Poultry production: Why Zim cannot compete

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  remichihora@yahoo.com

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  1. Now that the lid has been lifted on the real reasons why our chicken farmers can not compete can we now go backto the drawing board and try to get it right? Throwing unfunny alarmist figures like 65 million dollars worth of chicken offals are being dumped is just alarmist and does not help any one. Lets get the actual numbers right and solutions like the one proffered by the writer are a good start.The reason it appears why we can not compete is because our supply chain of feed is riddled with inefficiencies and the more protective we become of this inefficient industry the more inefficient it gets.And for the life of me why are we investing productive capital on inefficient producers? Those who can not play according to the rules should simply pack up and let those willing to put in a day’s work get on with the job. The egg to table supply chain for chicken production is heavily invested, with machinery producing stockfeeds at somewhere around 20% capacity and others just plain idle, we are beaten before we have even started. I am no expert in this but something tells me that we need to sit down as one big family and discuss how we can improve on the supply chain links to improve efficiency in the chain..My mind tells me there is really no reason why chickens that have to travel an extra 1 000km in refrigerated containers should be cheaper than locally produced material. Instead of getting free inputs adnauseum, sit down and come up with commercially viable solutions..these are just a breath away. The writer could start the ball rolling (not downhil- its already there!l) by mooting for such an indaba!

  2. I fully agree with the comment by G. Poet. Its time for zimbabweans to ask themselves ” where have we gone wrong “, and to use our well documented academic prowess to make corrections. We cant be mediocre forever.

  3. I salute Dr Chihora for shedding light in this issue. From his future installments stakeholders would be able to identify that which has caused this situation. I agree with Gutter Poet on supply inefficiencies, particularly capacity utilization of the plant, and that the plant & equipment are so old they can not produce feeds competitively. However my main concern is availability of grain in the supply chain. When grain is scarce as is in Zim at the moment you don’t expect to get cheaper feeds. So stock feed manufacturers import maize, load some transport and handling costs and produce feeds at high prices compared to a situation if grain was procured locally. The issue is therefore of efficient grain production and marketing. Resolving these issues require stakeholder involvement.

  4. Can we not then import the feed and not the meat?

    1. @paradox importing the feeds will again result in higher poultry prices because of transaction costs (transport and handling) given that feeds are more heavier than the meat. We need to unpack the grain production and marketing value chain. Increase private sector participation in grain production by liberalizing the grain marketing platforms. These platforms will facilitate the involvement of contractors just like what is happening in the tobacco sector. The same mechanism is already in motion in the oil seeds sector, including soya beans and this coming season private sector will be involved in soya beans production. The next hurdle is to make stock feed manufacturers competitive by just ripping off archaic equipment and replacing it with modern, cost effective technology which reduces the production costs and delivers competitively priced feeds.

  5. There article has a number of inaccuracies meant to mislead…for instance you cant have a chicken eating 1.8kgs of feed the producing 1.8kgs of meat…there so called consultant should read laws of therodynamics..ecological efficiency..laws governing movement of energy….no energy transfer is 100% efficient…on average to produce 1.8kgs you need between 5 to 6.5 kgs…and slaughtering at 35days is more to with housing and general management especially the use of technology like chain feeder and less reliance on human beings. With our open sided houses, its difficult to achieve the target weight in 35days unless you use dark out houses.GMO mainly affect the economics as one produce more maize per hactare with GMOs than non GMOs, hence the maize is cheap. Dr Consultant dont misled people speak to experts first.

    1. @La vida-if you read the article, it clearly states 2.8kgs to get a bird 1.8 kgs not 1.8kgs for a 1.8kg bird. If you are going to criticize get the numbers right! And by the way the writer says he is an expert too and last time I checked most feedhouses already use this chain feed technology in this country anyhow. When you say speak to the experts first, you are implying that you are the expert then? Eitherway it buttresses the point I made earlier, why not sit down as one big family and discuss this without calling each other names?

  6. Applause to the column writer for opening this platform. Well the poultry industry like many others is feeling the heat of the many policies that have gone bad. To come daggers drawn on the poultry industry is but trimming the hedge without arresting the main issue.
    Let’s address maize and soyabean production. This means addressing the irrigation side, this translates to the Zesa issue, then that will mean the banking sector. The list is endless because our problems are inter twined.
    This being said when we go home to sleep we wake up with the same headache of the none performing poultry industry and other directly dependent industries.
    The call is the same we hv to pull in the same direction Government and private sector. We as Zimbabwe hv potential, let it nolonger lie dormant

  7. Prof Chihora this is an interesting subject you raised and well thought out. However my worry is that the message will be heeded by only a few fortunate ones who mistakenly happened to be with you at Oxford, kindly tone down your jargon is too much for the majority of the readres who are interested in reading this daily paper. At the end no purpose will be served otherwise welldone.

    1. wonder philip phiri

      …at La Vida can you read the article again its you who is misleading the masses…a well written paper indeed an eye opener.

  8. is where d solution, somebody? talk talk talk……

  9. lam involved in hightech broiler production in South Africa with leading compaines such as Day break and Afgri. l was involved in Broiler production in Zim The current zim standards are far way back. Farming is now business

  10. this guys is talking a lot of nonsense. to increase efficiency in poultry production who have to do certain inhuman things like gives the chickens less space to walk so that they conserve enerty and have more fat(caged hens), feed them gmo feeds which are cheaper to produce hence lower cost and use growth hormones into the feed. That the Zimbabwean farmer has largely refused this is to be commended not frawned upon and as a business ultimately it is the consumer who will decide what type of meat they want to eat, cheaply produced poor quality or slightly more expensive better quality. As one who is in the industry and making money there are enough consumers outthere who choose the later. Get lost with your academic jargon, get into production and we will see how good you are.

  11. apa pane gang akafunda zvikuru

  12. Okay, just to get this straight. The zimbabwean chicken consumes more feed than say the south african chickens even though they are of the same breed/type and this is due to more scientific feeding methods? Mmmm. Anyway I would be keen to know what these scientific methods of feeding are as this sounds a bit too far fetched. I agree with Ndini I think its the chickens that have been modified genetically to bring about the “efficiencies” rather than feeding methods. Because if they were the same genetic make-up I would doubt such huge disparities as you state there. And just to add, GMO or not, tastes more or less the same to me.

  13. The taste of the SA chicken and Zim chicken is not the same.Even when cooking the SA one not friendly to the pot.Can we also have health experts analysing these two.We might want efficiency but killing ourselves slowly.Look at the South Africans generally they are obese.

  14. GMO chickens are chickens that are feed non organic feed, this is cheaper and more effcient than organic feed as the price of organic feed has gone up on a world scale!!! GMO is not harmful its jus a myth

  15. Southh africans are obese loooooool cos there is no food shortage unlike ZIm

  16. an a chicken should weigh 2kg to 4.5 kg an cost $2 to $5 not what they charge in zim for 1.8kg chicken its ridicilous,

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