-Professor E. Babafunso Sonaiya


The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) have funded a number of projects, where family poultry played an essential role to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They were aimed at enhancing food security, income generation and women empowerment while respecting traditional knowledge and socio-cultural values. During the past two decades substantial information has been gathered on how to design and implement family poultry projects so that they fit the different production environments and address the specific needs of the family poultry producers. Several networks have also contributed to discussing family poultry development approaches and sharing information and experiences including the International Network for Family Poultry Development (INFPD).

The intensification of poultry production in many countries and the blame put on small scale poultry producers during the avian influenza crisis justified another reflection on the problems and development opportunities of family poultry production. IFAD provided funds for two training programmes and three electronic conferences that were implemented by FAO on behalf of the INFPD. These events provided ample opportunity to discuss the current situation of family poultry production and its development opportunities and constraints. This is to: increase the awareness of decision-makers in governments and donor agencies of the role played by this activity in terms of food security and income generation; support the development of national policies; facilitate better access to services (e.g. training, health, vaccination, credit); fund participatory adaptive research to identify appropriate technologies/models that are pro-poor, sustainable, economically viable and environmentally sound (this includes sharing knowledge generated by farmers); and create opportunities for knowledge sharing.

What is family poultry production?

In all developing countries, many people keep small numbers of poultry for home consumption, occasional sales and various socio-cultural uses. In 1989 the term rural poultry was defined by the participants of a workshop in Africa as “… any genetic stock of poultry (unimproved and/or improved) raised extensively or semi-intensively in relatively small numbers (less than 100 at any given time). There is minimal investment on inputs with most of the inputs generated in the farmstead; labour is not salaried but drawn from the family with production geared essentially towards home consumption or savings.” (Sonaiya, 1990).The term “family poultry” was later created to describe the full variety of all the small-scale poultry production systems that are found in rural, urban and peri-urban areas of developing countries (Sonaiya, 2012). One can distinguish four broad categories of family poultry production systems:

  • Small extensive scavenging
  • Extensive scavenging
  • Semi intensive
  • Small-scale intensive

Conditions and requirements of these systems and the resulting productive performance are quite different from each other. This is a result of the type of genetic resources being used, the feeding of the birds, the prevalence of diseases and their preventionand control, the management of the flocks and the interactionsamong these factors. The availability of inputs and services for production and the opportunities and ways of selling products are affected by the distance of the producer from market places. This is expressed in the relative importance that is given to poultry production for either food security or income generation.

Smallholder family poultry is an integral component of the livelihoods of poor rural households, and is likely to continue to play this role for the foreseeable future (FAO, 2008). The main outputs from family poultry production are food for home consumption either in the form of poultry meat or eggs and income from the sale of these products. Although the output may not be high, a great advantage of family poultry egg production is a frequent, if not daily, provision of nutrients of high biological value which is ideally consumed by the vulnerable members of the household.

In Asia, village poultry manure is used as feed for fish when poultry are raised on top of ponds in an integrated system. Family poultry can also be integrated into crop production rotational systems to avoid the build-up of pathogens and pests. Such integrated systems increase the nutritional diversity of the scavenging feed resource base. There will be a variety of insects, weed seeds, crops and even minerals available for chickens to optimize their growth. Pasture/crop rotation also reduces the build-up of excessive amounts of manure and disease causing pathogens.Poultry also plays important social and cultural roles in the life of rural people, not least for building social relations with other villagers (FAO, 2010).

Family poultry, especially scavenging village poultry, frequently command a higher price in urban markets because they are considered to be free of antibiotic and other residues. Formal mechanisms for certifying these birds as “organic” do not exist in most countries but opportunities for improving branding and marketing are being recognised in an increasing number of countries.

Threats to the role and contribution of family poultry to livelihoods may come from the accelerating pace of urbanization and changing lifestyles preferred by the youths and from climate change. Cooperative activity and micro-financing that promote transformation into a business approach are among the worthwhile option for family poultry to contribute more to livelihoods. Climate change can have an impact on the future availability of the scavengeable feed resource base (SFRB). In order to cope with it, efforts should be directed to find out new feed resources and feeding techniques. So, research that includes studying the possible impacts of climate change on FP production and ways of mitigating its consequences should get momentum in developing countries.

There is potential conflict between family poultry and commercial poultry production systems due to their coexistence at the same locations or supplying into the same market chains. For example, during the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) epidemic, a lot of family poultry birds were destroyed as they were seen as a source of the virus. On the other hand, the high consumer preference for family poultry birds in most countries trims the market for commercial poultry among certain consumers. On the positive side, the advances made in commercial poultry systems benefit family poultry systems while the “green or organic” name of family poultry gives commercial poultry more acceptability. The tension between the two systems may not go away but may be beneficial to both systems

Despite regional differences, it is found that the day-to-day management of the family poultry birds is generally undertaken by women, often with assistance from their children. Men usually assist in the construction of night shelters, the procurement of inputs and sometimes with the marketing of products, but the division of labour may change when poultry production intensifies. Family poultry can be a tool for women empowerment which is most significant when women are vaccinators and poultry advisers which brings them both income for their family and prestige within the community.


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