Livestock Research for Rural Development 17 (10) 2005 Guidelines to authors LRRD News

Citation of this paper

Smallholder poultry model for poverty alleviation in Bangladesh: a review of evidence on impact

S M Fakhrul Islam and M A Jabbar*

Bangabandhu Shaikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University, Salna, Gazipur, Bangladesh.
*International Livestock Research Institute, PO Box 5689, Addis Ababa


Smallholder poultry as a tool for poverty alleviation has been developed and widely applied in Bangladesh. In this paper, the evolution of the model has been summarized and studies conducted to assess the impact of the poultry model at various stages of its evolution have been critically reviewed.

The results indicate that the project has reached the poor though not always ultra poor, the main target of the model, and that participants have benefited positively in terms of income, consumption and nutrition, empowerment of women. However, the results need to be assessed with a high degree of caution because of several methodological limitations of the impact studies. These limitations have been illustrated and suggestions have made for more objective assessment of impact of past projects and for conducting additional research for supporting smallholder poultry as a tool for poverty alleviation.

Key words: Bangladesh, poultry, poverty, scavenging, smallholder, women


Scavenging poultry is a common enterprise in the rural areas of developing countries. In the 1960s and 70s, several unsuccessful attempts were made by donor and national agencies to develop the system through backyard poultry projects and cockerel exchange programmes. These initiatives did not produce sustainable technical and institutional mechanisms to support scavenging poultry development. Since many of the poor, especially ultra poor throughout the world either do not have any livestock or have a few chicken, poverty reduction programmes continued to search for ways in which chicken or other small animals could be used as a vehicle to assist them get out of poverty and ensure food security. Other reasons for the appeal of the concept are:

  1. there is a dire shortage at donor project or programme levels for effective interventions to address poverty,

  2. gender is a major focus in development and poultry is an obvious starting point to reach poor women, and

  3. it is appealing to livestock extension and research workers as using this concept they can reach out (complying a and b above) to a much larger population than when they confine themselves to cattle or practically any other animal (Ashley et al 1999; Dolberg 2001).

Smallholder poultry as a tool for poverty alleviation has been developed and widely applied in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world with over 40% of the population lying below the poverty line. Parallel development of the concept has taken place in a number of countries and adaptation of the Bangladesh model is also underway in a number of other countries with support from various donors including IFAD, FAO, DANIDA, Asian Development Bank (ADB). A number of rapid or extensive survey based assessment of different poultry projects in Bangladesh indicate that the project participants have benefited positively in terms of income, consumption, nutrition and empowerment of women.

However, the real extent of benefits and the degree of success of the model under various projects in Bangladesh remain very fuzzy. For example, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), the non-government organization (NGO) which played the leading role in the development and execution of the model in Bangladesh, reported in 2000 that the semi-scavenging poultry model was being practiced in 380 of the 460 thanas (sub-district or police station) of Bangladesh and that by 1997 1.27 million women were involved in small-scale poultry production under BRAC's poultry programme alone. Moreover, BRAC was supplying one million day old chicks per month, representing 60% of the total day old chick production in the country (Saleque 2000). These figures are much larger than the targeted number of thanas (195) and number of beneficiary women (873,000) under three major development projects, which replicated the model. On the other hand, an IFAD Project Completion Review of these projects in 2002 expressed concern about sustainability of the semi-scavenging poultry production system as the mission found that 35-40% of the beneficiaries in one of the projects dropped out even before the project was completed, and about 50% of beneficiaries in another project seemed to have dropped out after the project ended (Anonymous 2002).

In this paper, the evolution of the semi-scavenging poultry model and its application in Bangladesh is summarized, the evidence on the effectiveness and impact of the poultry model on poverty alleviation and food security is reviewed, the limitations of the previous assessments in terms of methodology, geographical coverage, findings and conclusions are identified, and knowledge gaps and needs for further research to support poultry as a tool for poverty alleviation are suggested.

In section 2, a brief description on the evolution of the model is given. In section 3, impact assessments done by various studies are critically reviewed. In section 4, knowledge gaps and research needs to support poultry for poverty alleviation are described.

Evolution of the semi-scavenging poultry model in Bangladesh

After its independence in 1971, Bangladesh had to deal with widespread and rising poverty and malnutrition exacerbated by several natural calamities. During the 1970s, food for works, food aid and relief were major sources of food security for millions of rural households. Many NGOs emerged and developed at this time alongside established international NGOs undertaking relief and food for works programmes. By the late 1970s some of these national NGOs were trying to combine relief work with development work as a vehicle to create long-term sustainable livelihood opportunities for the poor. BRAC, already a large and highly regarded NGO by that time, was one such organization which pioneered activities for income generation for vulnerable groups of households implemented through its rural development programme.

