ORDINARILY, serious scientists are not given to hyperbole. This custom emanates from reportage that is succinct and without vagueness or conjecture.
Report by Remi Chihora
So, when aspersions are cast that Zimbabwe’s poultry industry is now sort of advanced, we need to take stock and examine fully whether this is merely folly or fact.
Two decades or so ago, the Zimbabwean poultry industry would have been fairly cited as a paragon of efficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa.
This was primarily driven by a dynamic and vigorous stockfeed industry that was always at the sharp end of the world technological breakthrough and an equally competent research and extension service of equal renown.
Now, wind the clock forward to the present day and the situation is clear: Zimbabwe now lags behind almost everyone of its neighbours in poultry production efficiency, be it in meat or egg production.
Put simply, the Zimbabwean farmer is currently using more feed per unit of meat or egg produced. In other words, our production efficiency now lags behind that realised by even the small-scale producers in such unsophisticated markets as Zambia, for example.
Clearly, therefore, somewhere along the road, the wheels must have fallen off what was once a robust chariot.
I have been involved in animal nutrition for over 25 years now with most of my involvement being in the stockfeed industry, not only in Zimbabwe, but in Sadc as well. I propose to explore some of the reasons why the poultry industry in Zimbabwe is in such a parlous state.
In further writings, I would like to explore a similar theme with other domestic animals of commercial interest to Africa and beyond (I have been labelled a “goat man” for my passions before).
My objective is not to mock, but to arouse debate as to what needs to be done to restore ourselves to the position we once occupied.
I have decided to start with the poultry industry because this seems to be where most ground has been lost. Besides, there is always a hue and cry from producers whenever imports are let in to augment the local production deficit. The emotive GMO flag is raised and yet nobody has been able to tell me exactly what they mean by “a GMO-chicken”.
I am not at all sure how birds in South Africa, which largely share their germ-plasm with their Zimbabwean ones, become GMO in the process of feeding.
What is clear to me is this: Ordinarily, a South African broiler chicken will eat 2,8kg of feed to get to a liveweight of about 1,8kg in about 35 days. This means that the conversion ratio (or FCR), or feed consumed per kg gain, is only 1,6.
Now take the Zimbabwean case where typically the same chicken is expected to consume 4,2kg of feed to the same weight, but over 42 days, and you begin to see where the problem is. Our FCR is 2,3!
How Many Feeds Are Required?
We can be very facetious here. A good scientist will say that we need a different feed for every day that the chicken grows. This is very true, but unfortunately, not practicable. Within Sadc, it has become normal for so-called “peasant producers” to use a grower (800g), grower (1200g) and finisher (1200g) to produce a wholesome bird. This is happening in some of the most “disadvantaged” places I have had the privilege to visit.
So, when I advise feed users in Ndola, Luansha, Kapiri Mposhi (Zambia) and (Lilongwe, Kasungu, Malawi) and the intervening towns or settlements, I am addressing supposedly more sophisticated feed users than I would be addressing users in Murambinda (as I did in 2007) where I faced unexplainable reticence.
Zimbabwean poultry farmers are potentially sophisticated in a Dutch sort of way, seeing as the top echelons have a penchant for Dutch units on their farms.
They will spare no expense when it comes to perceived sophistication. What is tragic is this: We have units that merely record average performance.
The issue here is this, we need to:
Recognise our genetics as equal to, or better than from South Africa (ie don’t shoot the messenger)
Use more scientific feeds to exploit the current and huge genetic potential of our broilers.
Be very, very, ashamed if a small-scale farmer in Ndola beats us to a 1,6 FCR!
Lastly, what do we make of all that research that has been going on our rural chickens at the various research stations in the country?
Dr Remi Chihora is an independent consultant contactable on email@example.com