Poultry powered progress for the poor

December 3, 2013

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In the village of Waterloo, two hours outside of central Freetown, Sierra Leone, I recently met with poultry rearers, participating in BRAC’s backyard poultry and kitchen garden project in partnership with the UK aid organization, DFID.

Chickens being reared by the poor as part of a program to boost livelihoods for women in rural Sierra Leone. (Photo: BRAC/Rod Dubitsky)

Chickens being reared by the poor as part of a program to boost livelihoods for women in rural Sierra Leone. (Photo: BRAC/Rod Dubitsky)

In the village of Waterloo, two hours outside of central Freetown, Sierra Leone, I recently met with poultry rearers, participating in BRAC’s backyard poultry and kitchen garden project in partnership with the UK aid organization, DFID. The project focuses on income generation and nutrition. This project is included in BRAC’s Impact Grant (BIG) series of grants where grant partners require BRAC to mobilize additional funds as a condition to release partner grant funds.

The conversation with the rearers started the same: tell us your chicken count. How many do you have, sold, consumed, died and so forth? Language and numeracy presented some challenges in communicating the chicken count trajectory, but detailed logs the rearers maintained clarified the chicken accounting dynamics. Notwithstanding early selling and poultry mortality challenges, the rearers managed to maintain or increase their chicken inventory. From the initial 22, the three women reported a current bird count of 22, 26 and 35 – amount depending length in the program, hatchings, deaths, sales and consumption.

Though mortality was a challenge, the women followed the prescribed regimen of medicine, including vitamins, eye-drops, vaccines and antibiotics. In addition to the basics of chicken health, BRAC’s training included innovative rearing systems such as semi-scavenging indigenous rearing, which reduces poultry mortality, by helping protect poultry from predators and disease.

Reviewing a poultry accounting logbook with BRAC clients in Sierra Leone. (Photo: BRAC/Rod Dubitsky)

Reviewing a poultry accounting logbook with BRAC clients in Sierra Leone. (Photo: BRAC/Rod Dubitsky)

On the debit side of the chicken balance sheet are sales, deaths and consumption. The rearers’ families consumed some eggs, which is a crucial part of the nutrition training. While selling the chickens generates much needed income, BRAC’s training teaches the women to consider both immediate cash needs and long term goals to maximize income. Many of the rearers are used to selling as the need arises; viewing sales with a long-term eye towards wealth building and market conditions requires some amount of training and reorientation. One rearer indicated that the sales were needed to cover school-related expenses.

Each chicken sells for around 25,000 Leones or about $6. The rearer who had been in the program longest earned around $60 in the seven months since joining the program. The women know both the trader prices and what’s happening in the market and so felt confident that they were getting a good price. We didn’t encounter stories about ruthless middlemen paying them below market prices – a function of the program’s training and general business savvy of the women.

Another important element of poultry rearing is getting affordable, quality feed (which is more than 50 percent of the cost of running a rearing business). One rearer described feed preparation process, ingredients including oyster shell, bulgur and fish meal. The program training includes best feed preparation practices.

Despite achievements, the program presents many challenges including disease protection, veterinary services, sourcing feed and other inputs, and logistical issues such as maintaining the vaccine cold chain.  Another challenge faced by one beneficiary was theft; to cope, BRAC helped her change the chicken shed door to reinforced steel.

While visiting the field provides a powerful sense of operational reality on the ground, impact reports provide the detail one can’t obtain on a brief field visit. A recent annual report illustrates the program’s successes and challenges. The findings noted significant increase in income as well as an improvement in nutrition – for example, the percentage of households consuming nutrient-rich food increased from 42 percent to 49 percent.

I think it’s important to understand progress from both sides – field visits, combined with rigorous impact reporting are key bookends to understanding a program’s effectiveness.

Some of the women in BRAC Sierra Leone's program to boost livelihoods for rural women in Sierra Leone through enhanced poultry production. (Photo: Rod Dubitsky)

Some of the women in BRAC Sierra Leone’s program to boost livelihoods for rural women in Sierra Leone through enhanced poultry production. (Photo: Rod Dubitsky)

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