Formative and development stage

According to Saleque (2000), BRAC considered poultry as a potential candidate activity for income generation among the landless, particularly destitute women, many of whom owned a few chicken. In Bangladesh, poultry is kept by 70-90% of the households, while fewer households keep goats and cattle. Households owning no land or less than 0.5 acre of land own more than 50% of the total poultry population. Poultry is sometimes used as the first investment for a livestock ladder (in the sense that one can move from poultry to goat/sheep to cattle etc) to increase income and get out of poverty. There were almost no job opportunities for the landless, disadvantaged women in the country, who were BRAC's targets for relief and development work at that time. So it was conceived that poultry rearing in which these women were already engaged but at a miniscule level, could be an income earning activity for a large number of landless, poor women. This decision to target poor women was a major factor in the future course of development of this initiative. The belief that relief dependent ultra poor could be helped to undertake some income earning activities starting with a few chicken to gradually move away from relief to self-sustained livelihood activities was the basic foundation of the poultry model that eventually became a major development innovation.

In its beginning, it has some similarity with the founding principles of the Grameen Bank, which started by challenging conventional wisdom that poor had no credit worthiness because they had no collateral to provide as security, they were risky as clients as they would be unable to generate enough income to repay the loan. Working with a few ultra poor households in a village in Chittagong in the mid 1970s, the founder of the Grameen Bank was able to show that those hypotheses were wrong, that material security was not needed for providing loan to the poor and that poor had the knowledge and ability to use credit as a vehicle to get out of poverty, and with additional technical assistance they could do even better. Thus, belief in the poors' ability to escape poverty was a fundamental element in both Grameen's development as an innovative micro-finance institution and BRAC's development of the poultry model

High mortality and low productivity were major problems with scavenging poultry. So BRAC started participatory action research in the late 1970s in Manikgonj district involving poor households aimed at increasing productivity of scavenging poultry. Initially efforts were made to increase the productivity of local breeds through cockerel exchange, i.e. giving improved breeds of cockerels for breeding and facilitating exchange among neighbours. This initiative largely failed because the supply of HYV cockerels was limited, some farmers sold the high value HYV cockerels rather than using those for breeding, and mortality among hybrid off-springs remained high. In order to reduce bird mortality, a trial was introduced wherein poultry birds were vaccinated regularly in five action research villages for one year. The positive results in terms of reducing mortality rate and increase in bird population led to realize that vaccination must be an integral part of any intervention to promote poultry rearing as an income earning activity.

Between 1978 and 1982 the BRAC poultry programme had no model or design, it was being done on an ad hoc basis. The programme included supply of improved chicks, common disease prevention and training in improved rearing under scavenging conditions. It was then decided to involve women in the vaccination work and let them vaccinate for a fee as a source of income, using vaccines supplied free of cost from the local office of the Department of Livestock Services (DLS). However, it was observed that under this programme the government and other firms were supplying inadequate number of pullets for delivery to the participating households and such pullets also faced high mortality in the scavenging rearing system. It was therefore decided to buy day old chicks from the government farms and let selected, trained and supervised rural women rear the day old chicks for two months in confinement in houses built in their homestead plots and thereafter sell the chicks to other women for rearing. The advantage was that the chicks would become better adapted to the rural environment.

By about 1985, these initiatives led to the development of a prototype semi-scavenging poultry model especially targeted to poor women for rural poultry development. The model was a supply chain consisting of the following beneficiaries (Ahmed 2000):

Apart from the above technical components, there was an organizational support system component including training in various aspects of poultry rearing, organizing target participants into groups, provision of credit, input, extension and health services. Several of these inputs and services required access to the DLS, and these were obtained through informal collaboration with the DLS staff and offices in Manikgonj district, where the action research sites were located. The DLS headquarters in Dhaka later extensively examined the model at work in Manikgonj and considered it viable and replicable.

Based on the experiences of the pilot tests in Manikgonj, BRAC and DLS together replicated the model during 1985-87 on a pilot scale in 32 thanas mainly in the northwestern part of the country through 54 Area Offices of BRAC with assistance from FAO/UNDP. The credit component of the model was adapted from the Grameen Bank's group collective debt responsibility approach. In this approach a group was formed with five credit beneficiaries and a Village Organization was formed with eight groups. The point of contact in terms of technical poultry extension and debt collection is the responsibility of a BRAC Programme Assistant who would regularly contact 10-15 Village Organisations representing 400 - 600 farmers (usually women) on a weekly basis (Saleque and Mustafa 1997; Fattah 2000).

