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Chapter 1


Village chicken production systems are based on the scavenging indigenous domestic fowl (Gallus domesticus), the predominant species in the rural poultry sector in Africa. These local chickens remain predominant in African villages despite the introduction of exotic and crossbred types, because farmers have not been able to afford the high input requirement of introduced breeds (Kaiser, 1990; Safalaoh, 1997). Although the introduction of high-yielding chicken breeds in Africa dates back to the 1920s, village chicken populations comprise from five to 50 local types. In most African countries, the chickens have no regular health control programme, may or may not have shelter, and scavenge for most of their nutritional needs. Supporting data in the literature have been provided for Burkina Faso (Bourzat and Saunders, 1990), Ghana (van Veluw, 1987), Mali (Kuit, Traore and Wilson, 1986), the Niger (Abdou and Bell, 1992), Togo (Aklobess, 1990) and the United Republic of Tanzania (Yongolo, 1996).

Village chicken systems in rural Africa are characteristically:

Moreover, land - a critical production resource in rural Africa - is not a limiting factor in village chicken production systems. Consequently, disadvantaged groups in the community can be direct beneficiaries of village chicken improvement programmes. For example, chicken production improved the status of landless women in Bangladesh through access to more food, income and labour, as well as increased social status in the rural community (Saleque and Mustafa, 1996). The Bangladesh project was based on a semi-scavenging model for rural poultry that combined technical improvements with institutional and organizational support (Jensen, 1996).

It is important to address gender in rural development, because surveys in a number of African countries have reported gender plurality in ownership, management and decision-making (Olayiwole, 1984; Achiempong, 1992; Alders, 1997; Scola, 1992; Ngongi, 1996). Access to village chickens for women encourages involvement of women in rural development, particularly where technology transfer includes the participation of end users.

In the mid-1980s, most countries suffered a slowdown in economy that affected the import-dependent production sectors such as commercial poultry. According to Sonaiya (1990a), the intensive and semi-intensive poultry production systems, which mushroomed in the 1970s, almost collapsed because of grain deficit. In Nigeria during the 1980s, there was a substantial increase in the quantity of rural poultry meat in the market as a result of the decreasing supply of commercial poultry (Suleiman, 1989). Therefore, several poultry scientists have recently suggested a specific scientific thrust for rural poultry, aimed at improving the understanding of the biological and socio-economic factors affecting the input-output relationships and the economic efficiency of the production systems.

A long-term programme on village chicken improvement, supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) resulted in substantial improvements in the contribution of the chickens to household food production and welfare in Southeast Asia (Supramaniam, 1988; Oh, 1990; Johnston, 1990). The Southeast Asian programme was based on the control of Newcastle disease (ND) using a heat-stable oral vaccine. ND is rated as the most devastating disease of village chickens in both Africa (Sonaiya, 1990b) and Asia(Mohanty, 1987). However, the relative significance of ND in relation to other diseases of poultry and the various biological, physical and socio-economic factors in village chicken production systems are poorly understood (Pandey, 1993).

A pilot scheme to introduce the heat-stable orally administered ND vaccine, supported by FAO, was started in 1994 in Ethiopia and the Gambia through the Technical Cooperation Programme project RAF/TCP/ 2376, “Assistance to rural women in protecting their village chickens against Newcastle disease” (Rushton, 1996a). At the same time, a proposal for a broader study on village chicken production systems in Africa was submitted to the Director-General of FAO by the Animal Production and Health Division (AGA) for funding under the André Mayer Research Fellowship. In promoting this proposal, AGA was concerned about the slow progress in rural poultry production in Africa, despite the Organization's support of various improvement programmes as well as awareness-raising activities through international workshops (Branckaert, 1992). The Andre Mayer prospectus for this fellowship envisaged a study on assistance to African rural women in village poultry production, with the following objectives:

The period of the 1994–1995 biennium André Mayer Research fellowship coincided with the launching of the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) in September 1994 in response to the urgent need to address the problem of household food insecurity in low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs). The programme was endorsed by the World Food Summit, held in Rome from 13 to 17 November 1996, in the Rome Declaration and the World Food Summit Plan of Action. Household poultry forms one of the elements of the diversification component of the SPFS. These major developments during the course of conducting the research influenced the choice to emphasize household food security and gender issues in this study. The main message is that village chickens have an important role in increasing household food security and income, as well as increasing gender equity.


