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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Poultry Promise

Air Date: Week of

Chance Christine now has eggs, chicken and cash. She keeps seventy hens in a backyard coop. (Photo: Beth Hoffman)

Generations of experts have dedicated their careers to finding ways to make sure children around the world have enough to eat. As Beth Hoffman reports from Uganda, some are turning to an overlooked bird to provide food and income.


YOUNG: And now for a more hopeful story from Congo’s neighbor to the east, Uganda. In Uganda, as in much of Africa, many women work as farmers, and many of them are very poor. Women often don't own the land they farm, and can’t get loans to buy high quality seeds. In East Africa, there's a movement to help women farmers with a low-tech solution that could help them build a nice little nest egg. Beth Hoffman reports from Uganda.


HOFFMAN: Bhoma looks like a typical town in Uganda. The land is green and rolling, the roads dirt and the buildings made of mud plaster. Tiny shops line the road, selling salt, biscuits and eggs, while barefoot kids run and play.


HOFFMAN: And like most places in Africa, Bhoma has chickens, scavenging around town. But here, chickens also mean business.

CHRISTINE: This is the mash.

HOFFMAN: This is mash. 24-year-old mother and entrepreneur Chance Christine dips a blue plastic bowl into the store-bought feed she calls mash – a mix of corn and vitamins. Holding her crying, coughing 14-month old in one arm, she unlatches the door to the chicken coop.


HOFFMAN: Inside are about seventy small, brown hens ready for their breakfast. They dash to the feed leaving their precious eggs behind. Christine holds one egg up to her ear and gently shakes it to see if it's fresh and unfertilized.


VOICEOVER: I shake it and if nothing moves, the egg is good. If something moves inside, then the egg is not good.

HOFFMAN: It’s the most mundane of scenes – smelly chickens, crying babies – but these chickens are perhaps Christine's best chance to get her family out of poverty.


VOICEOVER: Before the chickens I was selling porridge by the roadside. We didn’t have enough to eat, and we couldn’t buy clothing for the three boys. We didn’t have enough mattresses.

HOFFMAN: So, with help from a local group…


VOICEOVER: We took out a loan.

HOFFMAN: And started a chicken business…


VOICEOVER: There was nowhere to buy eggs and people were coming past here going to the neighboring town to buy them. So we started raising chickens to cater to the community, and because they help my family.


MUGISHA: If we want to help women and children, I think investing in local chicken is very, very important. HOFFMAN: Anthony Mugisha sits behind a large wooden desk in his office at Makerere University in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. Mugisha is a Professor of Animal Health and Social Economics, and works with the FAO – the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Chance Christine now has eggs, chicken and cash. She keeps seventy hens in a backyard coop. (Photo: Beth Hoffman)

MUGISHA: To sell a cow it takes big decision; it’s a big animal. But if you need salt, you need paraffin, you need soap – just pick one chicken and sell it in the market and get money. It solves immediate problems. When people talk of food security, they think of crops – but you can find there are some households where they have enough food – they’ve got bananas, they’ve got maize – but the children are undernourished because they are not getting the balanced diet of animal protein.

HOFFMAN: And there are other reasons why raising chickens in Africa makes good sense. For one, as the population increases, available land decreases – yet farmers don’t need a lot of land to raise chickens. Grazing cattle in a changing climate is also unpredictable – but chickens can cope with drought and flood far better than cows. Chickens also turn grains into high value protein, fast. And for women farmers, chickens are socially acceptable to own and sell – without asking a man's permission.


HOFFMAN: But perhaps most important, unlike growing cash crops or milking dairy cows, poultry doesn’t mean a lot of extra work for already overburdened women.



VOICEOVER: I take care of a household of sixteen people. Some are my biological children; others are orphans and grandchildren whose parents have died.

HOFFMAN: Clementia Nakate is a tall and lean 55-year-old woman who lives in the Rakai District of southwestern Uganda. She lost her husband in 1999 to AIDS, and like many women in the area, she now cares for grandchildren and orphans, even though she too is HIV positive.


VOICEOVER: When my husband died, I received counseling – to deal with the bad memories of his death. But CIDI also supported me to get into poultry farming.

HOFFMAN: CIDI – the Community Integrated Development Initiative – is just one of many grass roots NGOs across Africa working to promote poultry farming for women’s empowerment. Tanzania, South Africa, Ethiopia, even Bangladesh – have all adopted similar programs. They also encourage women like Nakate to form farmer cooperatives.


VOICEOVER: Our group is mainly made up of widows – we share and counsel together, and they help me to be emotionally well. We also visit each other during the month to share ideas on how to improve our lives and our chicken farming.


KIGULA: Chicken is part of me. I sleep chicken, I walk chicken. I love chicken, I eat chicken

HOFFMAN: That's Dan Kigula. He's an extension agent, really a poultry proselytizer for CIDI in this part of Uganda. Village women call him Mr. Chicken.

KIGULA: They call me Kigula Chicken. Kigula Encoco. And I’m proud of that.

HOFFMAN: Kigula is excited about chickens because they changed his life too.

KIGULA: You put money in chicken. You get chickens to eat, you get chickens to sell. You get eggs to eat, you get eggs to sell. Another thing that I get fertilizers – the droppings, they have a lot of nitrogen. Then you take them in the garden, and you harvest – you get money.

HOFFMAN: Of course, raising chickens is not a miracle cure. Fast spreading diseases like Newcastle can wipe out whole flocks. The cost of commercial feed keeps rising and good markets can be hard to find. And so women adapt and innovate. Nakate decided to raise only local chicken breeds, which require less costly feed. And Chance Christine has found a way to tap into the tourist trade.


HOFFMAN: She approached lodges in nearby Bwindi, where Europeans and Americans come to track gorillas.


VOICEOVER: I only brought five trays today, but I will bring five more on Thursday.

HOFFMAN: At more than three dollars a tray, she can make about 90 dollars a month delivering eggs to this lodge alone. That covers the cost of feed. It will also cover the cost of school for her children, a luxury her parents could not afford for her just twelve years ago.

CHRISTINE: My parents they were living in poverty…

VOICEOVER: My parents were living in poverty and they failed to get the money for me to study. They couldn’t pay the school fees.

HOFFMAN: With chickens, Christine and other women of this region hope that reality is a thing of the past. For Living on Earth, I’m Beth Hoffman in Uganda.




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