Millions of people around the world rely on agriculture for their livelihoods but lack the capital, agricultural inputs, technology, training, or market access required to earn a living income. And while livestock is one of agriculture’s fastest-growing subsegments, providing a vital income and savings source in low- and middle-income countries — particularly for women — small-scale producers continue to struggle.
This is in spite of decades of development interventions. In many places, gains made through successful interventions are quickly reversed in a crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Boosting rural incomes, nutrition, and health through agricultural development requires a long-term, systemic approach that simultaneously builds resilience for small-scale producers and the entire value chains they are part of, rather than focusing on emergency solutions or short-term fixes at isolated points in that chain,” said Celeste Hewitt, supply chain lead for Cargill’s animal nutrition business in the Middle East and Africa.
“This calls for investments across the value chain, with flexibility to adapt to different challenges in different places.”
Envisioning an inclusive poultry market
Poultry production offers key advantages for smallholder farmers compared with other agricultural value chains. It allows time for other businesses or tasks and does not require large areas of land. Chickens have a relatively short life cycle, resulting in faster returns on investment, and they produce high-protein eggs that can be sold daily or consumed at home.
This makes poultry farming accessible to women who, in some contexts, may be in charge of the household and have children to care for. Recognized as agents of change in combating poverty, women play a critical role in improving household nutrition. Poultry production is also well established among rural families, ensuring community buy-in. Despite this, many low- and middle-income countries rely on poultry imports.
In the face of powerful cyclones, a suspected avian influenza outbreak, and the pandemic, poultry farmers in India are improving their incomes and nutrition with easily replicable low-cost innovations.
Cargill and Heifer International, through their Hatching Hope initiative, are using a market systems approach to establish the long-term economic viability of poultry production for smallholder producers in Kenya, India, Mexico, Cambodia, and Colombia.
“Leveraging Cargill’s technical expertise and existing supply chains alongside Heifer International’s experience building social capital among smallholder farmers, Hatching Hope aims to close the living income gap for Kenyan producers by 53% in the next three years, contributing to a global goal of improving the nutrition and economic livelihoods of 100 million people by 2030,” said Adesuwa Ifedi, senior vice president of Africa programs at Heifer International.
It will do this through a combination of direct support to farmers and consumer awareness campaigns, strengthening the entire ecosystem in which existing poultry producers operate.
“Through Hatching Hope, we are connecting them with suppliers of quality, affordable inputs and with contracted offtakers and other buyers for the eggs and meat they produce,” Ifedi said. “By offering producers animal health, climate resilience, and water management training, in turn making them more creditworthy, and by boosting demand for meat and eggs, the initiative will help them feed their families and expand their businesses.”
An approach for smallholder inclusion
It’s important to work with the private sector to understand what customers and consumers are asking for and then to determine if smallholder farmers can be competitive in supplying that, Hewitt said.
“Strengthening the ecosystem in this way ensures that interventions continue to thrive long after development program dollars are gone. This requires identifying, together with local communities, where gaps exist in poultry value chains and what impact this has on producers and their suppliers and buyers,” Hewitt said.
Animal nutrition — a key driver for increasing producers’ output and profits — is a common weak spot. In Mexico, for example, smallholder producers told Hatching Hope a lack of quality, affordable feed was a major problem.
“Feed distributors in southern Mexico struggle to supply the region’s mostly tiny, remotely located poultry producers because of logistical challenges, such as lack of trucks or staff,” noted Rene Vargas, general manager of local supplier and Cargill customer Distribuidora El Tío.
However, with the support of Cargill, El Tío is now supplying 250 producers that are part of Hatching Hope. And although El Tío offers them a substantial discount, the additional revenue more than compensates for this. “It’s win-win,” Vargas said.
On the other side of the equation, Hatching Hope also connects producers in Mexico with markets, such as restaurant buyers.
Hatching Hope works with feed millers in Kenya, too, and additionally with hatcheries that supply day-old chicks to ensure they understand their interdependency with producers and quote a fair price.
“In a chain, every player is only as strong as the weakest link,” Ifedi said. “The sustainability, even of big organizations like Cargill, depends on smallholder farming communities.”
Ensuring smallholder success
“Producer organizations, or cooperatives, play a critical role in Hatching Hope, providing a channel through which offtakers and suppliers can buy from and sell to producers in pooled volumes that are big enough to justify transportation and other costs,” Hewitt said.
“These cooperatives strengthen bargaining power and act as a funnel for the provision of training and other extension services to ensure that producers’ businesses are efficient and sustainable,” Ifedi said. “Producers are, for example, trained on how to care for their chickens to prevent disease or loss.”
Along with Cargill’s poultry management expertise, the training of local extension workers will help knowledge remain in communities long beyond Hatching Hope’s life span while also creating jobs for young people, she added.
Training also covers climate resilience, water management, and environmental stewardship — all essential for the sustainability of rural communities. For example, producers learn how to compost poultry litter into fertilizer for their gardens and any commercial crops, helping reduce the use of chemicals.
Early signs of success
Communities are already benefiting from Hatching Hope. In India, for example, poultry production has increased following investments in farmer-owned micro feed mills to increase access to affordable feed and a nutrition education campaign to boost demand. Families that previously lacked access to good and diverse nutrition now consume 22% more eggs and 67% more chicken, according to Ifedi.
“In Mexico, the initiative has been especially beneficial to women, who account for almost all the producers El Tío supplies under Hatching Hope,” Vargas said. “It enables them to earn an income from home while also raising children and improving nutrition for the whole family. And while many previously kept poultry to survive, it now helps them thrive.”
Cargill and Heifer International are now focused on scaling up, and so are its partners. Vargas is confident that “in the long term, we could duplicate this model with other customers.”
Hatching Hope’s Kenya program officially launched in January and is ramping up efforts to improve access to finance. Farmers are already accessing working capital through Heifer Impact Capital to buy inputs like day-old chicks and feed.
“The short life cycle of poultry — with investments in chicks quickly generating revenue — makes it more attractive to lenders than other forms of livestock, and producers will become more creditworthy as their businesses strengthen and become more efficient,” Ifedi said. “By taking a similar approach — focusing on ecosystem sustainability and the tapping of private sector expertise to reduce risk and facilitate funding — other development actors could even apply the Hatching Hope model to different value chains.”
“Hatching Hope’s model could be easily replicated in other locations, with adaptations to meet the specific needs of communities involved,” Hewitt agreed. “Africa’s cotton industry, for example, shares many characteristics with poultry production — large numbers of small producers that struggle with high input costs, weak market access, and other inefficiencies — that could benefit from a Hatching Hope approach.”
Find out more about Hatching Hope and join this global initiative.