In the Rupununi region of southwestern Guyana, 59-year-old Flora Gomes is becoming a renowned poultry farmer – with important implications for local nutrition and income, 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 Guyana’s Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) program that aims to improve wildlife conservation and nutrition improve security. Through the competition, households and small poultry farmers evaluated weight gain in small flocks of local breeds using a range of local feeds.
The winners – including Gomes – received a small starter kit for poultry farming. 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’ve always preferred locally sourced eggs: they’re much healthier – you can see and taste the difference,” she said. Her flock exceeded her expectations and she began selling surplus eggs in her village. Now she hopes to expand into selling chicken as well.
In Rupununi, job opportunities are limited and families often do not have the money to buy groceries. Seasonal weather patterns can make access to food more difficult – a situation made even more complicated by the effects of climate change. As a result, many families depend heavily on game meat and fish for protein and income. But as populations grow, unsustainable methods of hunting and trapping — like the use of shotguns and seines — are on the rise, threatening terrestrial species like the lowland paca (Cuniculus paca), red-hulled agouti (Dasyprocta leporina), collared peccary (Dicotyledon tajacu) and redbuck deer (American Mazama), as well as fish like Arawana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum), Lukasani (cichlid) and large catfish (Brachyplatystoma spp.).
That’s why the chickens are so important. Poultry plays an important role in the food security of many Guyana households and is one of the most popular meats among the Rupununi. Currently, however, imported, industrialized Brazilian poultry dominates the local market. In this context, the SWM program and RLPA recognized an opportunity for local production and 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 venture for domestic subsistence production, providing improved nutrition and welfare, as well as surplus for income generation. Raising chickens is not a time-consuming activity and does not require expensive inputs as the semi-free range chickens can find some of their own feed. As Gomes explained, “Poultry is not difficult to make and does not take much time compared to other livestock such as cows.”
With women like Gomes in mind, the SWM program has set up livestock centers in the different districts to provide women farmers with easy access to technical support and inputs. An average of 150 farmers visit the livestock centers every month, 50% of whom are women. The program also provides training for women interested in poultry farming and works closely with government agencies to improve food security policy actions. Alongside this, the RPLA runs a “Local Meat You Can’t Beat” marketing campaign to promote local meat over imported, with a focus on chicken.
Since 2018, when the SWM program partnered with the RLPA in the region, poultry rearing, particularly by women, has increased significantly. For example, 87 percent of female RLPA members now raise poultry for home use and/or income. “I’ve had a lot of support – (the RLPA) telling me what types of feed to use, how to start, and even putting me in contact with some customers,” Gomes said.
The demand for Gomes eggs is growing. She has many regular customers in her village and now also gets weekly orders from the surrounding villages. “My customers always comment on how big the eggs are and how colorful they are,” she says. With sales increasing and support readily available from organizations like the RLPA and the SWM program, Gomes is encouraged to continue farming poultry. She plans to retire from her full-time job as a dorm mom in a year and she intends to expand her business from eggs to meat poultry by that time as she sees the local market starting to grow; She hopes local poultry farmers will soon dominate the meat and egg market.
The SWM program in Guyana is part of a large international organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, funded by the European Union, with co-funding from the French institution for global environment and the French development agency. The aim is to improve food security and the protection and sustainable use of wild animals in forests, savannas and wetlands in 15 countries.
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