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Homestead and small-scale poultry production has tremendous potential for alleviation of malnutrition and poverty in climate-stressed rural communities in Africa and Asia.  Family poultry helps to alleviate poverty and food insecurity and provide critical income for women. Across rural Africa, women and children raise chickens for income and sustenance.

Women in rural households raise poultry for household consumption and to sell the eggs and birds. Micronutrient malnutrition is common among the rural poor, causing stunting and reduced cognitive development. Eggs are considered a perfect source of critical micronutrients and protein for pregnant and lactating women and for children in the first 1000 days. The income from poultry is often one of the few significant sources of income for women and is particularly important for household emergencies-- to purchase staple foods or to pay for an emergency health clinic visit.

Income from eggs and birds is often one of the few sources of income of people living under stressed environmental conditions. While improving livelihoods usually requires more than a single intervention, improving village poultry production is considered to be a practical and effective first step in alleviating rural poverty.  In developing countries, households in villages typically raise some poultry, even if the household is landless. Poultry are socio-culturally important with few associated religious taboos. Improving production is feasible at village level, where low cost technology can have considerable impact. Poultry is small in size, rapid in food production, requires small quantities of feed, is environmentally friendly, and small investment can improve production.  

Constraints of Improving Poultry Production in Rural Africa and Asia  

Poor animal health and husbandry practices limit village poultry production, and related benefits for small farmers and the rural poor throughout Africa and Asia. Diseases and predation typically decimate most village poultry flocks. Preventing poultry diseases and improving homestead and small-scale poultry production directly contributes, as described above, to achieving the goals of the USAID Feed the Future Program (reduce hunger and strengthen food security), the Global Health Initiative (prevent diseases, improve maternal health, child health, and nutrition) and the Millennium Development Goals (eradicate poverty and hunger, reduce child mortality, and improve maternal health).  

Newcastle disease (ND) is the number one constraint of raising poultry in Africa, causing mortality as high as 80% among village chicken flocks in most rural communities. Chickens can be infected with ND virus by ingestion of feces as well as by breathing in small airborne droplets of sick and healthy birds that carry the virus. The severity of symptoms may vary greatly in different species depending on their immune status as well as the viral strain. Migrating wild birds can spread NDV through contact with chickens. ND is commonly reported as an upper respiratory tract disease but in some cases can induce necrosis, congestion of the digestive tract and neurologic involvement. Reported clinical signs include coughing, sneezing, rales, greenish bloody diarrhea, torticollis and nervous signs in pathogenic ND outbreaks.  

There are husbandry practices, affordable vaccination strategies, and other disease prevention and control measures that can reduce mortality and increase production in these village flocks.  For example, ND can be controlled by the proper use of an inexpensive and locally produced thermo-tolerant vaccine. However, despite the national production of this inexpensive vaccine (I-2 vaccine) in numerous African countries, only a small percentage of village communities routinely use it.

Various strategies have been applied to implement ND vaccination programs in rural Africa and Asia, but many of these efforts have been unsustainable. Inadequate extension services, the lack of cold chain, unreliable production and distribution, and other problems are among the challenges of implementing vaccination programs in remote rural communities. A very important disease prevention strategy, which is effectively applied in large-scale commercial production with industrialized chicken lines, has received far less attention and research investment for application in smallholder flocks. This approach is to identify chicken genes or genetic markers associated with ND resistance and to breed innately disease resistant chicken strains for the use of household producers and small farmers.