Despite producing much of the world’s food, millions of smallholder farmers live in poverty. Already struggling to make a living and feed their families, these farmers have been hit hard by the pandemic. Many have seen their incomes and savings disappear as markets have been disrupted and input costs have risen sharply.
With little to no safety net, smallholder farmers — especially women — are among the most vulnerable to shocks. This is particularly true in Odisha, one of India’s poorest states, where in the last 18 months alone, farming families have faced two powerful cyclones, a suspected bird flu outbreak, and now COVID-19.
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Our organizations — Heifer International and Cargill — have been working in Odisha for the past two years as part of a global initiative called Hatching Hope that aims to improve the nutrition and economic livelihoods of 100 million people by 2030 through the production, promotion, and consumption of poultry.
Hatching Hope uses a market systems approach to help smallholder poultry farmers improve the production of their flocks, strengthen markets to better meet the needs of poultry farmers and consumers, and increase families’ and consumers’ knowledge of the nutritional value of poultry. The initiative works with small-scale poultry producers in Cambodia, Colombia, India, Kenya, and Mexico, having first started in Odisha.
Producers that are part of Hatching Hope focus on poultry because chickens are easy to feed, breed, and bring to market, and they grow fast, providing families with incomes quickly. In India, the initiative works with women farmers in rural communities to strengthen social capital and improve nutrition for their families and communities. Raising chickens gives them a regular source of income, and research clearly shows that when women have control over their incomes, nutrition improves for the whole family.
Despite the pandemic and other shocks, in the past 12 months, the overall resilience of women farmers that are part of Hatching Hope in India has increased — results that we attribute in part to four low-cost poultry innovations that are easily replicable in countries around the world.
1. Investments in animal health increase productivity and resilience
Heifer India trained 199 community animal health workers to provide animal vaccines for Hatching Hope farmers. In the past three months alone, it has been able to reach 10,219 farmers, providing a low-cost way to reduce bird mortality through trusted local experts. Feed specialists from Cargill and Heifer India evaluated local feed and developed an improved formula, using local ingredients.
Designed to be both accessible and affordable, the improved feed enables producers to improve the productivity and health of their birds without outsized investments of time and money. Our experts also train farmers in best practices for biosecurity and farm management, equipping farmers with the knowledge they need to minimize disease and maximize the success of their flocks.
2. Investments in chicken coops protect flocks from disease and predators
Local farmers worked together with our experts to develop an innovative, free-range poultry coop model that uses locally available, low-cost materials. These coops protect birds from predators and wild birds that might carry disease and are widely accessible because they are designed for the local context. As a result, farmers using the new coops reported little to no impact from a suspected bird flu outbreak this past winter, as well as larger flock sizes, less wastage, and reduced loss of eggs, leading to an increased availability of chicken and eggs for domestic consumption and selling at local markets.
3. Investments in micro feed mills reduce farmers’ feed costs and create jobs locally
Feed costs are often one of farmers’ largest expenses and rise quickly in a crisis. Investments in microfeed mills are creating additional income sources for people within rural communities and enabling access to nutritious feed. Twenty mills are operational within the project area that are owned and operated by individual farmers. The mills are spread out so that each farmer group has access to a local mill within walking distance. Hatching Hope offered a subsidy on the initial purchase so farmers could try it and observe the impact on their flocks.
When they see the benefits, farmers can buy unsubsidized feed from the local millers. In the last six months, millers have earned an average of $45.66, which is an important contribution toward reaching a living income, which in Odisha is calculated as $1.16 per day. Demand for locally produced feed is expected to rise once COVID restrictions are lifted, when more farmers will be able to travel to buy feed from the millers.
4. Investments in consumer awareness campaigns increase demand for farmers’ products
Communications campaigns on improved nutrition and the nutritional benefits of animal-sourced foods — including chicken meat and eggs — are an important part of raising consumer awareness and driving demand for farmers’ products. In India, the campaigns aim to reach 1.5 million people. Stories and materials are deployed through an app and website, as well as through radio interviews, street plays, loudspeakers, and collaborations with community health clinics.
These four low-cost, easily replicable investments have helped increase resilience in communities across Odisha. In the past 12 months, the total number of birds sold per household increased from six to 20, while average flock size also grew. The total number of eggs available to families also increased, as more birds are now available for laying and brooding, and safe hatching practices limit the number of eggs lost to theft or predators.
Farming families that are part of Hatching Hope are eating 22% more eggs and 67% more chicken meat since the project began. Eggs are nutrient-dense and have extremely high potential for improving nutrition in a community. Farmers who are using improved poultry techniques now serve as role models, playing a pivotal role in transforming nutrition and economic well-being in their communities.
Hatching Hope shows that targeted low-cost investments in small-scale poultry innovations at the farm, market, and consumer levels can significantly improve the long-term health and resilience of rural communities around the world. Collaborative partnerships that leverage the unique expertise of each organization can holistically strengthen the food system to ensure access to nutritious food for the growing global population.
Tune into the session to learn more: “Low-tech, High Impact: Increasing Resilience of Small-Scale Poultry Producers in India” at Devex World 2020 on Dec. 10.