The outcomes of the extended pilot project appeared to be positive: bird population increased due to reduced mortality among participating flocks and participating women had increased their income, and through this effort BRAC and DLS, an NGO and a government department, learned to work closely together and they also came closer to people who needed their services. Lessons were also learnt about the advantages and problems of functional relationships among the various enterprises in the model and the optimal size of each enterprise, which helped to modify the model components later (Saleque 2000).

Replication of the model and changes introduced

Based on these experiences, the model was further modified and replicated through three large projects during 1992-2003 with assistance from DANIDA, IFAD, ADB and the Government of Bangladesh (Table 1). These projects targeted 873,000 poor women in 197 of the 464 thanas, mainly in the north, west and south of the country. The main objectives of these projects were to increase per capita income and animal protein consumption among rural poor through participation in the poultry production model. The DLS was the implementing agency in all three projects. Its role was to coordinate, monitor, control and to provide technical support. Specifically, the DLS was responsible for : 1) activities and facilities for implementation of a breeding programme, 2) activities and facilities for establishing a Management Information System, 3) activities and facilities for establishing an international training institution, 4) budgets for applied research activities and a comprehensive human resource development programme.

Table 1. Target thanas and beneficiaries in various smallholder livestock  development projects in Bangladesh




Thanas covered

Target  beneficiaries


SLDP I: Smallholder Livestock Development Project





PLDP: Participatory Livestock Development  Project

Danida, ADB




SLDP II: Smallholder Livestock Development. Project




Source: Fattah 2000

Apart from BRAC, two other large NGOs- Proshika and Swanirvar Bangladesh- were involved in the implementation SLDP I. Each NGO was responsible in its mandate area for : 1) establishment of an Area Office for each 3,000 to 6,000 women members, 2) selection of potential beneficiaries, 3) organization of village groups, 4) commence a saving programme, 5) training of beneficiaries, 6) creation of an enabling environment by establishing income generating activities such as input suppliers, veterinary service activities, and marketing, 7) provision of loans and assist each of the beneficiary in establishing an income generating activity, 8) technical support for operation of the different activities.

Under one Area Office, there would be on average 3853 Key Rearers, 40 Chick Rearers, 6 Mini Hatcheries, 24 Model Breeders, 10 Feed Sellers, 100 Poultry Workers and 10 Egg Sellers. Thus the model centred around the Key Rearer with some 10 improved hens supported by a number of small entrepreneurs, all available in the village, to provide the inputs and the services needed to maintain the flock. The Key Rearers were wrapped together by community groups, awareness programmes, training and access to micro-credit. The model was designed to create an enabling environment in which all inputs and services needed were available in the village to minimize the risks of investment in a smallholder activity. Even though different enterprises were established as an integrated production chain, each unit would operate on free market principle and was free to sell to customers outside the chain. Furthermore, no subsidies were provided at the user level. A poultry activity was compulsory for the first loan, but after repayment of the first loan the beneficiary was entitled to a new loan for an activity of her own choice.

The establishment cost and the first 3 years operational costs of an Area Office was covered by the project (Donor). After that, the profit margin from loans, sales of inputs and service fees from the 3,000 to 6,000 members was assumed to be enough to cover the NGO's cost of maintaining and operating the office.

Under PLDP and SLDP II, 10 NGOs including the three large ones involved in SLDP I, were involved in implementation along with DLS. The credit funds under PLDP and SLDP II were channelled from ADB through a semi-autonomous apex micro financing organization "Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation" (PKSF) to the NGOs who were registered as partners of PKSF.

A new phase of the project has been recently agreed between IFAD and the Government of Bangladesh through the Ministry of Finance, with PKSF as the executing agency mainly to support capacity building efforts to make the poultry model more widely used for the benefit of the poor. And this project is first and foremost a micro-credit project but with support for capacity development on livestock to be derived from the DLS on a consulting basis, as most of the micro-finance investment is made on livestock.

