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Chapter 4
General discussion


Results from the present study showed high variability in flock sizes and management practices in village chicken production systems. Although flock sizes in the scavenging production system are described to have less than 50 birds per flock, in this study, the flock size was more than 100 birds per flock. Smaller flock sizes, less than 20 birds per flock, are described for Bangladesh (Bessei, 1990). Rural poultry production systems with flock sizes of over 50 birds per flock are described as semi-intensive production systems, because the flock size requires partial confinement and consequently supplementary feeding (Sonaiya, 1990b). Higher flock sizes in the village chicken production systems in Africa relative to those observed in Asia could be due to the lower population density in African villages. Kuit, Traore and Wilson (1986) noted a close association between flock size and the type of farming system in Mali, where village chicken flock dynamics in three different systems were studied. The data from project TCP/RAF/2376, which had bigger sample size than the present study, shows that the flock sizes in Ethiopia and the Gambia averaged 10 and 12 birds per household. respectively (Rushton, 1996b). In Zimbabwe, partial analysis of the data collected gave an average of 20 birds per household.

Flock sizes can also be described in terms of the flock structure, i.e. the proportion of the different age groups and sex in a flock. This characteristic is used by various scholars to study flock dynamics (Matthewman, 1975; van Veluw, 1987; Wilson et al., 1987; Abdou and Bell, 1992; Buldgen et al., 1992). The proportion of mature hens in the flock is used to estimate egg and chicken production. In the TCP/RAF/2376 project, the village flocks of Ethiopia had on average 3.49 hens, 1.31 cocks, 1.66 growers and 2.87 chicks, whereas those of the Gambia had on average 2.22 hens, 0.68 cocks, 3.18 growers and 3.92 chicks (Rushton, 1996b). Partial analysis of the TCP/ZIM/4553 data showed an average of 3.8 hens, 1.07 cocks. 6.3 growers and 4.8 chicks (Rushton, 1996b). The data obtained from these three countries show that, on average, the hen to cock ratio was three hens to one cock.

Egg production and chick survival are the key parameters used to study village chicken flock characteristics. The egg production data obtained through hen history in the present study are within the ranges found in the literature (Table 11). However, the chick mortality rates observed in the Gambia are much lower than those reported from other systems (Table 11). Although the clutch size parameter is highly influenced by management, it could also be an indication of the potential for genetic improvement through selection. Analysis of the TCP/RAF/2376 data set by Rushton (1996b) showed different annual egg production levels between the Gambia (23 eggs per hen per year) and Ethiopia (143 eggs per hen per year). The higher egg production levels in Ethiopia reported by Rushton (1996b) were attributed to manipulation of the hen laying cycle, i.e. discouraging brooding. This management practice in Ethiopia could be attributed to a higher return from marketing eggs during the festival period. This practice is unique to Ethiopia compared with the other case study countries. Although demand for chicken products, and specifically chicken meat, is influenced by festivities in most African countries, not much is known of the management practices used in other countries.

Egg production and chick survival data are probably the main determinant of the flock productivity. Chick mortality accounts for high losses in most village chicken production systems. Therefore, management factors that would have a positive impact on chick survival and egg production can be used to increase output from the village chicken flocks.

The egg production parameter in a flock is a function of egg production per hen and the proportion of mature hens in a flock that are laying. Not many field studies have looked into this parameter. However, this is an important parameter for monitoring flock production or studying flock production trends. The TCP/ZIM/4553 data collected show that the proportion of laying hens in a flock was less than 20 percent of the total mature hen population (Figure 13). This parameter can be manipulated through various management practices such as discouraging brooding. Preferential treatment of chicks, which reduces the rearing period, can also increase the proportion of hens in lay, and consequently egg production and bird output.

