Livestock Research for Rural Development 18 (12) 2006 Guidelines to authors LRRD News

Citation of this paper

Transforming village poultry systems into small agro-business ventures: a partnership model for the transfer of livestock technologies in Ethiopia

N Dana, R Duguma, H Teklewold and S Aliye

Debre Zeit Agricultural Research Center, P.O.Box 32, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia


An activity was initiated on enhancing partnerships for transferring technologies to change the traditional approaches to improving village poultry production in Ethiopia by making use of existing commercialization potentials in suitable areas. Farmers in the peri-urban villages of Ada, Akaki and Lume Weredas were selected, trained and provided with credit to carry out small scale intensive poultry production based on a 100 bird-unit by utilizing a comprehensive package of technologies. A multi-institutional partnership framework was proposed by the Debre Zeit Agricultural Research Center which was discussed and endorsed by collaborating institutions and participant farmers in a joint workshop held to plan the project arrangements and delineate roles and responsibilities.

The results achieved through this work indicated the need to transform the traditional piece meal approach of poultry technology transfer into promotion of carefully selected and packaged technologies in a multi-institutional framework with due consideration of the input-output market if the potential role of poultry research in development is to be realized.

Keywords: partnership model, technology transfer, village poultry


Farming communities in rural and urban settings in Ethiopia survive under serious poverty. The government of Ethiopia is committed to reverse this situation currently more than ever. To achieve the goals anticipated in the policies and strategies for rural development and poverty reduction (Ministry of Information 1994 Ethiopian Calendar, Amharic version) it is quite necessary to change the existing low-input, traditional agricultural practices. Besides, given the global pressure towards market liberalization, transformation of the different sectors of agricultural production into modern, market oriented systems ought to generally be considered a necessity, not choice, if small holder subsistence farmers of Ethiopia are to participate and benefit in the market economy.

Agricultural research is expected to fit into this context and respond to the increasing role of technologies in attaining rapid economic development. Consequently there is an urgent need to reorient the conventional modalities of technology generation and transfer it to fit this pressing national demand.

Poultry is an important source of food and income in Ethiopia and is one of the most suitable interventions to improve the livelihood of the poor. The major poultry production system of the country, contributing to more than 90% of total national output of poultry meat and eggs, is characterized by production of a small number of low yielding local chickens (30-80 eggs/hen/year), with a flock size of 5-6 per family and offered little or no additional in-puts except provision of sheltering in the living house during the night (Tadelle 1996; Mebratu 1997). Production under this setting is usually targeted for home consumption and there is almost no attempt to increase the scale to a commercial level.

The long existed approach used by the extension program of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) to improve village poultry production in Ethiopia was based on distribution of exotic breeds of cockerels of 15-20 weeks of age in exchange for local cockerels of rural subsistence farmers to upgrade the genetic potential of the local stock. The other approach which is still being implemented is based on distribution of exotic breeds of chicken to individual farmers, a maximum of 6 chickens (5 pullets and 1 cockerel) per household. Attempts have also been made at various times by the MARD and several other institutions including research and higher learning institutions and NGOs to improve village production systems through introduction of exotic breeds in the form of fertile eggs (Alemu and Tadelle 1997).

These schemes have been in effect since the beginning of poultry research and development in Ethiopia in the mid 1950s, and millions of improved breeds of chicken have since been distributed in the different forms (Alemu and Tadelle 1997). However, the sub-sector has still remained at subsistence level. Although no recent reports were available on the exact figures the majority of the chicken population is still comprised of the local stock managed under the traditional production system (Mebratu 1997). Despite such a large number of improved breeds introduced into the village system improvement was limited mainly due to the high mortality rate of modern breeds as a result of their poor adaptation to the rural environment. A recent study on adoption of poultry breeds in the highlands of Ethiopia indicated that adoption has been limited by a set of factors such as, lack of strong extension follow-up and complimentary inputs, disease, unavailability of credit services and market problems (Teklewold et al 2006).

Distribution of 6 exotic chickens per household may still be considered useful (especially if complimented with other inputs) in rural areas where opportunities for intervention at higher scales would be limited due to limited access to infrastructure and market. However, blanket application of this scheme throughout all regions certainly confounds the attitude of beneficiary farmers to subsistence production by opting them to view poultry production merely as a side line activity with little or no viable economic return. Recommendations adopted in such ways also failed to play useful role in transforming the traditional village systems into market oriented ventures in areas endowed with sufficient access to inputs, services and market outlets.