An important aspect of the evolution of the model was to accumulate experiences from previous and ongoing projects and ensure that these experiences were reflected in formulation of new projects. Any sustainable model has to be dynamic. A conceptual framework provide elements of the model but these elements- their nature and dimension, may change over time under changing conditions. In the evolution of the model, feedback and learning have played an important role (Dolberg 2001; Saleque 2000). Among the NGOs, BRAC operationalised some informal and formal feedback systems both upward and downward. Feedback took place through the numerous meetings and dialogue that was held regularly at all levels (i.e. village, area, regional and head office level). Feedback from and to villagers (various enterprises) provided a foundation for learning. The Programme Organisers met regularly with village groups, discussing issues and problems. Regional Managers and head office Staff visited village meetings or visit with individual enterprise operator when they were in the field. These meetings, together with informal discussions, formed the basis for feedback of the Programme from and to the village groups. In short, there were strong elements reminiscent of the Kolb (1984) learning circle, which underlines learning on the basis of experience.

Experiences gathered from implementation of SLDP-I were used later in redesigning the model in PLDP and SLDP-II (Dolberg et al 2002). Some of the important changes include the following:

Finding the best breed under scavenging or semi-scavenging conditions remained a problem. In order to support adaptive research to determine the "best" breed or breed combination under scavenging/semi-scavenging systems, an allocation of US$ 800 000 was made for field research within SLDP II.

Impact assessment on the BRAC-DLS model

Both SLDP and PLDP project designs required establishment of systematic monitoring and evaluation procedures by the implementing agencies (DLS and the concerned NGOs) to monitor the progress in implementation and performance of the projects as well as assess impact of the projects. However, DLS was not successful in establishing an effective monitoring and impact assessment system in either SLDP or PLDP. Most of the results reported on the progress of implementation of the model came from participating NGOs as a part of their routine programme report without detail analysis. Donor evaluation missions consisting of consultant teams produced some field observation based reports without using any systematic impact assessment design (Dolberg et al 2002).

In the absence of systematic monitoring and evaluation within the projects, several small and large studies have been conducted at various stages of the projects specifically to assess their impacts. An inventory of these studies is shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Impact studies conducted on Bangladesh poultry model


Study year

Districts covered

Sample size

Indicators considered

Alam 1997


Natore, Kushtia, Cuadanga, Rajshahi

1000 beneficiaries

Poultry population, adoption of breeds, costs and returns, income, consumption, savings, gender issues

Nielsen 1997


Faridpur, Jessore, Gopalganj, Narail, Madaripur

1,085 including some dropouts

Household income, expenditure, food intake, loan repayment, use of income, gender specific decisions, investment in assets, dropouts, empowerment of women

Seeberg 2002


Pirganj and Rangpur

54 beneficiaries

Access to land, type of households, loan size and uses, income, women empowerment



10 districts: 10 Thanas

110 beneficiaries, 65 dropouts

Household income,  loan size, food consumption,  livestock ownership, enterprise size, training support, performance of DLS, linkage to NGOs, dropouts.

Nielsen 2003

1999, 2001, 2003

10 out of 17 districts

Purposive : 24 case studies at 3 time points

Income, consumption, investment; women empowerment, reasons for drop out; cooperation between poultry workers, DLS and NGOs



14 districts:
28 Thanas

5,776 beneficiaries

Credit received, vaccination, volume of feed sold, mortality, disease prevalence, feed use, egg production, costs, profit and household income

Nabeta 2002



Secondary data

Services provided, production system, breed, marketing problem, credit repayment, extent of adoption and benefits.

Raha 2003


Rangpur, Sherpur, Chapai Nawabgonj,

547 beneficiaries

Profitability, sale and consumption;  marketing  efficiency

The BRAC-DLS poultry model was replicated through three large projects, each implemented in different geographical areas, in different periods of time with some overlap, by different combination of NGOs with varying capacity and experience. Although the basic poultry model structure remained fairly similar, several changes were introduced at different stages. All of these factors might have implications for how the model performed under different projects, how the various technical, institutional and organizational components of the model performed under different projects and situations, what impacts the projects and their enterprises made through which pathways. If beneficiaries succeeded to get out of poverty, how did they do so and what did they do once they passed the threshold of poverty? If some failed to successfully use the enterprise to help them get out of poverty why did they not succeed? These and other related questions should have been addressed through appropriate sampling frame and analytical approaches to assess the impact of the poultry projects under discussion. But most of the studies listed above suffer from important sampling and analytical limitations, which need to be kept in mind while interpreting their results and their implications. So these limitations are summarised below before discussing the results.