Production coefficients of village chickens in developing countries
ReferenceCountryClutches per yearEggs per clutchEgg weightHatchability (%)Mature weight
Shanawany and Banerjee(1991)Ethiopia--44–4939–42---1.1–1.7
Bourzat and Saunders (1990)Burkina Faso2.7–3.012–1830–4060–90----
Minga, Katule, Maeda and Musasa (1989)United Republic of Tanzania-6–204150–1001.22.2>80-
van Veluw (1987)Ghana2.510-72--5050
Wilson et al. (1987)Mali2.18.834.469.11.61.0256-
Wilson (1979)Sudan4.510.8740.6902.11.31--

Hatchability is another important parameter in the production characteristics of a village chicken flock. The data obtained in the present study, which ranged from 71 to 78 percent, fall within the range reported in the literature (Table 11). The natural hatching characteristics of village chickens is an attribute that can be used in improving flock productivity. In the Bangladesh semi-scavenging model, local chickens (Dessi) were used to hatch eggs from improved stock as a means of introducing new genetic material (Jensen. 1996).

The importance of the parameters in a village flock can be illustrated in a conceptual model showing expected output of village chicken flocks under two management levels (Table 12). From Table 12, it can be argued that chick losses and egg production are the main determinants of the village chicken flock production systems. The improved management level assumes minimum external input as obtained in Burkina Faso with ND vaccination and helminth control (Bourzat and Saunders, 1990). The predicted high output of mature chickens reflects the magnitude of the losses resulting from low egg production and bird losses.


The literature review in Chapter 2 shows that the low genetic potential of the village chickens was the priority constraint addressed by the early rural poultry improvement programmes. Major research and development efforts concentrated on introducing exotic genes into the local population to increase growth and egg production. However, there have not been major changes in the production levels of village chickens as a result of the cross-breeding programmes. Safalaoh (1997) noted that an indigenous improvement programme that introduced the Black Australop breed showed no impact on the village chicken production systems of Malawi. Rural poultry genetic improvement programmes in a number of African countries did not achieve sustainable improvements, and this has been attributed to various factors: operational and financial problems of state-owned farms or stations maintaining the parent stocks, which resulted in failure to deliver the pullets as planned (Minga et al., 1989; Kaiser, 1990); inability to maintain higher management level of improved stock in the villages (Adegbola, 1988); lack of adequate extension support (Kaiser, 1990); and inadequate or poor institutional and organizational support (Kaiser, 1990).

Hen production characteristics in village chickens in Zimbabwe

Production losses in a village chicken flock at two management levels (ten mature hens)
Production characteristicTraditional managementaImproved managementb
Eggs laid per hen9–1515–18
Total number of eggs laid15–2575–90
Chicks hatched9–1545–54
Chicks raised to six weeks4–631–38
Mature chickens1.8–2.724–30
Estimated harvested eggs3–515–18

a Traditional management based on production levels observed in the present study;17% of mature hens in lay, 60% chick mortality and 45% grower mortality.
b Improved management based on increased proportion of mature hens in lay 50%reduced chick mortality (30%) and grower mortality (20%).

The rural poultry genetic improvement programmes aimed at increasing output per animal. However, recent development-based studies, which involved farmer participation and evaluation of earlier programmes, have shown that raising the management level of the village chickens forms the basis of improvement (Bessei, 1988). In the guidelines for inclusion of household poultry in FAO's SPFS, the following order of priority with a background of technical and management skill development was proposed: Newcastle disease control, feeding systems and management, followed by technical improvement. Figure 14 shows the causal factors of low production in village chicken production systems, based on the farming systems research concept of problem analysis. Figure 15 shows the interactive nature of the different causal factors. Low egg production is a result of inadequate feeding, as well as disease. The problem of low managerial skills features in all production constraints. The interactive nature of village chicken production limits success in single-discipline interventions. From the farmers' perspective, diseases ranked highest among the production constraints.


The problem of diseases in village chickens is compounded by the interactions of different entities that are of significant importance to disease epidemiology (Figure 15). At the village level, contacts between flocks of different households, the exchange of birds as gifts or entrusting, sales and purchases are the main sources of infection transmission. Similarly, other domestic fowls and wild birds form another source of infection, because the chickens roam freely in the villages. Pandey (1993), describing the epidemiology and economics of village poultry production in Africa, suggests the need to develop appropriate epidemiological techniques for village poultry, because of the nature of the host-pathogen-environment interaction in village chickens. The complex nature of disease epidemiology in village chickens is found both in epizootic as well as in enzootic diseases (Pandey, Demey and Verhulst, 1993). The high helminth burden in village chicken flocks has been attributed to the scavenging diet that includes some of the hosts such as worms and snails (Pandey, Demey and Verhulst, 1993).

