Livestock Research for Rural Development 23 (2) 2011 Notes to Authors LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Socioeconomic study of family poultry in Mongu and Kalabo Districts of Zambia

S Simainga, J C Moreki*, F Band** and N Sakuya***

Ministry of Agricultural and Cooperatives P.O. Box 9100 Mongu, Zambia
* Department of Animal Production, Ministry of Agriculture, Private Bag 0032, Gaborone, Botswana,
** Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Mongu P.O. Box 910034 Mongu, Zambia
*** Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Kalabo P.O. Box 910022 Kalabo, Zambia


A study on the socio-economic importance of the family chickens was conducted in Mongu and Kalabo districts of Western Province of Zambia. A total of 274 questionnaires (243 for households and 31 for restaurants and selling points for family chickens) were administered across the districts. Focused groups were also used to collect data.

Over 99% of the households kept family chickens mainly for consumption and as income source. Ninety-seven percent of the restaurants served family chicken meat as main dish. In this study, most customers preferred meat from family chickens to commercial chicken meat as it was said to be tastier. In order of importance the major constraints in family poultry are predation (93%), diseases (84%) and theft (52%). Newcastle disease ranked high as the cause of mortality in family chickens. In this study, the common parasites of poultry were fleas, tapeworm and round worm. Health management was mainly through ethnoveterinary medicine. Lack of supplementary feeding also contributed to poor performance of family chickens.

Family chickens play an important role in the socioeconomic aspects of the two districts. Seventy-nine percent of respondents considered family poultry as one of the mitigation strategies against HIV/AIDS. These results demonstrate that family chickens can be used as an important tool in mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS through improved nutrition and income generation.

Keywords: Family chickens, food security, HIV/AIDS, Newcastle disease, nutrition


Poultry is by far the largest livestock group kept, consisting mainly of chickens, ducks and turkeys (FAO 1999; Copland and Alders 2009). Poultry production still remains the major contributor of meat on the table for many developing countries and continues to be an integral part of nearly all rural, peri-urban and urban households both directly and indirectly. Scanes (2007) states that eggs and poultry meat provide an excellent source of critically important nutrient, protein, together with minerals and vitamins, e.g., B12.

Poultry production in most developing countries is based mainly on scavenging systems. The terms backyard, local, traditional, indigenous, village or family chickens are used synonymously to refer to scavenging chickens. Family chickens are tolerant to diseases and heat stress, and have good maternal ability. Flock size varies through the year, as it depends on the hatching rate, the availability of natural feed, the effects of endemic diseases, and the amount of time that the farmers have available to take care of their birds (Choprakarn and Wongpichet 2000). Newcastle disease (NCD) is the most important disease and it causes very high mortality (Moreki 2003; Sonaiya 2009).

It is estimated that over 80% of the poultry population in Africa is found in traditional production systems (Guye 1998), this being referred to as low-input-low-output system. This practice has been a traditional component of many rural households for centuries and continues as such for the future. The low-input-low-output system is mainly caused by diseases, lack of supplementary feeding and suboptimal management (Pandey 1992). Village poultry do not require large investment to start and maintain compared to the commercial poultry which requires huge capital investment (Alders and Spradbrow 2001; Alders et al 2009).

Women and children are generally responsible for poultry husbandry and in most cases do not have adequate capacity to rear the poultry optimally due to various limitations including lack of resources. Compared with the commercial poultry (high-input-high-output system), village poultry are of lower productivity. For instance, a family hen lays about 30 eggs per annum compared to a commercial layer which lays approximately 300 eggs per annum. Diseases cause very high mortality and this is worse where preventive measures are rare (Pandey 1992).

Todd (1998) reported that experiences in many countries point to a number of reasons why village poultry would make an excellent tool for poverty alleviation. These include: nearly all households especially in rural areas where poverty is rampant own poultry, mainly women and children own or are involved in poultry management, low cost technologies are readily available and easier to apply and low investment requirement.

