In the first week of January 2020, Social Media was full of pictures showing the effects of flash floods in Mambwe District. Over 50 families were displaced with crops destroyed. A photo, which caught my eye, was the one posted by Mr Antonio Mandala Mwanza (the Patriotic Front Deputy Media Director) on his Facebook page. The pictures show men crossing the floods carrying chickens on one hand and other valuables on the other side. The beautiful image used in this article tells the whole story. During disasters such as floods or fire, we all pick items that are of economic value to us. For these men to carry chickens for whichever reason tells us a lot about the “value of a chicken” among the rural households which account for 61% of the population of Zambia. While in an urban setup, a chicken may not mean much, in most rural households, having chickens may be a determinant at individual household in times of natural disasters such as floods or drought in graduation from poverty and vulnerability to well-being and food security.
In this article, I will discuss the significance of a “village chicken” to the Zambian economy, and how I think this is a missed investment opportunity as I earlier alluded to in my previous article (https://diggers.news/guest-diggers/2019/06/22/village-chicken-rearing-in-zambia-a-hobby-or-business/). Additionally, I will emphasize on the need to strategically develop village chicken as a platform for building economically resilient rural households, fight poverty, build food and nutritional security, engender livestock value chains, and use it as a non-medical mitigation of diseases. Perhaps we start by looking at the statistics on village chickens in Zambia.
The 2017/2019 Census reported that Zambia has 15.4 million village chickens, which are more evenly distributed than any other type of livestock in all the ten provinces of Zambia, with more than 90% of rural household owning a chicken. When you look at the distribution of these 15.4 million chickens, you will agree with me that this is a missed investment opportunity, which can spar economic development if well harnessed. Why do I say so? Here are some reasons why I feel developing village chicken value chain can spar economic development:
1. Engendering livestock value chains: we know that ownership of big livestock such as cattle in our patriarchal societies is often by men, but women mostly own village chickens and other small livestock. Most people will tell you that they had to sell their mother’s chickens in order to pay school fees. This is a type of livestock, which in most rural communities, there is close to zero input in terms of raising these chickens as they are mostly left to scavenge freely. Additionally, the amount of land required to raise chickens compared to other types of livestock is so negligible. You will rarely hear statements like, “I sold my father’s chickens to attain this and that”. What does this mean? It means that if we develop village chicken value chains, we will be economically empowering women through livestock farming. You and I know that if you empower a woman, you empower the whole family. It is also said, “when you educate a woman, you educate the nation”. As a country, we can decide to strategically commercialise village chicken value chain to “empower women and educate the nation”. Schools are opening soon and you will see how many households will sell village chickens as their first option of liquidity to settle pressing financial needs.
2. Equity in distribution of income: Zambia is one of the countries with a high-income inequality, which means that the distribution of income is very uneven. If you look at the types and numbers of livestock in Zambia, 90% of cattle are distributed only in four provinces of Southern, Western, Eastern and Central with the remaining 10% shared among other six provinces. However, chickens are evenly distributed meaning that an investment in village chicken rearing will have far-reaching and widely distributed benefits than any other type of livestock. Commercialising village chicken value chains will be distributing income more evenly, especially among the 61% of the Zambian population, which live in rural areas, and experiencing high poverty levels.
3. Building economically resilient rural households: by resilience, I mean the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Let me give an example of the 2019 drought in Southern Province and how chickens and goats helped rural households to survive the effects of climate change. Rural communities in drought-hit areas in Southern Province have only been able to survive solely due to livestock. The total and extensive crop failure in the province meant that it was exclusively the sale and trade in livestock such chickens and goats that empowered these communities to obtain that bag of maize meal (Unga), soap and send their children to school. This demonstrates the strategic significance of livestock in building economically resilient households and the potential to stimulate domestic economic growth. Another innumerable aspect nevertheless important is the sustenance of cultural and social practices; people in these hard-hit drought-prone areas with chickens, continued to offer gifts of chickens to their valued visitors, and this kept the sense of pride and cultural coherence. Failing to meet such social obligations among the rural communities is classified as being beyond extreme poverty, a factor that keeping chickens have kept in check.
4. Build food and nutritional security: By food and nutritional security, I mean the state of having reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable and nutritious food. Food insecurity is high in Zambia. Village chickens and their eggs are affordable and dependable nutritious foods that the rural households have access. Zambia has more than 40% of undernourished children (UNICEF 2017). This calls for broad participation in remedying the problem of undernourishment. There is no doubt that commercialising village chicken value chain is a potential remedy for
5. Tool for poverty alleviation: A cursory look at poverty in Zambia based on
(https://borgenproject.org/10-facts-about-poverty-in-zambia/) show that 60% of the people live below the poverty line, and 42% are classified as extremely poor. Poverty rates are highest for female-headed households, with extreme poverty levels of more than 60% in rural areas and 15% in urban areas. Its common knowledge that women are more disadvantaged in terms of options for income generation and these female-headed households most of the times keep the majority of orphans and other dependants. The effects of poverty are seen in children’s development. Around 15% of children in Zambia are underweight, and 40% are stunted. Poverty is worst in rural Zambia, where 83% of people live below the poverty line. Looking at these facts, it goes without saying that developing village chicken value chains can go a long way in fighting poverty which is highest in rural areas which hold more than 90% of the 15.4 million village chickens.
6. Non-medical mitigation of diseases: The high burden of the disease makes it difficult for any country to pull itself out of poverty. Good nutrition improves the quality of life, which also gives strength to the body to prevent and fight disease. Improvements in quality of life and the economy can fight poverty. Commercialising Village Chickens value chains improves both quality of life and the economy as earlier demonstrated.
7. Cultural, religious and social acceptability: Of all the different forms of livestock, chicken has been accepted across all religious, cultural and social practices without any taboo or religious restrictions attached to it. It is the only livestock that has gained man’s acceptance globally with its unique bimodal high protein diet as either from eggs or as meat.
Having discussed some reasons why I feel developing village chicken value chain can spar economic development, I recommend that funding to the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock must be strategic. This means that the ministry needs to develop strategies for all the livestock types and their value chains. For instance, we need a strategy for village chicken production, small ruminant production, cattle production, rabbit production, fish production, beef production and their disease control strategies. For a long time in Zambia, livestock production was mainly concentrated on cattle production. Recently, fish production is coming up and has received almost half the 2020 budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, but with little or no production strategies, just like livestock.
After developing the production strategies for all livestock types, we need to prioritise and look at what strategy will spar economic development with fewer resources and allocate more to that type of production, depending on the national economic situation. Why should we have a national strategy for cassava and soya bean production, but operate without respective national livestock development strategies? It is in these strategies where we will highlight how we are going to develop the village chicken value chain. For example, we currently have 15.4 million chickens, which roughly translate to 1 chicken per person, but we can put a deliberate policy to improve this to 5 chickens per person. The livestock policy will provide policy directions, and the plans or strategies will present how to get to the level of 5 or more chickens per person. Once success is recorded in chickens, other forms of poultry such as turkeys, pigeons, ducks, and guinea fowls together with their egg production can be expanded similarly. This will mean the strengthening of both the livestock production and veterinary services provision under field services to attain the required growth. This is what the picture of the men crossing the floods with chickens on their hands is telling all the stakeholders in the livestock industry.
The author is a Senior Lecturer of Livestock/Animal Health Economics at the University of Zambia, School of Veterinary Medicine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Mobile: +260977717258