This activity on enhancing partnerships for transferring improved technologies was initiated to change the traditional approaches to improving rural poultry making use of existing commercialization potentials in suitable areas by utilizing a comprehensive package of suitable technologies, establishing access to credit and links to input-output markets and providing training and technical backstopping under a multi-institutional framework.

The objectives of this new approach were to transform village poultry production into viable commercial venture in potential areas, to generate sustained income for poor households, to assess the advantages of a multi-institutional framework approach to transfer costly but marketable livestock technologies and to enhance the role of research in supporting the national policy and goals of poverty reduction.


The planning process
Forming institutional linkages: the multipartite partnership framework

The Multipartite Partnership Framework for the intervention intending to transform village poultry production systems into small scale agro-business ventures is indicated in Figure 1.

Figure 1.   The Multipartite Partnership Framework (Broken lines represent non-formal links initiated by DZARC)

The framework was developed through both formal and informal linkages set with various institutions and sectors. The formal linkages were bound by multilateral memoranda of understanding while the informal linkages, indicated by broken lines, were principally market arrangements operating on their own in business terms. The roles and responsibilities of the institutions formally involved in this activity and that of participant farmers were jointly defined, agreed upon and endorsed at the stakeholders' workshop.

Organizing awareness creation and planning workshop

After planning the multi-institutional framework a one day workshop was organized by the research-extension department and poultry project of the Debre Zeit Agricultural Research Center (DZARC) constituting heads and representatives of the different institutions. The participants involved were the Wereda Offices of Agriculture, Cooperatives, Unions, a resource person from the Federal Cooperatives Commission, delegated experts and representatives of private poultry and feed industries, Office of Urban Agriculture and researchers in other disciplines of the research center. The major objectives of this workshop were to sensitize participants on the form, background and content of the envisaged partnership and stimulate change of attitude towards transforming village poultry into small scale business ventures. It was also intended to present and discuss the project plan including proposed financial arrangements and credit requirements along with anticipated profit margins, and delineate and endorse the duties and responsibilities of each formal partner. Preconditions for success were also set jointly and procedures for monitoring and evaluation were developed during the proceedings of the workshop.

Site and farmer selection

The project was carried out in three Weredas (the third and the most active level of political administration under a Regional State) of East Shoa Administrative Zone, namely; Lume, Ada and Akaki. Tede, Ude and Sirba, and Dukem and Gogecha villages were considered, respectively, from each Wereda. The villages were located, respectively at about 35, 60 and 85 kms East of Addis Ababa, following the main road along Addis Ababa and Nazareth. A total of 18 farmers were selected, 6 from each Wereda to participate in the activity.

Village and farmer selections were carried out principally by the Primary Farmers' Cooperatives with the participation of the offices of agriculture in the respective Wereda according to the premises and agreed selection criteria proposed by the research center which advocated selection of resource poor farmers in peri-urban areas with access to market outlets. Only two women farmers participated in the project despite the proposed intention for gender balance. All the farmers selected were members of the Primary Farmers' Cooperatives granting the loan in their respective sites.


A multidisciplinary team of researchers from poultry project, research-extension and socio-economics departments offered training lasting for 5 days to farmers, development agents, and responsible experts of the respective Werdas of agriculture and Primary Farmers' Cooperatives. In addition to theoretical and practical aspects of poultry production and management, the training module included presentation of the proposed interventions, project objectives and target groups. The institutional arrangements, duties and responsibilities of project partners, feasibility of proposed interventions and the financial/credit arrangements were also presented and discussed thoroughly.

Selection and packaging of technologies

The technologies presented for selection and packaging included: breed (the Rhode Island Red, Fayoumi, a commercial hybrid layer strain available in the local market), feed (formula feeds, simple mixture of maize and noug cake as energy and protein sources), chick raising box (as the only practical option available to raise day-old chicks under the settings of the farmers where there is no electricity), housing and equipment (raised floor systems, deep litter houses, laying nests made of wooden materials or mud, different forms of feeders and wateres). Improved management and health care practices were recommended to be employed as mandatory. At the end of this exercise the technologies selected for packaging were: a commercial hybrid layer strain available on the market (which in this case was the Bovan strain), formula feeds, deep litter houses constructed of any affordable material available in the localities of each farmer and simple feeders, waterers and laying nests. Background information was presented to the training participants on the technologies proposed for transfer in order to create a clear understanding of the pros and cons of each technology and build confidence and guide their choice to make the operation profitable. An interactive discussion was made with farmers to stimulate participatory selection and packaging of the technologies.