In the Western Province of Zambia, cattle and fish are regarded as most important economic areas and hence are the major source of livelihoods to many people. Even though this is the case, not all households own cattle or are involved in fishing/fish farming. Therefore, a study was conducted in Kalabo and Mongu districts of Western Province in an attempt to establish the socio-economic importance of family chickens among households. The objective of the study was to ascertain the socio-economic importance of family chickens in the Province and how they (family chickens) can be better exploited to mitigate the HIV/AIDS impact among the vulnerable individuals and households.

Materials and methods

Selection of study area 

Two districts were selected, Mongu and Kalabo, which are representative of an urban and rural setup, respectively. Thereafter, three camps were selected in each district based on whether they are on flood plains or upper land in order to get a representative picture on households. In total, six camps were selected from which individual households’ data were collected. 

Data collection

Data were collected using structured questionnaires that were administered randomly to 243 households and 31 restaurants (21 in Mongu and 10 in Kalabo) across the districts. The questionnaires were administered by veterinary personnel in the selected district. Data were also collected through direct observation and from a focused group. 

Data analysis

Data were analysed using Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS). Descriptive data such as mean, range and percentage were used to summarise and present results.

Results and discussion

Gender of respondents

In the current study, 59.26% men were interviewed compared to 40.74% for females. Across the districts male respondents outnumbered their female counterparts (Table 1).

Table 1. Gender of respondents by districts






65 (26.7)

55 (22.6)

120 (49.4)


64 (26.3)

44 (18.1)

123 (50.6)


144 (59.3)

99 (40.7)

243 (100)

Values in brackets are percentages

Livestock rearing

Across the districts, the main livestock reared was poultry followed by cattle, pigs and goats (Table 2).

Table 2 Livestock species reared in the districts





















There are three poultry species reared in the districts and these are chickens, ducks and guinea fowl (Table 3). Of all poultry species reared, chickens represented 80.1% followed by ducks (17.2%) and guinea fowl (2.65%). Poultry were kept alongside other livestock such as cattle, pigs and goats (Table 2). All the households in the present study were involved in family chicken production. 

Table 3 Poultry species reared in the districts (Values in brackets are percentages)













Guinea fowl








Housing, feeding and watering of family chickens

Ninety-seven percent of the respondents practised free range system, whereas the remainder practised semi-free range. In the present study, 60% of the respondents said that their chickens did not receive enough feed, indicating that nutrition is a major constraint in family poultry production. Generally, chickens fended for themselves for water though in some cases water was provided by the rearers. Furthermore, the majority of rearers did not provide housing for their chickens at night resulting in chickens roosting in trees, thus being predisposed to theft, predation and unfavourable weather conditions.

Flock mortality

Due to poor nutrition, housing and lack of health control, losses of birds often occurred. In the current study, predation accounted for 93% of mortality followed by diseases (84%), theft (52%) and other causes including snake bites, unfavourable weather conditions and accidents (2%). In agreement with these results, Mapiye and Sibanda (2005) in Zimbabwe reported that 40.5% of deaths in family chickens were due to predation, disease (30.3%), accidents (8.8%), parasites (8.6%) and unknown causes (12.9%). NCD was the major cause of mortality (75%) in the present study followed by chronic respiratory disease (CRD) (4%) and eye infections (2.4%). Parasites were another major cause of losses. The result on NCD is consistent with Sonaiya (2009) and Moreki (2010). In this study, 40% of the respondents said that endoparasites caused losses in family poultry. In addition, 65% of the respondents said that ectoparasites caused losses in family poultry, 23% did not believe so and 11% had no comments.

