In a room inside Tafara Fomba’s house, 35 chicks chirp loudly. They cluster around a metal bowl, pecking away at grain. Mr. Fomba speaks with pride of the chicks he raises in the village of Dien, about 130 kilometres from Bamako, the capital of Mali. But he has not always been a poultry farmer.
Since the time of his great-grandparents, farming has been the family’s central activity. Mr. Fomba is married with six children. He now realizes that farming alone cannot support his large family. So, in an effort to make ends meet, he not only grows cotton, sorghum, maize, millet and groundnuts, but also raises chickens.
Since the 1970s, droughts have hit Mali hard. In these conditions, keeping cattle to plow land is too risky. Mr. Fomba remembers that in 1999, he owned oxen and a plough. But he had to sell them when the rains became so erratic that he could no longer make enough money from the crops he sold to afford food and medicines for his family.
That’s why Mr. Fomba now rears poultry. He completed training in poultry farming with the Poultry Development Program in Mali. He was also taught how to treat poultry diseases from a veterinarian in the nearby town of Fana.
Armed with this knowledge, Mr. Fomba started a new enterprise. He was interviewed on Radio Fanakan on a program called The Market Information. He explained his poultry farming operation on the airwaves. He also mentioned that he knew how to treat poultry diseases. Thanks to the radio program, he’s well known in his village and surrounding villages.
His reputation as a poultry healer gives him a larger clientele. He collects 10 FCFA (about two U.S. cents) per head to treat other people’s poultry. In addition, he sells his poultry at a higher price. Mr. Fomba explains that people are willing to pay more because they trust that his poultry are well cared for.
The 35 chicks that Mr. Fomba acquired last January quickly grew into chickens that he plans to sell during the month of May. Depending on their size, Mr. Fomba says he can sell his chickens for 1000 to 3000 FCFA each.
Mr. Fomba dreams of becoming such an expert poultry farmer that he will be able to completely abandon crop farming. It’s simple, he says: raising poultry is much more lucrative and requires less effort. He regrets that the Malian government has not devoted enough funds to develop family-scale poultry farming.
Mr. Fomba says he would like his children to continue to farm. Five of his six children attend school with the money he makes from poultry farming. With his youngest child sitting at his feet, he hopes for a better future for his children, whether or not they choose to farm, so long as they don’t have to struggle to make ends meet.