Problem analysis tree: high chick losses in a village chicken flock


Among the diseases of village chickens, ND was ranked as the most important disease. Table 13 shows the various ND interventions supported by various national and international agencies. There have been no conclusive studies on the most cost-effective vaccine for control of ND in village chickens. In the Gambia, more than three vaccines had been tested independently, and the interviews held in the present study showed that the farmers did not know the advantages or disadvantages of the different vaccines. In a competitive market, it would be expected that producers will pick the most cost-effective vaccine from the market. However, the village chicken production systems, which are mostly at subsistence level, need policy direction and coordination.

Village chicken production system: entities of importance in disease epidemiology


Table 14 shows the cost of ND vaccines in the case study countries. Rushton (1996a) estimated the cost of ND vaccination as 1.28 percent and 19.28 percent of the monthly income derived from an average flock in Ethiopia and the Gambia, respectively. The lower vaccination cost as a proportion of income in Ethiopia is a result of the higher income derived from an average flock in Ethiopia (approximately US$6) relative to that in the Gambia (approximately US$1). In Madagascar, in the project TCP/MAG/4555, “Support to rural women's groups in rural poultry development”, the cost of ND vaccination was found to be 10 percent of the total cost of a rural poultry farm (E. Gurne-Bleich, personal communication). Ita-New vaccine was used in Madagascar, given as a bivalent of ND and cholera. In the United Republic of Tanzania the cost for 1 000 doses of La Sota vaccine is US$4.1.

With good organization the vaccination costs are affordable, because the cost of 100 doses of the vaccines is less than that of mature chickens (Table 14). In the United Republic of Tanzania, ten farmers in Ukonga village share the cost of the vaccine and vaccinate their flocks of 30 to 40 birds yearly. Such farmer efforts should be complemented by an operational vaccine quality control system. A national and international intervention would be appropriate in this area.

Table 14 shows that the V4 vaccine is the cheapest among the vaccines in use in these countries. V4 vaccine is more cost effective where oral administration can be used. Although this vaccine could be a future breakthrough for ND vaccination in village chickens, the preliminary results in the case study countries show that there is need for more research and development on various aspects of the handling and administration of the vaccine.

Finally, community participation is required for successful ND vaccination programmes, with a need for a change of attitude and research methodologies to incorporate on-farm research techniques in ND research and control programmes.

Agencies working on Newcastle disease control in village chickens in Africa
AgencyCountriesVaccinesNature of programme
FAO (projects TCP/RAF/2376 and TCP/ZIM/4453)Ethiopia, Gambia, United Republic of Tanzania, ZimbabweV4Technical assistance
FAO (project TCP/MAG/4555)MadagascarIta-New (injectable oily inactivated vaccine)Poultry development project
Vétérinaires sans frontièresSenegal, Gambia, Burkina Faso, TogoPestaviform, HB1, V4Emphasis on training
Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)Mozambique, United Republic of Tanzania, ZambiaV4Village vaccination trials
Vet AidBotswana, Mozambique, MalawiLasota (seeking clearance for using V4 and I2)Rural development activity
German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) through Malawi German Basic Animal Health Service ProjectMalawiV4, NewcavacVillage vaccination trials

Prices of Newcastle disease vaccines
CountryVaccine and sourceCost per 100 doses (US$)Cost of 100 doses of vaccine compared with price of mature chicken (%)
EthiopiaB1 (NVI, Ethiopia)0.80.44
 La Sota (NVI, Ethiopia)0.80.44
 B1 (Solvay Animal Health, UK)0.160.08
 V4 (South African Cynamid, SA)0.34–0.410.18–0.23
GambiaUnspecified (France)2.71.93
 B1 (Solvay Animal Health, UK)0.160.11
 V4 (South African Cynamid, SA)0.34–0.410.24–0.29
United Republic of TanzaniaLa Sota (source unspecified)0.410.1

Source: Rushton, 1996a.