Farmers' group formation

At the end of the training sessions a farmers group was formed for each of the three sites, each constituting 6 members. A team leader was elected to represent each group. The group leaders were assigned to coordinate the groups and maintain regular links with DZARC and other stakeholders during purchase of inputs and facilitate other activities on behalf of the farmers.

Facilitating credit arrangements

DZARC facilitated the official processes required to materialize handing over of credit to the beneficiaries. The credit offered was used to cover costs of hay box brooder construction, feed until the birds start egg laying and purchase of 100 sexed day-old hybrid chicks. Fund transfer ensued after each farmer constructed poultry houses meeting recommended standards. All follow up fund transfers to each farmer were made to materialize only when they accomplished the requisite tasks, which were regularly verified by the research team, to ensure proper use of the loan granted.

The implementation process
Construction of poultry houses, hay box brooders and equipment

Poultry houses were constructed by farmers based on their training following specific recommendations given by the research center making use of locally available materials of farmers' choice.

The hay box used in this project was a modification of an earlier prototype adapted by Solomon (Solomon 1999) which consisted of two sets of boxes, a larger run area and a small night enclosure. A single set of box insulated with tef straw and constructed of lumber was used to raise 100 sexed day-old chicks. Each box had a dimension of 1.5m width x 1.5m length x 0.40m breadth. It was sealed on top with meshed wire and covered by hay sack.

Supervision, data recording, monitoring and evaluation

Daily performance data including egg production, mortality and socio economic performance such as labor requirement, costs incurred and sales were recorded by each farmer on the data sheet provided. Strong follow-up and routine supervisions were made to each site regularly.

Field days were organized at the end of the brooding and growing phase and during egg production period with representatives of partner institutions, mainly the financier, Primary Farmers' Cooperatives. Farmer-to-farmer visits were made where each farmer learned from and commented on and rated the management performance of the others.

Selected package of technologies

The following selected package of technologies was used

Exit strategies

Strategies were designed early in the planning and implementation process to facilitate safe exit of external parties, mainly the research center. To this end various arrangements and links were made to sustain input-output marketing (Figure 1) and ensure profitability and repayment of credit by initiating saving and financial management schemes. A traditional saving scheme called 'Iquib' was initiated.

Results and Discussion

Social assessment
Attitudinal and institutional changes

Market-oriented poultry production based on 100 bird-units in village households sounded ridiculous and faced with serious resistance with participant farmers, farmer institutions and other collaborators at the outset. However, strong persuasions from research following the awareness creation workshop and as time passes by and benefits realized, all parties got a conviction to consider the technology as a viable agricultural venture. Finally 80% of the farmers got involved and it became possible to secure a credit sum of 2200 Birr/individual farmer. Furthermore, the individual institutional endeavors that failed to bring an effective economic change in rural households have started witnessing a positive beginning towards improving livelihood due to the multi-institutional concerted efforts.

Biological Assessment
Egg production

Birds attained egg laying age (5%) at 20 weeks. Hen day egg production performance of the strain is presented in Figure 2. Mean hen day egg production reached 41% after 20 weeks of laying. The minimum and maximum egg production showed very large disparities between households throughout the laying period. There had been remarkable variations in egg production between individual households (±SD 4.6 to 7.7) across the 20 weeks of laying (Figure 2).

Figure 2.  Mean (■) minimum (♦)and maximum (▲)egg production (hen day percent) of a hybrid layer strain (Bovan)
distributed at a day-old to 15 households in the peri-urban villages of Lume, Ada and Akaki Weredas

The annual egg yield of the strain under the current situation is anticipated to range from 55 to 70% of the performance recommended by the breeder company for high standard management systems of the large scale modern and commercial poultry farms in temperate areas (a maximum of about 300 eggs/bird/year).

Figure 2 indicates almost a persistent stagnation of the production curve starting from weeks 30 to 34 in all households. In reference to the normal trends of the laying curve of a flock in commercial farms egg production was expected to show a steady rise during these four weeks. The major reason is that, although all the necessary arrangements were made and links to suppliers indicated in the multi-partite partnership model (Figure 1) in the preceding sections were set up to ensure smooth continuity of the operation, the majority of the farmers were found to be hesitant at the inception to move according to the prearranged plan. Until later interventions, farmers attempted supplying their own home made feeds, some only ground corn while the others tried feeding their animals in the form of a mixture of wheat bran and noug cake. Still others went on using feeds of poor quality purchased from local retailers.

