By Leigh Brownhill, Zipporah Bukania, Kimberly Bothi, Erick Mungube, Lutta Muhammad and Esther Njuguna
Research shows that indigenous chicken are a strategic component of building resilience in semi-arid Kenya. Kenyan and Canadian experts and a network of hundreds of farmer groups improved poultry management as part of research to adapt to climate change. Fifty-four primary farmer groups (comprising 755 women and 498 men) are experimenting with 14 resilience-enhancing technologies, including poultry management. The overall goal is to diversify farming systems and transfer knowledge to more than 5,600 men and women farmers in 133 other secondary groups. Farmers have also formed 18 marketing groups (716 men and 1,007 women) to negotiate better prices. For example, farmers obtained up to 75% more than the average price for bulk poultry purchases.
Chronic hunger and malnutrition afflict families across eastern Kenya. Stunting in children, strongly associated with malnutrition, is more prevalent (42%) in this region than anywhere else in the country. These challenges are compounded by very limited adoption of improved farming practices and technologies. Women have been particularly reluctant to adopt new farming techniques and new seed varieties, often lacking the resources or decision-making power to take such choices. Their low adoption rates also arise from long- standing gender biases in research, extension, development and policy. Too often, researchers have concentrated on crops, livestock and enterprises which lie within men’s control, or are just not prioritized by farmers.
To address low levels of adoption, and to build on high degrees of community engagement, a team of Kenyan and Canadian researchers has been engaged in a farmer-led action research project since 2011, working with smallholder farmers (54 groups) in Makueni, Machakos and Tharaka-Nithi counties. Group members prioritized the farming practices they wanted the research to address. Women, in particular, selected improvement of poultry management as a priority means of strengthening livelihoods in the face of climate change. Farmers (37 women, 24 men) were then trained to serve their communities as providers of poultry-related information and services, including vaccination. The training aimed to build networks of trainees to support the implementation of husbandry and group marketing practices on a larger scale.
- Increased productivity - Trained farmers were given a starter flock in order to test, evaluate and demonstrate the husbandry practices they had learned. Among these farmers, flocks have tripled in size, on average, in six months. Some flocks have increased even more impressively. Tabitha Mulewa Benson started 2013 with four birds; by the end of the year she had 100, whose feed she supplements with home-grown grain
- More and better food for women and children - increased flock sizes mean increased availability of meat and eggs. As eggs are laid year- round, farming households have a stable supply of food and income. Eggs are particularly valued for children’s nutrition
- Greater income from higher-value local trade - After training, farmers formed 18 groups focused on collective marketing, with each group prioritizing chicken as one of their three focus commodities. Groups have been able to bulk their products in order to negotiate sales with buyers. One marketing group in Katangi has managed to negotiate a bulk price for its chickens much above the average price given to individual chicken farmers
- Improved poultry health - farmer-led research has prompted increased adoption of improved poultry management practices, including vaccination. Vaccination has increased bird survival rates not only within the flocks of the trainees, but also those of farmers reached through the learning and knowledge networks the trainees have built. A sample group of 31 trainees, male and female, vaccinated more than 18,000 chickens over a six month period in 2013. In Kavati village, Makueni, farmers whose flocks were vaccinated achieved a near 100% survival rate despite an outbreak of Newcastle disease in the area. Neighbors who didn’t vaccinate lost 75%-100% of their birds
- Strengthened farmer knowledge networks - the project piloted a group and network-based method of disseminating information and technologies, and putting food security research into practice. In addition to helping farmers to share knowledge, this method facilitates women’s access to, and participation in, agricultural decision- making