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Uganda: Farmers fall foul of exotic chickens

Grace Ogwang Enoka has always kept chickens for meat and eggs, like her family before her. The family raised local breeds of chickens and other poultry for food and for income to buy essential goods.

In 2007, the Ugandan government launched the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund, or NUSAF. One facet of NUSAF was an egg production project. Farmers were encouraged to start keeping exotic chicken, especially layer hens.

Mrs. Ogwang lives in the town of Lira in northern Uganda, 320 kilometres north of Kampala. The 55-year-old mother of eight is a beneficiary of the NUSAF project. Until recently, she kept exotic birds to increase her household income.

Mrs. Ogwang recalls, “After attending a meeting organized by the project officers, I asked for 200 chicks. Many birds died in the first week of their arrival.” She adds, “Taking care of the birds was very demanding.”

Many farmers started keeping exotic layer chickens. As a result, more eggs were supplied to the market. Exotic breeds mature earlier, and often lay more eggs for a longer period of time.

But by the end of the first phase of the project in 2009, the situation had changed. Many farmers did not have the experience to successfully raise exotic chickens. Gradually, over the following years, they became discouraged and abandoned poultry raising.

Mrs. Ogwang says, “I walked out of the project. The demand [on my time] was high. Besides, the veterinary officer would visit our farm irregularly.” Getting quality feeds was another challenge.

Ojok Sam is another farmer who found it difficult to keep up with the program. He says, “The feed for the chickens was very expensive; I could not afford it.”

Many farmers had similar experiences and pulled out of commercial poultry keeping. The supply of eggs dwindled and local markets experienced shortages. Indigenous chicken breeds, which take longer to mature and lay for a shorter period, cannot produce enough eggs to meet market demand.

But the situation is not all bad. Richard Okwir is a poultry farmer in the town of Lira. He successfully manages a flock of exotic birds and sells feeds as a sideline. He says many farmers were put off by past failures and ongoing challenges, and are reluctant to return to commercial poultry. He adds, “As of now, eggs are transported for over 100 miles from Mbale district, in eastern Uganda.”

The drop in local supply has increased the price of a tray of 30 eggs by one-third to 8,500 Ugandan shillings [$3.30 US].

Mr. Okwir is encouraging farmers to take advantage of these high prices. He is trying to build the confidence of northern Ugandan farmers by training them how to farm poultry successfully.

Mr. Okwir has trained local farmers how to make feeds themselves with local ingredients. He says that good quality feeds are important for successfully raising exotic birds and, with a bit of knowledge, farmers can overcome this challenge.