In the Rupununi region of southwestern Guyana, 59-year-old Flora Gomes becomes a renowned poultry farmer – with significant implications for local nutrition and incomes, as well as for wildlife conservation.
Last year, the resident of St Ignatius Village took part in a poultry competition organized by the Rupununi Livestock Producers Association (RLPA), a local organization supported by the Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) program in Guyana, which aims to nature conservation and food security to improve security. Through the competition, households and small poultry farmers assessed weight gain in small flocks of local breeds, using a range of local feeds.
The winners – including Gomes – received a small start-up poultry farming package. As a result, Gomes was inspired to start raising poultry to produce eggs for her family. “I started out with the intention of just feeding my family as we have always preferred locally produced eggs: they are much healthier – you can see and taste the difference,” she said. Her flock exceeded her expectations and she started selling surplus eggs in her village. Now she hopes to expand into the sale of chicken meat as well.
In Rupununi, job opportunities are limited and families often do not have the money to buy food. Seasonal weather patterns can make access to food more difficult – a situation made more complicated by the effects of climate change. As such, many families rely heavily on game meats and fish for protein and income. But as the population grows, unsustainable hunting and fishing methods — such as the use of shotguns and seines — are increasing, posing a threat to terrestrial animals such as the lowland paca (cuniculus paca), red-rumped agouti (Dasyprocta leporina), collared peccary (Dicotyledonous tajacu), and red deer (mazama americana), as well as fish such as arawana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum), lukanani (cichla ocellaris), and large catfish (Brachyplatystoma spp.).
That’s why the chickens are so important. Poultry plays an important role in the food security of many households in Guyana and is one of the most preferred meats in the Rupununi. However, imported industrialized Brazilian poultry currently dominates the local market. In that context, the SWM program and RLPA recognized an opportunity for local production and the promotion of organic and ethical poultry.
Women in Rupununi play a key role as primary caregivers and in ensuring the food security of their households. Local poultry farming can be an attractive business for subsistence production, with improved nutrition and welfare, and a surplus for income generation. Raising chickens is not a time consuming activity and does not require expensive input, as the semi-free range chickens can find some of their own food. As Gomes explained, “poultry is not difficult to do and does not take much time compared to other livestock such as cows.”
With women like Gomes in mind, the SWM program has established livestock centers in the various districts to give women farmers easy access to technical support and input. Every month, an average of 150 farmers visit the livestock hubs, 50% of whom are women. The program also provides training for women interested in poultry farming and works closely with government agencies to improve policy-level measures for food security. In addition, the RPLA is running a “local meat you can’t beat” marketing campaign to promote local meat rather than imported meat, with an emphasis on chicken meat.
Since 2018, when the SWM program in the region started working with the RLPA, there has been a significant increase in poultry farming, especially by women. For example, eighty-seven percent of female RLPA members now keep poultry for home use and/or income. “I got a lot of help – (the RLPA) told me what types of feed to use and what to do at start-up, and even put me in touch with some customers,” said Gomes.
The demand for Gomes eggs is growing. She has a large number of regular customers in her village and now also receives weekly orders from nearby villages. “My customers always say how big the eggs are and how rich they are in color,” she says. With increased sales and easily accessible support from organizations such as the RLPA and the SWM program, Gomes is encouraged to continue raising poultry. She plans to retire from her regular job as a sleeping mother in a year, and she plans to expand her business from eggs to meat birds by then as she sees the local market starting to expand; she hopes that local poultry farmers will soon dominate the meat and egg market.
The SWM program in Guyana is part of a major international organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States, funded by the European Union, with co-funding from the French facility for global environment and the French development company. The goal is to improve food security and the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife in forest, savanna and wetland environments in 15 countries.
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