half of the total mortality whereas predators (mainly hawks and cats), physical injuries and theft account for the other half. An exact diagnosis of the diseases was not possible, but the symptoms described and observed were varied and therefore we assume that there were several different causes involved. In this context it is important to notice that a Newcastle disease vaccination programme, which we believe has contributed significantly to prevent epidemic outbreaks and keeping the mortality of adult birds at a reasonable level, covered the study area.

Economic aspects

The traditional system has the advantage that it is not depending on costly protein supplements but its profit is influenced by grain prices, which fluctuate according to season with a triplication in price from harvest to the time just before the next harvest. There is no similar pattern in egg price, which makes it difficult to manage the poultry for people who do not cultivate their own crops but have to purchase grain from their neighbours. The mean grain consumption of a flock was approximately 600 kg per year, which had a value at the time of use of 900 Córdobas (1 US$ = 10 Córdobas in 1998) or around 550 Córdobas when buying at harvest. The value of the leftovers from the kitchen and threshing was set to zero. The egg production alone had a mean annual value of 1300 C$ based on local market values. In addition comes the value of birds used for consumption or sale. The profitability depends on whether the family has means to purchase the grain at harvest. The poultry system is relatively low in investment, which normally is an advantage to start a poultry business, but it is also accumulating little capital, which could have been used to purchase grains.

The egg prices on the local market in El Sauce town was about 30% higher for eggs from the traditional production than for eggs from intensive systems.


In this paper we have called the production system in this area of Nicaragua for “traditional”. Productivity seems, however, to be high compared to scavenging systems on other continents, where the extensive use of grains would qualify for the term “semi-intensive” or “semi-scavenging”. However, these terms are not mutually exclusive and we could use a term such as “traditional, semi-intensive” to describe the system in our case.

The findings support the assumptions that family poultry keeping is an economically viable activity for families with small farms. The chickens provide eggs for daily consumption and birds can be slaughtered and served at special occasions e.g. birthdays and Christmas. As described in the paper by Brorholt et al. (1999), poultry is also important socially as an indicator of the skills of the housewife. The income from sale of eggs and chicken is furthermore important to purchase the daily needs of the household. The market for the products is good; there are different marketing options such as shops and ambulant salespersons. There is even a higher price on the rural chickens and eggs compared to the products from the poultry industry. However, there is limited room for expansion of the family poultry business. Poultry is in most cases an integrated part of the cropping system and can be seen an instrument to add value to surplus grain and the flock size is adjusted according to the harvest.

The seasonally fluctuating grain price is a serious problem for the landless farmers. Although poultry keeping is profitable if sorghum can be purchased at harvest, she does not have sufficient capital to make the investment, and in turn she has to sell out of the flock when grain prices go up some months after harvest. Credit-schemes, as applied by Grameen Bank in Bangladesh (, providing small loans followed by weekly instalments and compulsory saving could possibly serve to allow poor people to purchase feeds. There are already some NGO's in Nicaragua offering credits for women, but when they are used for poultry they are mostly for the purchase of birds alone.

The mortality pattern with a very low mortality rate among adult birds suggests that the programme for Newcastle disease vaccination in the municipality was effective and that there were no other epidemic diseases present in the area. However, the losses among chicks were high and apart from the direct cost the poor survival rate poses a limitation to the rapid expansion of flock size in years of good harvest. The causes of chick mortality were almost evenly distributed between predation and disease. Within both categories, there were a large number of etiologies, which unfortunately makes prevention more complicated compared to the situation where there was one dominating cause. A better physical protection of the chicks and a more intensive feeding of these would probably increase their survival and reduce the economic losses in this part of the production.

The present study used a systems approach rather than a discipline oriented approach to the study of traditional poultry production. One of the major problems with our approach is that data collection is extremely tedious and very sensitive to farmers' collaboration. The participant has to be willing to collect the data on a daily basis and to receive the visit of the researcher weekly. This can be difficult with the many tasks, which the women generally have and it is furthermore a problem that it requires reading and writing capability. The nature of the work makes random selection of the participants almost impossible and the families who are prepared to collaborate may be biased in the sense that they may put more efforts into their poultry production than their neighbours. The advantage of the systems approach is that it provides an overview of the dynamics of the system e.g. in relation to mortality and seasonal variations. The farming systems approach is also well suited for the identification of topics for future research and for pointing at the areas where intervention can be beneficial.


