How owning chickens can be life-changing

29 November 2012

Dr Halifa Mussa Msami (far right) and Professor Robyn Alders (second right) in discussion in Singida District, Tanzania.
Dr Halifa Mussa Msami (far right) and Professor Robyn Alders (second right) in discussion in Singida District, Tanzania.

In Eastern and Southern Africa poultry are owned by 70 to 80 percent of households and many people rely on raising chickens for their daily existence.

Now an ambitious project by the University of Sydney's Faculty of Veterinary Science, in partnership with the federal government, is exploring how family poultry production in Africa can be made more effective to benefit families and the wider community.

"Australians might find it hard to imagine, but in many countries of Africa raising chickens underpins health and financial security," said Associate Professor Robyn Alders, from the Faculty of Veterinary Science, who is leading the research program.

"We believe it has enormous untapped potential so, working with our partners in Tanzania and Zambia, this international five-year project will find out how family poultry production and trade can be strengthened using ecologically sustainable approaches."

Poultry ownership plays a critical role not only in diet but in household income and community relationships. It provides protein and nutrients and is an important source of cash income.

The benefits are especially important to the most vulnerable members of the community such as children, pregnant women and people infected with HIV, and poultry are often the only livestock such families own.

Dr Halifa Mussa Msami, who is currently visiting Australia, is the Tanzanian country coordinator of the program.

"On-the-ground participation and partnership are central to the success of this project including with farmers, traders, government and research institutions," said Dr Msami.

"The role of women and children is fundamental as they are the ones who most often look after family poultry. Increased productivity means that women who own chickens can buy more livestock and diversify. So from selling or bartering chickens they can add goats and cattle to their poultry or pay school fees and buy medicine."

"Poor quality agricultural production such as the misuse of pesticides can result in people getting ill and deciding to avoid eating chickens altogether, with major implications for their health. So the importance of well-regulated, sustainable agriculture is essential."

The program is a research partnership funded by the Australian International Food Security Centre, a federal government initiative dedicated to accelerating the delivery and adoption of agricultural research innovations to improve food security at the smallholder farmer level.

On 29 November the University's Faculty of Veterinary Science is hosting a visit by delegates to an international food security seminar which will focus on food security in Africa. The event will highlight this project and others, including University research programs on methane production and on the impact climate change has on livestock diseases.

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