Health management was mainly through ethnoveterinary medicine (EVM) as only 16.5% of the respondents used conventional drugs. Previous study of Moreki (2003) in Botswana reported that only two percent of the rearers used vaccines to control diseases. A recent study of Moreki et al (2010a) showed that 86.7% of the poultry rearers used EVM and 13.3% vaccines against poultry diseases. Spradbrow (2009) attributes the low use of vaccines to small village flocks which are multi-aged and scattered. The chickens range freely during the day and are not always confined at night. Cold chains are also rarely available. In addition, commercial packaging makes the vaccines too large for village flocks and too expensive for village farmers.

Consumption of chicken meat and eggs

As shown in Figure 1, chickens were kept mainly for meat, eggs, manure and as a source of income. Choprakarn and Wongpichet (2000) in Thailand reported that about 50–70% of family chickens raised in the villages are for home consumption; the rest are for sale to provide cash income while few are used for cultural and religious activities. In a similar study,  Ogunlade and Odebayo (2009) in Nigeria reported that the majority of rural women said poultry meat had improved their diet (95%), source of gift (96%), festivity (100%), entertainment of special guests (96%), income generation for savings  (75%) and income generation to buy other necessities (75%).

Figure 1 Uses of family poultry across the districts

In order of importance, eggs were used for hatching (82.3%), consumption (56.92%), sale (32.1%) and barter (2.47%) (Figure 2). In a similar study, Moreki et al (2010b) reported low consumption of eggs (40.9%) in Chobe District of Botswana. Moreki (2010) argued that egg consumption by rearers was likely to increase in summer and rainy seasons when most eggs deteriorate in quality resulting in poor hatchability because of a combination of high ambient temperature and high relative humidity. The high consumption of eggs and meat by rearers, as well as, sale of birds and eggs to buy houshold requisites contribute to the realization of the Millennium Development Goal Number One, which is to halve the number of poor people in the world by 2015.

Figure 2 Uses of eggs across the districts


Although family poultry were sold all year round, the respondents said that the best time to sell was during the hot season (9%), rainy season (58%), cold season (58%) and all the time 5%. The main buyers were traders/middlemen (87%) and local people (9%). Women, especially mothers were involved in the chicken sales more than men. This result suggests that women owned chickens and decided on their sale, as well as, how money was used. Generally, the role of men in the sale of chickens across the districts was negligible. According to Dolberg (2000), the smallholder poultry approach is biased towards poor women; one estimate being that it is relevant for 160 million women and their families. 

The main sources of chickens are local suppliers though some women scouted for the chickens themselves. Generally, the supply of chickens was found to be adequate in most of the seasons in the villages. Chickens were usually sold by the road sides. Although birds were sold all the time the best time to sell was said to be in the afternoons when most buses pass through.

It is evident from Table 4 that chicken prices were higher in Mongu than Kalabo. This is attributable to the fact that Mongu is urban while Kalabo is rural. Across the districts the average price of a chicken was K15 753.75 (US$3.75), with a range from K8 879 (US$2.11) to K27 000 (US$6.43). The average prices of birds from Mongu and Kalabo were K19 305.67 (US$4.60) and K12 201.83 (US$2.91), respectively. The price of birds increased with the size of birds with large-sized cocks fetching higher prices than small-sized hens. 

Table 4 Prices (Kwacha) of chickens of different sizes across the districts (US$1= 4200 Kwacha)





Large-sized cock

27 000

18 603

22 802

Medium-sized cock

21 917

13 875

17 896

Small-sized cock

16 917

10 505

13 711

Large-sized hen

20 333

12 069

16 201

Medium-sized hen

17 167

9 280

13 224

Small-sized hen

12 500

8 879

10 690

Generally, the rearers consumed chicken meat together with feet, intestines and heads. The feet were the most consumed portions followed by intestines and lastly the heads. However, there was also considerable discarding of heads followed by intestines with the feet being the least discarded. Usually, intestines were discarded for those chickens that had internal parasites. During slaughter, chickens that were heavily infested with parasites (external and internal) were not used for human consumption but were used as pet foods.