Brorholt, G. & Odgaard, P. (1999.) “Women and Chicken: Traditional poultry management in Nicaragua and Tanzania”, Proceedings: Development workers' course: Poultry as a tool in poverty eradication and promotion of gender equality, at Course Centre Tune Landboskole, March 22–26, 1999.

Gunaratne, S.P., Chandrasiri, A.D.N. & Mangalika Hemalatha, W.A.P., Roberts, J.A. (1993). “Feed resource base for scavenging village chicken in Sri Lanka”, Tropical Animal Health and Production, 25, 249–257.

Kuit, H.G., Traore, A. & Wilson, R.T. (1986). “Livestock production in central Mali: Ownership, management and productivity of poultry in the traditional sector”, Tropical Animal Health and Production, 18, 222–231.

Kyvsgaard, N.C. & Urbina, R. (1996) Supplementing poultry diet with tree leaves or seeds - on-farm research in Nicaragua. Livestock Research for Rural Development, 8 (1),

Mallia, J.G. (1998). Observations on family poultry units in parts of Central America and sustainable development opportunities. First INFPD/FAO Electronic Conference on Family Poultry “The Scope and Effect on Family Poultry Research and Development”.

Wilson, R.T., Traore, A., Kuit, H.G. & Slingerland, M. (1987). “Livestock production in central Mali: Reproduction, growth and mortality of domestic fowl under traditional management”, Tropical Animal Health and Production, 19, 229–236.

Women and Chicken: Women's Different Interests and Capabilities of Poultry Keeping, According to their Stages in Lifecycles - a Nicaraguan Case

Grete Brorholt1, N. Kyvsgaard2 and M. Whyte3

1 Institute of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
E-mail: [email protected]

2 Danish Centre for Experimental Parasitology
The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Denmark
E-mail: [email protected]

3 Institute of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
E-mail: [email protected]


A socio-cultural community study has been carried out in order to understand indigenous knowledge and practice regarding traditional poultry production. The fieldwork took place during 1998 in two villages in Tanzania and Nicaragua, and is part of the multi-disciplinary research project, “Improvement of traditional poultry management -a multi-disciplinary approach”. Qualitative research methods such as participant observation, ethnographic interviews, focus group discussions and illness records have been used. The material is analysed according to anthropological theories. It was found that men's and women's management strategies for keeping or not keeping poultry vary according to cultural system of land-use, labour division, ecology, sex- and age-group. Different categories of women have different interests, resources and possibilities regarding poultry keeping. A Nicaraguan case shows that young married women have little outcome of poultry keeping because of social structures, and therefore have little or no interest in keeping poultry. On the other hand, poultry keeping prove useful to women in separate households with children and who are capable of some planning and have access to feed for the poultry. The paper concludes that poultry management is not static practise but complex, dynamic and flexible, because the poultry keeper changes practise and strategy according to her stage in the life cycle.

Key words: Poultry, field work, anthropology, women, community, life cycle.


The research carried out, is the socio-cultural and economic part of the research project; “Improvement of traditional poultry management, - a multi-disciplinary approach”. It is a comparative and multi-disciplinary research project between The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Copenhagen, and Institute of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania and Universidad National de Agricultura y Animales, Nicaragua (UNA) and an integrated agricultural and participatory development project implemented by a Danish NGO, “Proyecto Manuel Lopez” (PML).


This paper is an attempt to understand why young newly married women are not very successful in poultry keeping. The point of departure is that people's management strategies for keeping or not keeping poultry, vary according to cultural system of land-use, labour division, ecology, sex- and age-group (Barth 1992). Different categories of women (and men) have different interests, resources and possibilities regarding poultry keeping. I have chosen one case to illustrate, how newly married women are manoeuvring their poultry holdings: How this group of women has agency, but nevertheless are restricted in their practise by social structures. The case illustrates the complexity of the category “women”. “Women” is not one homogeneous group but differ in interests, strategies, and possibilities within the same category.

The presentation concludes that poultry management is not a static practise but complex, dynamic and flexible where the poultry keeper changes practise and strategy according to the stage of her life cycle. At the same time, it will be shown how and why the social and cultural context, is important to investigate and understand, when poultry or other livestock are used in a development strategy.


An ethnographic fieldwork and community study was conducted among peasants in Cerro Colorado, a village in el Sauce Country, Nicaragua. Cerro Colorado has about 60 households and 420 inhabitants whereas el Sauce Country has about 27.000 inhabitants (Alcaldia 1998).

