Chickens and cattle, a gateway to economic diversification and wildlife protection

Photo by Luke McKenna, RLPA.

Guyana’s Rupununi region is home to spectacular scenery and exotic animals, where visitors hope to spot anteaters and giant armadillos.

The area is also home to chickens – a lot of chickens – and a traditional beef production system with low environmental impact.

However, since the 1970s, the beef industry has gone from a very lucrative activity to a system that requires innovative transformation and diversification.

In this context, chickens play an increasingly important economic and social role in local communities. They can be seen roaming the savannah, giggling outside schools, and even helping sleeping dogs by pecking pesky fleas. Those who meander through the courtyards are affectionately called yards.

These are all good signs for the Rupununi Breeders Association (RLPA), which was started in the 1970s to help ranchers bring cattle to market, and has come back to life in the middle of the last decade, expanding its focus, mission and membership.

In 2018, the RLPA joined forces with the Guyanese section of Sustainable Wildlife Management Program (SDM), on a small livestock project.

Chickens have become the star attraction.

“All the villages have chickens and everyone was excited about the project,” said Rebecca Faria, president of RLPA and manager of her family’s Point Ranch. “There is interest because it feeds people in the community. SWM has helped us build the capacities we need to reach farmers. The awareness we do transforms lives.

The project has multiple impacts, with better poultry farming designed as a way to boost the local economy, improve livelihoods and help conserve the region’s diverse wildlife.

Photo by Lucien Chauvin, FAO
Photo by Luke McKenna, RLPA

Economic impact

The RLPA opened a “breeding center” in Lethem, the political center of Rupununi, in early 2020 as part of the project. It provides farmers with supplies and assistance, as well as chickens.

Last year, the hub sold more than 16 tonnes of feed for chickens and 7,000 chicks. He added more than 10 tons of poultry meat to the local diet. The numbers for 2021 will be considerably higher as the restrictions imposed by the pandemic have been lowered, Faria said.

Local producers say the hub has met a critical need, not only by providing supplies, but by operating a veterinary hotline to answer questions by phone, email or messaging.

“The RLPA hub is very important to us,” said Tessa Felix, who raises chickens in the village of Shulinab. “I buy food and medicine. “We used to suffer from having to source our supplies from Brazil, but now we have a local source. “

The increase in chicken farming has come at a critical time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Southern Rupununi borders Brazil – the official passage is at Lethem – and poultry was regularly shipped from Brazil to Guyana. The border was closed due to the health crisis, limiting imports.

Faria said the crisis occurred as the RLPA was preparing a number of campaigns to raise awareness of locally produced agricultural products.

“The SWM has helped us to educate communities about buying local,” said Faria. “The closing of borders and inflation in Brazil have contributed to this, as local poultry is now more competitive. “

The RLPA produced signs, which they distributed in Lethem and neighboring villages, such as St Ignatius, for a “buy local” campaign.

“The campaign emphasizes quality, taste and price. Local poultry tastes better and we know how it’s raised, ”said Faria. “We don’t know how the imported meat is produced. “

Food and pens

The RLPA has two projects that complement the buy local campaign. One promotes local feeding and the other establishes a hatching center so the chicks can hatch locally instead of being imported from Georgetown, the capital, which is over 500 kilometers on an often heart-wrenching highway. .

The association launched a “local food challenge” in seven villages, with 70 chicks distributed to 10 breeders in each village. Participants were asked to suggest diet options and monitor weight. Farmers with the heaviest chickens after eight weeks won awards.

“We wanted to show small poultry farmers that it is possible to have feed at low cost, if not at no cost,” said Faria. “This has offered ideas to farmers, especially low-income farmers, that they can raise chickens economically and sustainably.”

Although she did not participate in the challenge, Felix said it was a smart move. “Raising chickens helps families be self-sufficient,” she said. “In my case, I’m out of work right now and raising chickens means we have a source of protein when we need it.”

The newly constructed chicken breeding facility will serve a number of purposes, facilitating the supply of local farmers and providing a source of income for the RLPA. It is designed as an educational center for farmers and agricultural students.

Faria said the facility, which will include an incubator, will start small, but she hopes it can eventually serve all of Region 9, the official name of the Rupununi area.

Potential for animal husbandry

The RLPA chicken project contributes to improving food security, but it is also in line with the other objective of the SWM Wildlife Conservation Program.

“Poultry is an alternative source of protein that can be used to supplement wild meat,” said Faria. “We’re not telling people that they can’t have wild meat, but that they can limit it. Chickens are a sustainable source of protein, and keeping them takes some of the pressure off the wildlife.

Felix said it is important to continue raising awareness about poultry as conditions change, with villagers having to go further into the forest each year to hunt and fish.

“The pressure for food is increasing and there are days when you are unlucky with the intake,” she said. “You still have to fill the pot, so a chicken will do.” “

RLPA’s most ambitious project follows these general lines, but examines options for villages to actually breed wildlife, such as capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) or labba (Cuniculus paca), for meat.

The idea was on the table when the GDS program was launched in Guyana in 2018. It included an information trip for a few farmers to Trinidad and Tobago, an island nation where wildlife, some of which are introduced from the southern mainland. -american, is high. A study of the University of the West Indies in 2013 found that about 3 percent of the wildlife raised in Trinidad and Tobago was intended for meat.

The RLPA began the initial work to assess interest in the project in May 2021. Faria said there had been some interest, but people were apprehensive.

The program wishes to recruit two farmers for a test phase which would begin in the last quarter of 2021 or early 2022. The RLPA is also meeting with the Guyana Livestock Development Authority and other organizations to determine what would be needed to keep wild animals. It is also studying options that have been developed in other countries. For example, in Argentina, capybara skins are used to make leather, which is considered to be one of the best in the world. Argentina is the only country where rodents are bred for their skin.

Faria said that although capybara is part of the Guyanese diet, it is not as prevalent in the diet as deer, labba or other bushmeat. She said the RLPA would organize the testing phase, which would include training in animal husbandry and wildlife management, and then make a decision.

“I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but animal husbandry is a future option to reduce the burden on wildlife,” she said.

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Betty T. Simpson