The main objective of the study was to undertake an in-depth review of research and development work on village chicken production systems in Africa and to suggest improvement strategies for increased food production and social welfare.

The specific objectives were:


The main concept of the study is that village chickens form the basis for increasing food production and income in the rural communities of Africa. A new research and development thrust, which will combine technical improvements and socio-economic aspects, is required to achieve this endeavour.

In the classification of world livestock production systems, poultry systems are described under landless monogastric systems, where feed is introduced from outside the farm (FAO, 1996). Poultry production systems exclusively based on hybrid and high-production exotic breeds and high energy concentration feeds are described by Sere, Steinfeld and Groenewold (FAO, 1996). Although the intensive poultry production systems can be found in rural areas of Africa, the most dominant production systems are the extensive systems that are based on the local indigenous type and on scavenging feeding systems (Table 1). Intermediary or semi-intensive systems, also referred to as backyard poultry, have developed recently with higher input and output.

As already noted in the preceding section, the scavenging system dominates the rural poultry sector of most African countries, and the domestic fowl (Gallus domesticus) is the most common species. In the present study, the term village chicken is adopted from recent studies in rural poultry development, which differentiates the scavenging chickens from the intensive production systems. The term village chicken best describes the scavenging chickens because of the effect of the village socio-economic and biophysical environment on the production and health status of the chickens (Figure 1). The human settlement pattern, communal housing of chickens, exchange of live chickens and chicken products affect production performance, breeding pattern and disease epidemiology.

Characteristics of poultry production
Breed and flock sizeSpecialized breeds: 500–5 000Specialized and dual-purpose breeds: 50–200Local indigenous type: <50
HousingModern housing, generally with concrete walls and regulated internal environmentVaries from modern houses to simple housing made from locally available materialsSpecific poultry houses are rare
Feed resourceCommercially compounded feedsCommercially compounded, homemade mixtures and scavengingScavenging and occasional feeding with home grains and household refuse
Health programmeStandard and regular animal health programmeDisease control and health programme at varying levelsNo regular health programme of disease control measures in place
MarketsCold chain system for input-output distributionInput and output distribution is based on existing trading centresNo formal marketing channels
InfrastructureWater, electricity and communication availableModest infrastructure depending on proximity to urban centresUnderdeveloped infrastructure
Product storage and processingProducts refrigerated; dressed birds and table eggs refrigeratedMinimum refrigeration, occasional dressing of birdsNo refrigeration, sales of live birds and eggs
Technology/informationFormal training, extension services available - information disseminated through producer and consumer associationsModerate formal training and extension servicesLocal knowledge, with moderate or no extension services

The focus on gender is adopted in the study on the assumption that improving the village chicken production systems in rural Africa will result in increased opportunities and more equitable distribution of food and income within and among households in rural Africa. This school of thought is supported by the following facts about the production system:

Finally, for village chicken improvement programmes to have a positive impact on household economies and gender equity, women's concerns should be integrated in the programmes as a gender variable. This would require a more explicit understanding of gender issues in village chicken production systems through gender analysis. Gender and gender roles are two key concepts which have been defined by FAO's Women and Population Division as follows:

Village chicken production system: factors affecting system output at different levels


Gender refers not to women or men per se, but to the relations between them, both perceptual and material. Gender is not determined biologically, as a result of sexual characteristics of either women or men, but is constructed socially. It is a central organizing principle of societies and often governs the processes of production and reproduction, consumption and distribution. Gender roles are the “social definition” of women and men, and vary among different societies and cultures, classes and ages, and during different periods in history. Gender-specific roles and responsibilities are often conditioned by household structure, access to resources, specific impacts of the global economy, and other locally relevant factors such as ecological conditions.

Chapter 2 presents an in-depth review of past research and development work on rural poultry and its impact on village chicken production systems in Africa. Chapter 3 describes the field study conducted in four countries: Ethiopia, the Gambia, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe. In Chapter 4, the relevance of computer modelling as a decision support tool in planning village chicken production improvement programmes is presented, as well as a spreadsheet model for identifying key variables in data collection and studying input-output relationships in village chicken production. Chapter 5 presents general discussions and suggestions for strategic improvement programmes for enhanced village chicken production systems. Finally, Chapter 6 gives the conclusions of the study and future prospects for village chicken production systems in Africa.

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