The major relishes served in the restaurants were beef, fish, broiler chicken and family chicken. Ninety-seven percent of customers said they preferred both beef and family chicken while 80% preferred fish and broiler chicken. This shows that the majority of the people preferred family chicken to broiler, suggesting that a huge market exists for family chickens. This result is consistent with Choprakarn and Wongpichet (2000) in Thailand who reported that the demand for family chicken meat is generally higher than supply, as people regard their meat to be tastier and healthier than broiler meat. Although family chicken meat in restaurants was usually served with maize meal (popularly known as nshima), it was also served with rice. Other meats sold include chevon (goat meat) and pork which are usually sold by men. 

HIV/AIDS and family poultry

Thirty percent of the households said they experienced HIV/AIDS, 44% had not experienced it while 26% gave no responses on the issue. In this study, 79% of the respondents considered family poultry as one of the mitigation strategies against HIV/AIDS. As mentioned earlier, chickens were kept mainly for consumption of meat and eggs and as a source of income. In order of importance, respondents kept chickens for meat, as a source of income and for egg consumption (Figure 1). These results indicate that family poultry played an important role in the nutrition of HIV/AIDS infected and affected households. Egg consumption accounted for 56.92%, sale (32.1%) and barter (2.47%). Money from sale of chickens and eggs was used for groceries, school fees and uniforms, transport to hospitals or medical facilities, medication and talk time (air time). These results suggest that family chickens play a significant role in economic empowerment of household food security and improved nutrition. In agreement with these results, Alders et al (2009) argued that chickens can play an important role in providing women with additional resources to enable them carry out their important task of supporting people living with HIV/AIDS given that they are the main carers of sick people and that chickens are usually under their control.The results of the current study showed that about half of the respondents from Mongu were reluctant to talk about HIV/AIDS compared to those from Kalabo. This might indicate that stigma is more rife in Mongu than in Kalabo (Table 5). 

Table 5 A summary of responses on how HIV/AIDs affect households


Percent response

Nursing, feeding and financial problems


Raising of orphans




Reduction in production


High cost of medication


It is clear from Table 6 that respondents cope with HIV/AIDS mainly by undertaking income generation activities such as farming (including rearing of family poultry) and beer brewing (79%) or by persevering and accepting to live with the situation (72%). In this study, only nine percent of the respondents said they were taking antiretroviral (ARV) therapy. The low result on support groups (9%) indicates that stigma to HIV/AIDS in the study area could be rife. This implies that a lot needs to be done to encourage respondents to appreciate the important roles played by support group members in HIV/AIDS, which inter alia includes rendering counselling services to HIV/AIDS infected and affected individuals. 

Table 6 Responses on HIV/AIDS coping strategies



Income generation i.e. farming, beer brewing, piece work


Perseverance and accepting to live with the situation


Help from other extended family members and the church


Joining support groups


Take antiretroviral therapy (ARVs)


Provision of good nutrition




 In this study, only 26% of the respondents belonged to support groups. A recent study of Moreki et al (2010b) in Botswana reported that 20.4% of respondents were members of the support groups. The reasons advanced for not belonging to groups in the present study included absence of support groups in the area (33%), respondents being committed to work (8%), support groups not yet registered (26%), fear of HIV test (3%), not approached or chosen to join support group yet (26%) and segregation by other members (3%). Moreki et al (2010b) reported that the respondents that did not participate in support groups said they were not elected to serve in the support groups and/or there were no home-based care centres in their vicinity.

For the future, the respondents indicated that they planned to cope with HIV/AIDS by abstaining and being faithful to their partners (25%), undertaking mixed farming to increase food production (22%), educating people on HIV/AIDS (33%), encouraging voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) (36%), forming support groups (2%) and promoting positive living.



The authors are grateful to the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) for funding this study. The Golden Valley Agricultural Research Trust (GART) provided logistical support.


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Received 5 July 2010; Accepted 29 November 2010; Published 1 February 2011

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