Project TCP/RAF/2376, “Assistance to rural women in protecting their chicken flocks from Newcastle disease”, project TCP/ETH/4455, “Training in rural poultry development ”and the present study focus on women. In the Gambia, the UNDP rural development programme also focuses on women. In the literature, there are a number of rural improvement programmes where the poultry component targeted women (Date-Bah, 1985; Bhatti, 1987; Achiempong, 1992; Aboul-Ella, 1992; Ngongi, 1996). The 19th World Poultry Congress (Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 1992) and the 20th World Poultry Congress (New Delhi, India, 1996) had special sessions on women in poultry. The major theme of the African Network for Rural Poultry Development (ANRPD) workshop sponsored by FAO in 1995 was empowering women through smallholder rural poultry production.

In the literature review, several assumptions are made about the involvement of women in rural poultry projects: helping women to increase rural poultry production increases women's income and thus empowers them; an increase in food production as a result of increased rural poultry production increases equitable distribution of food in the household; village chickens are easily managed within homesteads, and are therefore appropriate development projects for women; women are more resourceful in managing village chickens, and therefore their involvement in development programmes increases production efficiency.

The findings from the present study show that these assumptions cannot be validated simply by targeting women. Ownership of village chickens and access to the benefits are not exclusively the domain of women. A gender component in the projects is required to identify factors of production and access to benefits accrued for development and technology transfer (Paris, 1994).

Gender-based constraints: needs and opportunities in village chicken production systems
Low women's participation in information exchangeGender sensitization for more women's participation in formal discussionsComplement modern and indigenous technology
 Increased access to information, use of visual aids where there are problems of literacyRaise awareness of potential of village chickens to increase household food security and household economies
 Training programmes that include women 
Time constraint in chick management during peak labour periodsIntroduction of labour-saving technologiesReduce chick losses
 Introduction of skills on chick management, e.g. use of locally made cratesReduce women's work drudgery
Low scale of production limiting access to inputs and marketsIntroduction of farmers' groups or associationsEmpower women and increase gender equity
 Facilitation of financial services at village level (credit and savings clubs) 
Poor marketing systemImprovements in infrastructure and transport servicesIncrease demand for chicken products and promote production

As Bradley (1996) noted, by excluding poultry production activities from other agricultural production and economic activities, the benefits for women cannot be fully realized. Explicit integration of women's concerns in the production system allows for a broader perspective in analysing needs and opportunities.

Table 15 describes the gender-based constraints in village chicken production needs and possible opportunities. The lack of participation of women in formal meetings, as observed in Ethiopia, could be due to cultural factors or the scheduling of meetings. Alders (1997) pointed out the key issues that have to be considered in order to ensure the participation of women in formal meetings. The choice of the venue of the meeting, the time of day and the duration of the meetings have a bearing on women's participation. An activity calendar could be used to schedule meetings that would allow women to participate. This scheduling gives NGOs an advantage over the governmental institutions in involving women in development activities, because NGOs are flexible in visiting times, while the government institutions follow a rigid schedule.

Apart from the time constraint for women to participate in meetings, women are also challenged because of the nature of their calendar of activities, which reflects the interactive nature of the subsystems of a rural farming system. Labour-saving skills in crop production would allow more time to care for chicks and reduce chick losses, as described by the farmers in the Gambia.

Without the incorporation of gender analysis in village chicken production programmes, there is an assumption that access to and control of resources and benefits accrued to household members are equal.

Finally, as Alders (1997) observed, involvement of women in rural poultry could have either a negative or a positive impact on gender equity. Involvement of women in rural poultry simply because chickens are small animals or because it is a donor demand does not guarantee a positive impact on gender equity. However, involvement of women on the basis of better use of human resources and accrued benefits would likely lead to a positive impact on gender equity.


A multifaceted approach is required for successful development and the adoption of improvement technologies for village chicken production systems in Africa. Where development assistance to rural poultry is accompanied by strong institutional support, the long-term effects of the assistance are promising. The Bangladesh rural improvement programme “Integration model for the semi-scavenging systems” is cited as a successful programme on rural poultry improvement (Saleque and Mustafa, 1996). The Bangladesh model targeted exclusively landless women and involved these women in the chain of activities of vaccination, hatchery operation, chick rearing and feed selling, as well as in the production of hatching and table eggs for the market. Credit services and marketing aspects also formed part of the model. The success of the Bangladesh model has created interest among those involved in rural development in other developing countries.