Veterinary and agricultural extension officers, petty commodity traders, family, and neighbour villagers frequently visit Cerro Colorado. People are interested and engaged in making social relations with people from different localities or with different social status. The community is characterised by a minimum of infrastructure, has no market and is not accessible for vehicles. However it is not an isolated community, but rather a village highly dependent on and integrated in modern life by petty commodity, market-relations, migration, development and research projects. In the area of Nicaragua, where the ethnographic fieldwork was conducted people are Mistizos, - “Ethnic Nicaraguans” a mix between local Indians and European colonials. In Cerro Colorado people practise Roman Catholicism, but Evangelism is rather common in other areas of Nicaragua.

People are patri-local: The wife moves to the husband's family and BILINEAR: Both women and men are inheritors of land. Though men inherits more than women do. People depend on subsistence farming, are occasional day-labourers, or seasonal labour migration. Trade in beans and coffee in small amounts is also important activities.


The anthropological practise of ethnographic fieldwork involves taking part and participating in, local activities by getting acquainted with people. Participant observations include the researcher's involvement in every day-life, by taking part in daily activities and every day life. As far as possible this study has applied participant observation to generate and experience knowledge on community categories, which have turned out to be embodied knowledge. Through participatory methods knowledge has been gained about how to be and live like a villager, in Nicaragua: We feel the heavy obligation of making tortillas for a household of a dozen persons, because we have lived and experienced it through a longer period of time. Of course the anthropologist will never become a Nicaraguan peasant, and that is not the goal either, but through an attempt the anthropologist will gain knowledge about Nicaraguan peasants conceptions and lives. The anthropologist maintains an analytic and reflexive distance in participation and observation, which is crucial for the position of the anthropologist and the scientific relevance of the study. This position of analytic and reflexive distance makes it possible for the anthropologist to both, experience the society from within, and analyse the society in scientific terms.

Beside participant observation, different kinds of ethnographic methods have been applied; individual and group interviews, focus group discussions, taxonomies, genealogies, mapping and illness records regarding different themes. Informants were chosen randomly, due to family relations to key-informants and by asking for people who were knowledgeable about a specific topic.

In the following the case “Graciela” will be outlined.


Graciela is 20 years old; she is married1 and has no children. She is a pre-school teacher and has been working for one year. She eloped in August last year and as custom prescribes, she moved to the household of her mother-in-law soon after.

Graciela keeps a few hens at her mother's house, as does her sister, her uncle, her grandmother, and her cousin. The total flock size at the household of her mother, are 23 mature hens and chicks. Graciela did not move her hens from her mother's household to the household of the mother-in-law, when she married.

In October she acquired 20 fertilised eggs for hatching, and some were placed under a hen in the household of the mother-in-law, and some under a hen in the mother's household. One month after, when chicks were hatched, Gracielas mother-in-law, when asked, explained that 18 were incubated! And she regarded herself as the owner.

Graciela had definitely given some, if not all, of the eggs acquired, to the mother in-law and kept others in the mother's household. (With or without the mother in law's knowledge?) Another time she acquired 18 eggs and gave the mother-in-law 14 and kept 4 eggs for herself. The chicks she hatched at her mother's place, died of hunger, as the mother had no feed to give them, as the mother suffered scarcity after Graciela has moved. The hens in the mother's household belong to Graciela, but are fed by the mother.

Young women need to produce a flock size of their own to pay for personal necessities and to generate money for the future household utensils. Still at this point in life, they have few possibilities to generate a good flock size, as they do not have access to supplementary feed because their husbands do not yet possess fields for agriculture.

Keeping hens on various locations is one way of making a matri-laterel network and an economic saving.

Graciela is conscious of her different possibilities and limits of economic growth, and of her new social position as a married woman. Being newly married is a difficult and unstable period and is also affecting her ability to have hens.

Why is she hatching at different places, in her mothers and her mother in laws household? “To try the luck”, she answers!

“To try luck,” indicates to try ones capability on certain issues. The peasants in Cerro Colorado do not perceive success in production as stable due to “local knowledge” or “skills”, but rather as fortune and chance. Richards (1993) writes, that local knowledge is “a product of improvisational capacities called forth by the needs of the moment”. Graciela is in a stage in her life where she is learning how to improvise on various issues. Unfortunately she had not yet learned how to “improvise”, and lost her investment, on her first attempt on hatching, with her own hens.

