Indigenous chicken rearing has been a viable way of getting women, in rural areas out of poverty. Homes across the country have a few chickens, but they do not utilise their production well as a pathway to lift small-holder farmers, especially women, out of poverty. Now a research study implemented to enhance the delivery and distribution system of a Gender Inclusive Vaccine Ecosystem (GIVE) for Newcastle disease among smallholder women farmers, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), in collaboration with the University of Nairobi (UoN) and the Cooperative University of Kenya (CUK), has been implementing a four-year vaccine research study that is helping Women move from the lower socioeconomic ladder to the upper socioeconomic ladder.
Professor Salome Bukachi, a lecturer and an associate professor at the Institute of Anthropology, Gender, and African Studies of the University of Nairobi and the Principal Investigator of the GIVE project funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), says many women have chicken but are not using them to build themselves or even empower themselves. She noted that, as opposed to cows, women have more decision-making and control over the chicken and thus the reason for the study is to empower them. Prof. Bukachi further explained that they chose Makueni County because it is one of the leading counties where indigenous chicken production is high.
“The total chicken population in Makueni County is over 1.2 million; 94 per cent of them are indigenous and kept by around 65 per cent of households, with each having an average of around 30 to 50 birds”, she said.
The earnings from poultry in the county were estimated at Sh7 billion in 2020, although the productivity is low at 30 per cent against a potential of 70 per cent. This, according to Prof. Bukachi, is because of Newcastle disease, which is the most significant constraint to chicken productivity and is endemic with frequent outbreaks throughout the year.
“There are a lot of diseases that impact the productivity of chicken, and one of them is the Newcastle disease, which wipes out chicken all at once, and farmers have to start all over again,” she said.
Prof Bukachi said the disease can easily be prevented if the uptake of the vaccination is improved, which is why the study was first done to find out the barriers to farmers vaccinating their chicken. During the 4-year study, Prof Bukachi noted that the biggest barriers were the low uptake of the vaccine, which stood at 15 per cent; the long distance from agro vets was also to blame as farmers could not access those services; the lack of small dosed vaccine vials as it comes in a package of 100 vials; and also limited knowledge and skills in improved poultry management practises.
Dr Judith Chemuliti, a research officer at Kalro, says Newcastle disease is a significant constraint to chicken production because it causes high mortality, denying farmers the opportunity to earn better incomes and improve their livelihoods.
“Newcastle disease vaccines are available, effective, and easy to use, but most farmers do not vaccinate due to inadequate knowledge and limited access to vaccines”, she explained.
Gender inequity, she emphasised, exists in the vaccine supply chain, with most women being users in the lower node, and thus sustainable access and utilisation of vaccines through collective action will enhance chicken, leading to better incomes and improved nutrition.
Dr Chemuliti, who was also a co-principal investigator of the project, said the research was carried out in Kathonzweni and Kitise wards in Makueni sub-county; Makindu and Kikumbulyu North in Kibwezi West sub-county; and Masongaleni and Mtito-Andei wards in Kibwezi East sub-county. She noted that they were able to test a vaccine delivery model that would supply vaccines sustainably and cost-effectively; they also trained over 626 farmers on chicken husbandry, gender, and group formation; trained 124 community chicken vaccinators, mostly women; and helped establish 4 vaccine storage points and advisory centres that were stocked and would sell vaccines to farmers.
“The outcome saw a 37 per cent increase in chicken vaccination, reached over 253 households with vaccines, vaccinated over 257,609 chickens in a year in 3 rounds, and reduced the mortality of birds by 30 Percent”. Dr Chemuliti noted that the output of the research saw the development of a policy brief, a training manual on how to train community vaccinators, and research publications in peer-reviewed journals that they shared with the County government of Makueni.
Speaking while receiving the documents, Joyce Mutua, the Makueni County Executive Committee (CEC) member for livestock, fisheries, and cooperatives, said Makueni is one of the top five leading counties in poultry production in the country. She explained that there has been an upward uptake of chicken as a value chain, but farmers have been facing the challenge of the Newcastle disease, which has caused huge losses.
“While we have been promoting the poultry value chain as a pathway out of poverty, the challenge of disease outbreaks has remained the main constraint. We are happy with the work done by the team that was doing research, especially on how farmers can access vaccines at the grassroots level”. she said
Mutua noted that the model will work for the county, as they have been providing vaccines from the County headquarters, but now they have centres at the ward level, it will be easier for farmers to access them at scheduled times.
“We are happy with the findings, we can now reduce the cost of storage if we deliver this on scheduled periods. We are going to work on the same models to see how farmers can get the Newcastle vaccines every three months”, she said.
“We want our farmers to increase the number of birds from the current 1.4 million. We are also giving our farmers additional support by distributing day-old chicks to help them increase their birds. We want them to move from 50 chickens per homestead to around 200”, Mutua said.
The CEC further stated that they are in talks with chicken buyers to establish a minimum price in the near future to prevent brokers from taking advantage of the farmers when they sell their chickens.
“When we do our math, minimum prices should see a farmer get a minimum of Sh 600 per bird”, she said, adding that through the South Eastern Kenya Economic (SEKE) Bloc, which brings together Machakos, Makueni, and Kitui counties, are planning on coming up with a marketing authority that will work with farmers and traders to facilitate access to markets for agriculture produce that includes poultry at better prices.
Anna Matheka, a poultry farmer from Kathonzweni who is now vaccinating her chicken after being trained through the project, said that since they were training, her chicken have stopped dying, and she has also increased her numbers. “We used to treat our chicken with traditional medicines, but they continued to die. Once I started vaccination and got the service from my neighbour, who is a community vaccinator, for a minimal fee of Ksh 5 per dose, my production increased”, she said.
Matheka, who is supported by her husband, said she started out with less than 30 birds but now has over 150, and this has not only improved her lifestyle as she sells her chicken at good prices, but she has also upgraded and managed to buy a few goats. The poultry population in Kenya is estimated at 29.6 million birds. Indigenous chickens constitute about 80 percent of this population and are kept by the majority of rural households, where they contribute to food security, income, and social-cultural roles.