In Ethiopia, FAO project TCP/ET/4555 included a component on training for women and group formation for institutional and organizational support. Success in these activities, especially in group formation, was poor because of the bad experience of farmer groups and associations formed under the former centrally planned state (Swan, 1996). A successful women's group formation programme in Ethiopia was reported by Peacock et al. (1994) under a project on goats and women supported by Farm Africa. The lessons from this project that could be used in supporting similar activities in village chicken production systems are: to use the local community to identify the project beneficiaries; to manage the credit system at village level and use payment-in-kind as a means of loan repayment; to use women's veterinary auxiliaries in poultry health programmes; to use simple extension messages; and to emphasize the importance of participatory skills in developing a farmer-researcher-extensionist collaborative working mode.

In the United Republic of Tanzania, rural groups and organizations have been used as the main development strategy for alleviation of poverty and the creation of equitable growth in rural areas. Formal rural cooperatives in the United Republic of Tanzania were introduced during the 1920s. There have been various changes in management of the cooperatives as a result of major government policy changes. Recently, the power of cooperative members has increased and there has been more concern about involving women. In addition, both women's and integrated cooperatives and groups have formed (Msongazila, 1994). According to Meghji (1985), the following lessons can be learned from the United Republic of Tanzania's experiences, particularly in women's involvement in cooperatives and credit schemes:

Zimbabwe is another country with a long tradition of rural institutional and organizational services. The first rural savings club in Zimbabwe dates back to 1963, although the clubs started as credit unions (Chimedza, 1985). Backyard poultry production under semi-intensive production systems has been undertaken through the support of savings clubs.

Identification of areas in the village chicken production system that require the most institutional and organizational support would enhance the adoption of methodologies used in other production systems. Input supply and distribution and product utilization are probably the key areas because of the small scale of production involved at the household flock level.

Supply and distribution of veterinary drugs and vaccines is currently the main area that requires institutional and organizational support in village chicken production systems. The poor infrastructure and the small economies of scale do not attract private investment. Supply of veterinary drugs and vaccines requires support because most of the inputs, particularly the vaccines, come in doses higher than the size of the local flocks. Group formation and credit services are therefore required in this area. Local needs, aspirations and skills and cultural, socio-economic and policy issues should be critically analysed in introducing such support services. Experiences from the goats and women project in Ethiopia (Peacock et al., 1994) and those from the People's Participation Programme in Rushinga, Zimbabwe (FAO, 1993) could be tested in the village chicken production system.

Product utilization and marketing is the other key area requiring support. Egg and chicken consumption levels in rural households are low. Results from project TCP/RAF/2376 (Rushton, 1996b) show that average household consumption levels were one chicken and eight eggs per month in Ethiopia. Consumption levels reported in the Gambia from the same project were much lower than those in Ethiopia, with one chicken in two months and a negligible consumption of eggs. The higher rates observed in Ethiopia could result from higher utilization of chicken products in traditional meals. In Ethiopia, traditional meals include egg sauce (Yenqulal we't), fried chicken (Yedoro t'ibs) and chicken stew (Doro we't). Doro we't uses both eggs and chicken meat and is a popular dish served on special occasions. This could account for the higher consumption rates of both chicken meat and eggs. In Tanzanian towns, the consumption of charcoal-grilled meat (Nyama choma), predominantly chicken and goat meat, is increasingly popular. In rural areas in Asia, significant improvements in the production of value-added products, such as chicken meat loaves. gizzard pickles, pickled meat, pickled eggs and chicken nuggets are reported (Sherikar, 1996). Nevertheless, there is still a need, especially in Africa, for vigorous promotion of the consumption of chicken meat, eggs and chicken-derived products among rural communities. Various chicken product preparation methods, either from traditional dishes or introduced dishes, or use of eggs in producing snack foods could be included in training sessions, particularly where women's groups are involved.

Marketing is another aspect that requires institutional and organizational support. The marketing intervention introduced in the WID project in the Gambia, where specific field days were arranged for women to sell the chickens was welcomed by the farmers. Institutional support offered in marketing could be used to create employment for youths in rural areas. Figure 16 identifies the marketing channels of village chickens in the United Republic of Tanzania. Institutional and organizational support in marketing village chickens would include assistance with feeding, housing and disease control between the different marketing points.

Marketing channel of village chickens in central United Republic of Tanzania


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