1. The use the term “marriage” is in the sense of common-law marriage, civil marriage and ecclesiastical marriage.

Since Graciela was 13 years old she has been integrated in the local NGO-development project “Proyecto Manuel Lopez” (PML). Through this project, she has obtained exotic breeds of hens, technical training, and educational training and made a broad social network. She is very often used as an example of the success of the PML in integrating women in project activities. Graciela is interested in and capable of keeping poultry, even if she had no economic outcome of her first attempt on hatching, in her new home. She had obtained “some” knowledge, but has not yet learned how to improvise and thereby apply, this knowledge in her community.

As for any young married woman living in the extended household of the husband's family, it is important for Graciela to make and keep a good relationship with her mother-in-law.

Reciprocity is a basic element in Nicaraguan life and giving and receiving affirm a social network between women. Getting married is the first time when a daughter is responsible for a reciprocal act. And at the same time, she is the object in the very same transaction, as part of the reciprocal exchange2 system.

One older woman explained to me that “marriage is paying back” (…) “you are having children, educating children and give them to the husband (…)”. Graciela is the object of a symbolic transaction: “She is paying back,” and at the same time Graciela changes from being a daughter and girl (señorita), to being a woman and mother. She is supposed to “pay back” by having children, but until then, she has to give something else to the in-laws. Hens are the only objects she can manage for own purpose and use to maintain good relations.

But as a woman Graciela is receiving too. “A household needs to begin, and as she was interested in having hens, one has to help. One should help!” the earlier quoted older woman said to explain why she sold a hen and a rooster, very cheap to a young couple, who built a house few months ago. Graciela feels her changed position is difficult. She needs to create a position, learn how to maintain her social networks of women, how to apply knowledge, make good relations to her in-laws and behave like a woman. “Paying back” is part of a reciprocal system: A woman -in contrast to a daughter (or Señorita) - should give her husband and his family what belongs to him e.g. children and take part in, and maintain the social network of women in the community, by sharing, giving and receiving eggs and hens. She is in a transition time and feels between and betwixt.

2. Reciprocal exchange systems include exchange of “goods, knowledge, service and women”.

Even though Graciela wants to keep poultry it is rather difficult as she is highly dependent on her mother's and mother in law's family. She has not yet an individual household, and is socially and economically dependent. The mother-in-law is supposed to give a new daughter in-law common necessities such as clothes, food, medicine etc., and the daughter in-law is, on the other hand, supposed to work in the new household. In this particular case, where Graciela works as a teacher, people were very concerned whether she was allowed to continue teaching. When Graciela eloped, one woman said “She might be able to continue teaching if Don Emilio (Graciela's uncle) talks to her mother-in-law, and she talks to Gracela's husband”. Graciela claims that the mother-in-law agrees to her wish, of continuing teaching. Though she characterises the situation as “difficult”, since she has to work hard, when she comes back from teaching and that she cannot be away as much as before. To maintain good relations to the in-laws, the newcomer has to be pretty much available for daily duties. She has to be available as a workforce, but also as a kind of a social resource, as her good behaviour and her social network reflect on the mother-in-law. Therefore she is not able to take full advantage of her knowledge, capabilities and broad social network. Conflicts between various interests might be latent. Moreover Graciela has not yet learned how to improvise on utilising technical knowledge and being part of and use the matri-lateral social network.

Women and chicken

Graciela follows the local practise of newly married daughters, by moving to the in-laws' household.

Getting married is paying back. Any economic exchange is a symbolic act too (Parkin in N. Long 1992), and taking part in those relations confirm “adulthood” and being a woman. As a woman and an adult, one has to take part in the matri-lateral social network. The first years of marriage is an unstable period, as the couple “try whether they fit together”, and the girl can move back to her parents at any time.3 The young woman, and to a certain degree her husband, are socially and economically dependent on parents and parents-in-law, until the husband builds an individual house. We have seen that Graciela needs to keep hens for various reasons, but also that it is difficult for her to get a reasonable outcome of her efforts. She has to redistribute some of her resources to make good relations to various families.

As women are able to divorce or split up, it makes sense to keep a broad and diverse “saving” in many places. This practise is both an economic and a symbolic “saving”. By having poultry at various locations, she has an economic security in case of e.g. divorce and sickness. Thereby she is also establishing social relations and networks, to women from different age groups and from different families. Being part of such a network serves as a social resource in case of problems. You can characterise the time, when a young woman move from the mother's household to the household of the mother-in-law, as a transition period. New rules, practises, responsibilities etc. are to be learned: The young woman is in a changing position. This period of time is restricted, and she has to fight for a position and for acceptance in the in-law family and learn to be a woman. It is necessary for her to create good relations to her husband's family and at the same time remain on good terms with her own family. She is in a position where she has to learn about meaning, responsibility and how to use local knowledge. She is not an adult and not a girl: She is between and betwixt.

