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Supporting Health and Livelihoods: Smallholder Poultry

By Dr. Fikrejesus Amahazion

During the past several months, a number of important development-related activities have been conducted across Eritrea. These include, for instance, projects related to roads, dams, construction, and sanitation, among others. One particular development-related initiative that has continued to plug along in recent times, albeit remaining relatively less discussed, has been poultry distribution. Specifically, throughout different regions of the country, the Ministry of Agriculture, in cooperation with local administrators and community leaders, has been distributing chicks to individuals and households.

To date, as a part of the ongoing poultry distribution initiative, tens of thousands of chicks have been distributed to thousands of individuals and households. The overall goal of the current initiative is to distribute a total of about one million chicks to approximately 35-40,000 individuals and households in all parts of the country. (Since independence, approximately 50 million chicks have been distributed to around five million households.)

Importantly, the distribution of chicks is just one small part of a broader system of different agriculture, health, finance, and social support packages that can also include cash transfers, donations of materials, equipment or tools, and other resources, and enrolment in educational workshops, seminars, or technical training programs. Of note, those individuals and households who receive chicks are often able to access technical information and general support in order to strengthen their management skills and improve housing, breeding, feeding and raising practices. Collectively, all of these can help lead to significant increases in productivity and promote positive long-term outcomes. Moreover, access to and support with vaccinations for chicks is also made available, thus helping to prevent diseases and reduce the mortality of chickens.

As I have previously noted on several occasions, I always find reports and updates about these types of development-related projects and initiatives in our country to not only be informative and enlightening, but also extremely positive and highly encouraging. Contrary to the hasty conclusions of some who, possibly guided by misplaced assumptions or poor general understanding, dismiss such development initiatives as insignificant and inconsequential, the poultry distribution program is actually quite substantive and it certainly matters. In particular, it can positively impact the livelihoods of locals and helps to promote development.

The poultry distribution initiative supports an array of positive socio-economic, health, and gender-related outcomes for individuals and households. All of these, you may recall, form a substantive part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). (The UN SDGs, which are a global set of goals for all countries – low-, middle-, and high-income – to meet by 2030, cover a wide range of development-related matters, such as education, health, gender equality, poverty, and the environment.)

For instance, as with other small livestock, chickens have comparatively low time, investment, care, and management costs or necessities and require relatively few inputs. Ultimately, they can provide a supplementary (or increased) source of income for rural households and low-income individuals with only limited resources, such as land and capital. (Chickens are also advantageous in that they tend to generate quick and frequent returns for owners, while the size of any potential economic loss in the event of predation, theft or disease among the animals is less than with other livestock.) As a result, the poultry distribution initiative taking place across the country can help in addressing SDG 1, which aims to end poverty in all its forms everywhere.

In addition, the nationwide initiative aims to reach women and poor or vulnerable individuals or families. In the process, not only are these groups provided opportunities for increased incomes, they are also able to exercise greater agency, have expanded decision-making capacity, and be more socio-economically empowered. Overall, then, the poultry distribution scheme is also a means to help address SDG 5, which focuses on advancing gender equality and supporting women with equal rights to economic resources, as well as SDG 10, which focuses on reducing inequality within countries.

It is worth noting here that by focusing on rural populations, the poultry distribution scheme serves as an embodiment of the key principle “leave no one behind”. Generally, discussions of development or developing countries tend to overwhelmingly focus on national capitals or urban areas, while attention is frequently restricted to large, flashy infrastructure projects. At the same time, rural areas and populations get overlooked, despite the fact that they are an integral part of our societies, and possess great potential to significantly contribute to national economies. By extending support and assistance to these populations, the poultry distribution scheme is helping to ensure that more people have an opportunity to realize their potential.

Furthermore, the poultry distribution program, along with the increased incomes that it helps to generate for the beneficiaries, can also play a positive role in promoting wellness and improving overall health.

Specifically, this can be realized through improving nutrition, diversifying limited or restricted diets, and increasing intake. (Although the recommended intake of calories per day depends on several factors, such as sex, physical activity, etc., calories are essential for health and survival. Meanwhile, chicken and eggs, which become integrated in regular diets through the poultry distribution scheme, are highly nutritious and excellent sources of quality protein. Proteins are “the building blocks of life” and important for growth, repair, and development, while eggs also provide essential fatty acids, choline, vitamins A and B12, selenium, and other critical nutrients.) In reference to the SDG’s that may be applicable in considering these various food-and nutrition-related outcomes are SDG 2, which aims to eradicate hunger and achieve food security, as well as SDG 3, which focuses on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.

As a final point, the poultry distribution initiative, which is a tremendous source of support in normal times, has assumed even greater significance at the moment due to the array of difficulties that have arisen through the global COVID-19 pandemic. With the crisis leading to unprecedented health, economic, and social challenges for individuals, households, and communities, the continued activities of the poultry distribution scheme are especially vital.

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