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Indigenous chickens give Basotho something to crow about



MASERU – ASK any rural Mosotho man how many cattle he has and he will readily volunteer a number with pride.In them he has something that can be exchanged for good money or be slaughtered at a funeral. Cows are an insurance policy of sorts. Ask him how many sheep he has and he might venture to hazard a gues whose accuracy depends on how recently he spoke to his herd-boy. He can sell, harvest their wool or slaughter for small ceremonies.

But ask him how many chickens he has and all you might get is a blank stare. It’s probably because chickens are considered livestock for women. In any case those birds that roam the yards in rural Lesotho are never meant to be sold. You slaughter them for your visitors or give as small gifts to friends and relatives. Yet they are the major source of protein both through their meat and eggs in the rural areas. Rural women have understood the centrality of the chicken in their homes. Rearing those chickens is more of a hobby than a job to them. But finally someone thinks rearing those free-roaming domestic birds can be a job and a business. The Women in Business Federation of Lesotho will soon be launching a project to encourage women to rear traditional chickens for export. ’Mamahlapane Rakuoane, chairperson of the federation, told thepost that there is a huge demand for indigenous chickens, especially in South Africa where people are increasingly becoming more health conscious.

“People are now seeking to eat everything that is organic, they are parting ways with the chemically enhanced food,” Rakuoane said. “In South Africa there are already restaurants that sell indigenous chickens only and they are in need of supply hence we are in talks to supply them with chickens,” she said.Rakuoane added that Basotho should grab this opportunity with both hands and produce the indigenous chickens in great numbers. “It is our hope that by the end of February the chicken abattoir at Ha-Thetsane will start operating, this will enable farmers to bring their chickens and have them slaughtered in a manner aligned with international standards,” Rakuoane said.  Those who want to take advantage of this business opportunity should start rearing the chickens now because they take long to mature, she said.  “They are not like these chickens that we rear and feed special food, they take time to grow but when well cared for they grow quickly even if it is not the same with these ones fed with chemicals.”

Rakuoane said the federation is planning training workshops for those who want to venture into the indigenous chicken business.
“It’s true that they are not as demanding as the (chemically fed broilers) chickens but in order to maintain quality we should all use the same methods so that buyers cannot differentiate whether the chicken has been reared in Qacha’s Nek or Maseru,” she said. She indicated that there are already farmers who produce indigenous chickens but because of the demand more farmers are needed, “hence we are calling for everyone to take part and help meet the market demand”.The abattoir is expected to be able to slaughter at least 2000 chickens a day. Small Businesses Development Minister Selibe Mochoboroane recently told members of the federation that the project has the potential to pull hundreds of rural families out of poverty.

Mochoboroane said chicken imports cost Lesotho over M660 million a year. He stated that this was a huge bill for chickens while Basotho can rear chickens as well and penetrate the mainstream markets. In the 2011/12 Lesotho imported 270 000 kilogrammes of chicken meat according to the Bureau of Statistic’s Livestock Products report. In 2013 chicken constituted nearly 40 percent of meat imported by Lesotho. “We will also ensure that we get a mobile abattoir so that even farmers in remote areas can have their chickens slaughtered without incurring too many costs or any other obstacles, what is left is for you to produce chickens,” Mochoboroane said.

This is not the first time someone has tried to make a business out of indigenous chickens.  In 2014 the Rural Self-Help Development Association (RSDA) tried to help vulnerable households rear the chickens as a means of earning an income and reducing poverty.  The idea behind the project, according to RSDA, was that “chickens are a vital buffer against poverty in Lesotho’s rural areas, providing improved nutrition and income-generating opportunities through the sale of eggs, chicks and meat.” “Indigenous chickens are better suited to this role because they’re more disease resistant; do not require special/expensive feed and they’re better brooders than exotic breeds. Yet, exotic breeds have all but replaced the indigenous chicken, threatening its gene pool,” RSDA says in its pamphlet. “The Global Environment Facility (GEF) has provided RSDA with a US$33 000 grant (about M495 000 under its biodiversity focal area) to research ways to improve their performance and to make them more widely available through an indigenous chicken breeding programme.”

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