3. Though divorcing or splitting up is only socially acceptable in few extraordinary cases.

It is necessary for a young woman like Graciela to keep hens, but she has very little outcome of her efforts. For a young newly married woman mobility is very restricted and she will not be allowed to go to town to sell her hens and eggs. The only “market” she has access to, is the reciprocal exchange system in the community, between relatives and neighbours. Another limiting factor for agency is the general lack of land for young people. Gracielas husband is not independent, and he cannot provide food for his family or feed for her hens, until he inherits land: He is not regarded as a fully competent adult either. The relationship to the mother-in-law is of crucial significance, as the mother-in-law is in a powerful position to “divide and rule”. This is underlined by the discord between the “liberties” the young woman gains by eloping opposed to the new restrictions laid on her by in-laws. She looses her protection and stability in her family as “a daughter, (señorita) ” and is living in a limbo of insecurity and instability, until she is fully adapted and accepted in the household of the in-laws. On the other hand her husband and his family assume responsibility of her. By taking part in the PML project, Glaciela has gained knowledge, but has not learned how to apply her skills or how to create a space where to practise this knowledge in the community.

This case shows that young women have agency and are capable and know “how to do”, but they don't know “how to get a position, where to practise” knowledge (Richards 1993). You could ague that poultry then, could be a very important resource, for a young married woman, but on the other hand, so many restrictions are laid on the young woman, that she is not able to get full outcome of her efforts. The ethnographic material shows that young women are interested, but at the time when they marry and move to the mother in law, the interest is minimised and they loose more than they gain on poultry. However, keeping hens is much more than an economic activity.

It is obvious that young women have very little outcome of keeping poultry, which leads them to have little interest in this activity at a certain stage in life, because of social structures in the community and in Nicaraguan society in general. The full economic gain on poultry production will not come until the children are older and able to work in the household, and the husband has inherited fields for agriculture.

We have seen how this stage in life is spend on learning how to be a woman and learning how to manage technical as well as social resources. One long-term strategy is to establish a social network of her own by keeping and exchanging poultry.


In this paper it has been stressed that women's practice cannot be seen or defined as an undifferentiated homogeneous isolated practice, with no connections to the wider society and other production systems. Women's management practises are not autonomous, but shaped in an interaction with different social groups and by the cultural and social context. Hopefully, the paper has showed that the category of “women” is not a homogeneous group, but various interests and strategies are present within the same category. Any attempt to define “women” as one distinct, isolated, static, economic or cultural category will be a mistake as shown by the case of Graciela. We have seen how women (and men) are flexible, and changes poultry management practises according to different interests, time, social status, gender, age, -in other words according to stages in their life cycle, even within the same community. Hence “women” cannot be treated as a universal category, but differ according to social and cultural contexts, although the danger of this approach is to overemphasise cultural explanations as something much more sophisticated than economic explanations. Such a subjectivist approach easily leads to a construction of “the other”, and the implication that all action is culture oriented. Overstressing cultural factors in women's production strategies, easily leads to a very simplistic approach common among NGOs and development workers, according to whom development projects can be successful and “culture oriented”, simply by employing a social scientist to implement the project by “participatory methods”. It is hoped this paper has shown some of the complexity of social interaction.

However, after the critique one has to think of what comes next: after all that poultry might be an interesting resource for many people, but not through all stages in life, and not for all. Poultry projects can bee one attempt to change the political and economic structures in direction of empowering women and might prove successful in various social and cultural contexts.


Barth, F. (1992). “Towards a Greater Naturalism in Conceptualising Societies”, in A. Kuper (ed.), Conceptualising Society, London and New York: Routledge.

Brorholt, G. (1998). Notes and interviews from ethnographic fieldwork.

Long, N. (1992). “Goods, Knowledge and Beer”, in N. Long and A. Long (eds.), Battlefields of Knowledge, London and New York: Routledge.

Nygren, A. (1995). Forest, Power and Development. Costa Rican peasants in the changing environmen,. Helsinki: The Finnish Anthropological Society.

Richards, P. (1993). “Cultivation: Knowledge or Performance?”, in M. Hobart (ed.), An Anthropological Critique of Development. The Growth of Ignorance, London and New York: Routledge.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page