The ICRISAT-led CLIM2 project has helped farmers in Malawi improve poultry productivity by introducing to them Kuroiler chicken, which are hardy, produce more eggs and meat. Not only has the project helped improve incomes, it has also helped farm households benefit nutritionally.
Stella James is a smallholder farmer and a hawker in chief Mpunga in Chiradzulu District – and as with most Malawians in rural areas – she keeps some local variety of chicken for food and as a source of income.
At that point, she was facing challenges with rearing of the chickens.
Her ‘birds’ laid few eggs and didn’t grow big enough. Her hope for a better life was shrinking.
Two years ago, she was introduced to the Kuroiler chicken, a hybrid developed in India, which is bigger in size and lays more eggs than local chickens.
Kuroiler is relatively new in Malawi
Stella James’ life changed forever as she was one of the farmers in her area selected to try the breed under the Crop-Livestock Integration and Marketing in Malawi (CLIM2) project, being implemented by a consortium of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Small Scale Livestock and Livelihoods Programme (SSLLP) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
The project aims to improve value chains and introduce innovations in Malawi’s southern districts of Balaka, Chiradzulu and Thyolo.
And now James and many others are happy farmers due to their new venture.
The Kuroiler is new and not officially released in Malawi yet. The Government of Malawi through Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS), Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) and the CLIM2 project tested and evaluated the Kuroiler chicken.
“We were given the hens without roosters for trials. We had feeding challenges at first because they could not eat grains. They only ate pounded maize, sorghum and millet,” says James.
She adds that with time the chickens started following what local chickens were doing and the farmers were also trained by the project in feed-making using locally available resources to help them keep chicken feed cost-effective.
Explains James: “After we started making the feed, we saw an improvement. The chickens could lay more eggs and they grew bigger,” she explains, merge “their eggs were bigger and people loved them.
“We had enough eggs to feed our families and sell to other families. We did not struggle to get protein because the eggs were always available.”
Unlike local chickens that die within a few days when attacked by diseases, Kuroilers showed higher resistance as they eventually recovered. Even simple treatment with Aloe Vera would cure Kuroilers.
“We started with crop production as a group to boost agriculture and support our families. CLIM2 came and selected four of us. They gave us each 10 hens. They told us it was for research. They wanted to see if the Kuroilers would adapt to here. With time the birds did well,” says James.
Jenipher Mlenga, from the same village, concurs with Stella James. She says when she started giving eggs to her school going child, his performance improved after a month.
Mlenga says: “The eggs were as big as duck eggs and were adequate for us.”
Since the chickens were just for a trial, the farmers later sold them and invested the money in a Village Savings and Loans group, where they now get interest on money which they use to support their families.
The chickens also yielded manure, says Mlenga the chickens were also giving her manure. “In the past, I hardly harvested anything. I would not get more than 3 bags of maize in my field. When I used Kuroiler manure, I harvested 20 bags of maize,” reveals a smiling Mlenga.
The Government of Malawi says the breed has a number of benefits for local farmers. Judith Chikoti, a livestock scientist at the Department of Agricultural Research Services, says preliminary research results show that the breed has good growth and survival.
“Kuroiler chickens consistently performed better than Black Australorp and local chickens on station,” she says. “While the local chicken can lay between 30 to 60 eggs in a year, the Kuroiler can lay between 200 to 250 eggs in a year.”
“The only challenge is that as a hybrid, they should not be breed with other chickens and farmers will always have to buy new stock,” says Chikoti while adding, “We have discovered that people love Kuroiler meat when it’s still tender (13 to 18 weeks) and we recommend Kuroilers for the production of meat and eggs.
“Kuroilers require supplementary feed and do well on local feeds, including ingredients like sorghum, pigeon pea, groundnut and cowpea. Households could easily improve their living standards.”
Patrick Chikhungwa, Director of Animal Health and Livestock Development in the Ministry of Agriculture, says government is in the process of releasing Kuroiler in Malawi after results obtained from the CLIM2 study.
“Evaluation of the Kuroiler the chicken breed under the project has given the needed information for policy and strategic direction which we were lacking,” says Chikhungwa.
He explains that as a country, Malawi has been struggling to come up with a breed which can be easily managed by smallholder farmers.
“We have had other breeds like the Black Australorp (Mikolongwe), but we needed something suitable for local conditions and easier in terms of production for the benefit of smallholder farmers wanting to commercialize. The introduction of Kuroiler chicken will address that gap,” says Chikhungwa.
The CLIM2 project came under the Farm Income Diversification Program (FIDP 2), funded by the EU.
It has been supporting farmer groups and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in linking them to profitable value chains, with a strong focus on youth and women.
The purpose is to improve livelihoods and nutritional status of rural households through increased and diversified production and better market access.
The project used Innovation Platforms to bring a wide range of stakeholders together to develop a shared understanding of the problems rural communities faced in order to develop shared visions on how future farming systems should function.
During this process, the stakeholders identified chicken and eggs among the most appropriate value chains to improve farmers’ income and deliver nutrition as well.
“The on-farm experiments illustrated that local feeds increased chicken and egg productivity at low cost. The appreciation of the Kuroiler also motivated most of the participating farmers (40 out of 60) to collectively vaccinate entire villages against New Castle disease,” he says.
According to Sabine Homann-Kee Tui, the farmers learned that existing local demand ensures readily available markets for the Kuroiler chicken and eggs.
“The CLIM2 project has shown high potential to increase chicken productivity and production with improved breeds like the Kuroiler, locally sourced feeds and disease control. With more chicken and eggs locally available, more can be sold or consumed,” explains Homann-Kee Tui.
For Stella James and many others, the future looks bright with Kuroiler.