The total number of eggs produced per household in 20 weeks of laying varied into three major classes ranging from 7000 to 8600, 5000 to 6300 and 3600 to 4000 in 27, 53 and 20% of the households (Figure. 3).

Figure 3.   Disparities between households in the total number of eggs produced in 20 weeks of  laying

The average number of eggs produced in Lume and Ada Weredas was almost similar while it was the lowest in Akaki Wereda (Figure 4). All these foregoing data indicated that individual households and not Weredas play the most important role in the poultry operation.

Figure 4.  Average number of eggs produced in Lume, Ada and Akaki Weredas from 100 one-day- old chicks
per household reared to 40 weeks of age (20 weeks of laying)

Mortality of chicks in the hay-box (day-old to 8 weeks of age)

The practice of using hay box brooders to raise day-old chicks dates back to several decades. Thear (1980) stated that small holder poultry producers with no access to electricity can use hay box brooders as an alternative to electric brooders and presented the picture of the box used for such purposes. Although it was stated that such practices could be successfully employed anywhere, information on the use of the hay box brooder in tropical environments and in the backyards of small farmers was limited.

The suitability of using hay box brooders in Ethiopia was tested first at the Jima College of Agriculture by Solomon (Solomon 1999) where he made an adaptation of the design by constructing two sets of boxes, one larger box to be used for feeding and watering the chicks during the day and a smaller unit for night enclosure. The brooder box was further developed and popularized after the Debre Zeit Agricultural Research Center made an extensive test and verified the effects of using different insulation materials and the suitability of the box under different agro-ecologies in the Central Ethiopia (Negussie et al 2003; DZARC 2003) and proved successful, with mortality of chicks to 8 weeks of age ranging from 10-20%.

The current work demonstrated that the smaller box, the second set of the hay box, intended mainly for night enclosure of the chicks, was found unnecessary when the box is used in a poultry house. Survival of chicks during the first 8 weeks of brooding using this modified hay-box was almost 100% (99.5%). Only 3 chicks died in one household in Ada Wereda naturally (Figure 4). The modification has also reduced the total cost of hay box construction by about 25%.

Mortality in the growing and laying stages

On average about 96% of the chicken survived to the laying age while mortality to from 19 to 40 weeks of age was less than 5%. The overall mortality of the flocks in the peri-urban village households was surprisingly less than 8%, a level even lower than the commercial standards ranging from 10-20. The rates were found to be higher in Akaki Wereda (Figure 5).

Figure 5.   Mortality of the Bovans layer strain of chickens (at different ages) distributed to village households
in three weredas (average of households, out of 100 chicks housed)

The reasons involved were the maternity leave of the woman in charge (at Gogecha village) and decreased attention and care given to the chicken by some households in Dukem town due to extra and intensive engagement in other business activities involving frequent prolonged absence from the farm.

Socio-economic assessments

The result of division of labor among household members involved in family poultry production is shown in Table 1.

Table 1.  Contribution of family labor to poultry production by gender

Location (Wereda)

Time, hours/day

Contribution, %















Over all




Labor is required for shelter construction, feeding, watering, house cleaning, collecting and selling eggs. The project has created self-employment opportunities for family household members and improved labor efficiency especially during the off-season and slack period of a given working day. As observed from the day-to-day activities, poultry farming required labor input ranging from 1.56 to 2.36 hours per day, and mostly the family members are doing it (Table 1). The work showed all gender categories are involved in poultry farming management. Specifically females have significant contribution (55%) than the contribution of males (45%), and in some cases, all the activities were fully handled by females. Men were significantly involved in poultry shelter construction. At present, women are willing to manage the birds and decide what to do with the products. Therefore, they are the most suitable targets through which technology scaling up can be channeled in the future.

The results from the economic trends implied by 20 weeks of egg production (about 40 weeks of bird's age) indicated that the operation is quite viable and has a very positive prospect of profiting. Through a cost benefit analysis at farm household level, net returns ranging from Birr 1939.00 to Birr 2806.00 were obtained (Table 2) with the total cost of production ranging from Birr 5788.00 to Birr 6311.00 in the periods considered.

