The proposed CGIAR Livestock-Fish research program will focus all of its initial efforts on developing eight pro-poor value chains in seven countries: aquaculture (Uganda); dairying (Tanzania, India); pigs (Uganda, Vietnam); dual dairy-beef (Nicaragua); and goats/sheep (Mali, Ethiopia). These were identified as commodities holding particular potential in their respective regions for wide benefits to the poor, both as consumers and as producers or other actors employed along the value chain. In the proposal, having a poultry value chain was not considered because “large-scale commercial producers enjoy a competitive advantage for poultry production in most situations” and again offers “a very mixed outcome in terms of opportunities for the resource poor since production rapidly moves to industrial systems.” It therefore did not pass our filter of “opportunity for impact among the resource poor.”
In its review of the proposal, the Consortium Board questioned this reasoning and challenged us by noting that “given the potential role of poultry for resource poor farmers, the CB would like the proponents to provide and explicit justification why they will not work on these issues.” One of their external reviewers suggested that there was a contradiction between our decision to exclude poultry and the example cited in the proposal of how policy in Indonesia to limit the size of poultry farms greatly enhanced the development benefits generated as its poultry sector grew. That reviewer also notes “the agro‐ecological complementarity and potential importance of other poultry, especially ducks.” A second reviewer argued that the shift to industrial systems applies to a limited segment and that:
Poor women, use poultry to raise initial funds and to provide some higher levels of protein for their families. Chickens are sustainable because they continue to produce eggs – one does not have to kill the source to get the protein. Research from Uganda published recently suggests that poor farmers raise fish and pigs to sell and rarely eat their own production while chickens are raised both for income and intake. Perhaps consideration of poultry in a limited fashion in Africa should be reconsidered.
The critical role that poultry plays in the livelihoods of the poor is well established. ILRI was recently involved in a series of studies across several countries examining the livelihood impacts of avian influenza and its control and the results again reinforced this conclusion, including the particular benefits of backyard poultry keeping for women and the young. Recognition of this role is one reason why ILRI has been leading work to characterize and conserve highly diverse indigenous poultry genetic resources across the developing world. Opportunities certainly exist for our research to enhance and protect this livelihood role for the poor.
Our Livestock-Fish proposal, however, is primarily about getting household livestock and fish activities out of extensive, low-input backyard systems for home consumption and occasional sales, and into graduated intensive, higher-input systems to generate a steady supply of animal-source foods for the market and poor consumers, and income for poor producers and other actors in the value chain.
Poultry is an archetypical example of this process – particularly in peri-urban zones throughout the developing world, small-scale layer and broiler operations have been set up to varying degrees of sophistication. These small-scale operations benefit from the development of larger poultry farms that import the exotic breeds particularly suited to intensive high-output production systems. The private sector is usually quick to respond to this opportunity, creating distribution channels for packages of day-old chicks, vaccines, and feeds through agro-vet shops or their equivalent, and often providing the ‘how-to’ knowledge to their clientele.
In one well-known case, the development of small-scale commercial poultry production has been designed and managed in such a way to support very small production units in low-income households, often run by women. The so-called ‘Bangladesh system’ has been highly successful, relying on major NGO involvement to ensure widespread participation and benefits to the poor (*Acamovic et al., 2005). NGOs in Bangladesh, with their particularly strong capacity and large scale, were able to provide the high intensity of organizational capital required; this model, however, has not been replicated at scale elsewhere.
More generally, then, as local and urban demand for poultry increases beyond the capacity of low-input backyard indigenous systems to supply, a proven technological package for layer and broiler production is usually readily provided by the private sector. In many countries, small and medium-scale production units play an important role in developing the poultry sector until economies-of-scale eventually favor large-scale industrial production.
Because the essential technology and its delivery is already available from the private sector, we could not identify any obvious opportunities for the proposed Livestock-Fish program to have significant impact in improving poultry value chains. There may be some argument, given cultural preferences and willingness to pay premium prices for indigenous poultry in many places, for adapting layer and broiler systems on indigenous rather than exotic poultry breeds, as is occurring in Indonesia. This idea has limitations, though, because much of what consumers value in indigenous poultry is that they have been free-ranged, and it will be difficult to retain this key characteristic under intensification. It will certainly still be worth exploring, but at this point its potential would appear limited to a niche market approach without the broader benefits anticipated from the ruminant, pig, and fish value chains targeted under the mega program. Otherwise, it is anticipated that the role of backyard poultry systems will be best addressed within the livelihood objectives of the other CGIAR ‘systems’ research programs (CRP 1).
Now that we have explained our rationale in more detail: Do you agree or disagree with our argument?
Please offer specific examples, especially those that we can reference from the literature, that support your view. If you agree with our assessment, we would appreciate any suggestions that you feel would strengthen or otherwise improve our line of argument. If you disagree, we would equally appreciate any concrete examples you can cite that would demonstrate that research has a critical role to play in developing pro-poor poultry value chains. If we feel the counter-arguments are convincing enough, we will certainly be open to re-considering the role of poultry within the mega program in the medium term.
Footnote: *Acamovic et al., Poultry. In Owen, Kitalyi, Jayasuriya and Smith (eds). 2005. Livestock and wealth creation: improving the husbandry of animals kept by resource-poor people in developing countries. Nottingham University Press. Nottingham. pp. 301-324.