Table 2.  Gross Margin and Net Return (Birr/Farm) of egg production under a small scale intensive production system using 100 one-day-old Bovan strain of layer chickens in the peri urban village households of three Weredas (from 0 to 40 weeks of age)

Source of Income

Locations (Weredas)





Egg (@ 0.60)





Culled Birds (@ 30.00)





Nitrogen from Poultry Manure (@8.00/kg N)





Total Return





Total Variable Cost





Total Fixed Cost





Gross Margin (Return - Purchased Inputs)





Profit on operations (Return - Variable cost)





Net Return (Return - Total Cost)





Feed expense, which accounts for about 71% of the total cost of production and almost 98% of the purchased inputs, is a major expense of the poultry farm (Table 3).

Table 3.  Cost of production (Birr/Farm) required for egg production in peri urban villages using 100 one-day
old Bovan layer strains in each Wereda (for 40 weeks)

Items of cost

Locations (Weredas)





Total fixed cost





    - Interest on capital (@7.5% per annum)





    - Depreciation on poultry house





    - Depreciation on hey box





    - Depreciation on equipment





    - Cost of day old chicks





Total Variable cost





    - Cost of feed





    -  Medicine & veterinary supplies





    - Cost of operations (opportunity cost of family labor)





Total Cost





The approach identified poultry as a potential source of income for the rural small holder. The prospect from the rising trend of egg production coupled with the net benefit obtained so far (for the 20 weeks of egg production), clearly indicated the comparative position of poultry production to crop production. For instance, comparing the average returns of Birr 2470.00 obtained from poultry production from only 18 m2 size of land to the profitability of crop production from 1 ha of land it was found that production of chickpea which was the most profitable crop in Ada-Liben gave returns to land, labor and management of 4505.00 Birr/ha followed by bread wheat (3999.00 Birr/ha) and tef (3827.00 Birr/ha) (DZARC 2005)

The integration of livestock with the land base is a key concept of sustainable agriculture. When feed is produced on the farm and manure recycled back to crop fields, nutrient cycles are closed. Poultry manure, if properly handled, is the most valuable of all manures produced by livestock (Mitchell and Donald 1995). Considering the fact that poultry manure under such production system contains about 4 to 7 percent of nitrogen (Mitchell and Donald 1995), on average the economic value of the plant nutrients in poultry manure, produced from 100 birds, can be approximated as Birr 810.00 for the first 40 weeks of bird's age (Table 2).

Communication of outcomes

One of the most impressing achievements of this project is the success in communicating the process and its outcomes, both horizontally and vertically, to a larger group of stakeholders, potential collaborators, higher government officials and policy makers. The project attracted visit by several government officials including the State Minister of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and concerned heads of Department of the Ministry, the President of the Oromia Regional State and his cabinet members, Director Generals of The Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research and Oromia Agricultural Research Institute and Directors of Federal Research Centers. Series of discussions were carried out with the beneficiary farmers and other stakeholders following these visits. Eventually these occasions led the officials and policy makers into a better understanding of the peculiarities of livestock technologies in respect of crop technologies and inspired renewed interest towards revitalizing existing strategies and policies associated with the development of the sub sector.

Major challenges faced, potential threats to adoption of the model and issues for further consideration

At the set out of this project there were persistent doubts and fear of risks both by the participant farmers and a few of the anticipated collaborators regarding the success of such a 'bold' initiative. As a result of such lingering doubts 3 farmers dropped out of the 18 farmers selected and trained to participate in the activity. Particularly, it remained a bit difficult to win full confidence of the executive committee of the Primary Farmers' Cooperatives and get the proposed loan released for the farmers although quite remarkable shifts in attitude had been secured following the sensitization workshop.

Frequent turnover of some of the office holders in the partner institutions, both cooperatives and offices of agriculture, leaving considerable gap of information to the succeeding individuals, subsequently led to a series of indecisions on loan release and implementation of the project as planned. Eventually, such gaps coupled with the prolonged bureaucracies in the management process delayed implementation of the project by one year. Frequent turnover and assignment to other entirely remote tasks of the trained staff in the office of agriculture and Development Agents working in the project left vacancies and in few cases resulted in replacements totally unaware of the initiative and also less helpful to support the process for lack of the requisite training.

These challenges, though should by no means be considered overwhelming and inhibitive, were overcome by the unrelenting and most patient follow-ups and discussions of the research team with all the concerned experts and partners backed by the very strong support of the management bodies of the research center and collaborating institutions.

On the other hand, although the present work can easily be adopted for promoting other costly livestock technologies with potential impacts on livelihood of poor farmers, there are certain important issues warranting due consideration by all concerned. Some of the potential threats include the following aspects.



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Received 24 May 2006; Accepted 21 September 2006; Published 6 December 2006

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