Methodological limitations of the impact studies
Sample size

Given that each project had a large number of target beneficiaries, a representative and adequate sample size would be needed to draw statistically valid conclusions. Due to various factors that might influence performance and impact of the model as outlined above, application of appropriate stratification criteria would be needed to draw representative samples. Alam (1997), Nielsen (1998), DARUDEC (2003) and Raha (2003) used fairly large samples but they did not consider all the important stratification requirements in sampling design. Raha selected three upazilas purposively in accordance with the advice of the NGO, which had operational mandate in those upazilas, and the upazilas with reasonably high success records were recommended and selected. Moreover, only households that were operating at the time of the survey were selected, consequently the results are biased upwards and can't be generalized. Seeberg (2002) and DARUDEC (2002) used very small, unrepresentative samples drawn from observed high performing areas often at the suggestion of the implementing NGOs, so they did not allow rigorous statistical analysis and inference. Rahman et al (1997) also had a fairly small sample though it was subjected to statistical analysis. Nielsen (2003) used a case study approach with a fairly small purposively selected sample, which were interviewed at three different points in time. Case study approach often allows in depth analysis of representative cases for drawing general conclusions, hence Nielsen's results could be considered valuable but by her own account, the samples were selected by the NGOs operating in the selected project areas, so there perhaps was a bias towards selecting more well-off and more successful cases, thereby limiting the degree of generalization that can be derived from the study.

Basis of comparison

The projects operated under a dynamic socio-economic environment where poor peoples' conditions might have changed to some degree without the poultry projects. Therefore, to assess the net effect of the projects at household or higher levels, both before-after (for participants) and with-without (including both participants and non-participants or control group) comparisons would be needed (Table 3).

Table 3. The framework for assessing the net effect of any project intervention


Before Project

After project


Participants (with project)




Non-participants (without project)








E = A-C=  Difference in initial condition. Assumed to be 0 or no difference
F= B-D= Project effect without controlling for initial differences
G=B-A= Project effect without controlling for possible change without project
H=D-C= Effect of time/autonomous change without project
I = G-H= Net effect of project intervention

Either before-after or with-without comparison on its own may generate biased estimates of the effects of the project if there were initial differences between participants and non-participants and/or there were changes in peoples' conditions (positive or negative) without the project. The before-after comparison also needs to address the time path of adoption as not all participants joined the project in the beginning or at the same time, and problem of using constant or current prices in valuing products and inputs. If the number of participants joining the project has an unequal (skewed) distribution over the life of the project, the sample should also reflect that distribution in order to obtain an unbiased estimate of the impact of the project.

Another aspect of sampling for impact assessment is how to treat active vs dropout participants. Empirical studies on agricultural technology adoption generally divide a population into adopters and non-adopters, and analyse the reasons for adoption or non-adoption at a point in time and then the impact of adoption may also be measured. In reality, technology adoption is not a one-off static decision rather it involves a dynamic process in which information gathering, learning and experience play pivotal roles particularly in the early stages of adoption. The adoption pathway may involve a process in which farmers move from learning to adoption to continuous or discontinuous use over time (Jabbar et al 2003). Inclusion of drop outs in the sample and analysis of their profiles are very important where high drop out rates, permanent or temporary, are observed, as apparently the situation in all three poultry projects under discussion.

All the impact studies under review except that of Nielsen (1998) and Nielsen (2003) used only simple before-after comparison, some included dropouts in the sample but in most cases the depth of analysis remain low. Only Nielsen (1998) used a before-after as well as with-without sampling frame including dropouts but here also the depth of statistical analysis to draw robust inferences remain poor. Nielsen (2003) used a panel collecting data for three points in time, including dropouts so could provide a more robust basis to assess the impacts if the sample size was not too small.

Impact on the beneficiaries
Types of beneficiaries

Alam's (1997) sample comprised 75.2% key rearers, 6% chick rearers, 4% model rearers, 4% feed sellers, 0.8% mini hatcheries and 10% poultry workers and no egg sellers. Male and female headed households in the sample were 76.5% and 23.5% respectively. The study mentioned that the number of samples in each beneficiary group was more or less proportional to the total number of beneficiaries in each group (Alam 1997, p2). In theory, all the enterprises in the model are targeted to poor women and about 95% of the beneficiaries are supposed to be Key Rearers around whom other enterprises are built. Therefore, there seems to be a major divergence between the expected theoretical composition of the model and its actual composition in the field. Most likely the imbalance occurred because egg sellers were not yet a part of the model when this survey was done and Alam did not include dropouts (majority of which would be key rearers, the largest beneficiary group) in the sample rather took a reasonable number from each of the other categories to allow meaningful analysis.

Nielsen (1998) did not give a breakdown of its 1085 samples according to active beneficiaries and dropouts by type of enterprises, and control group. However, an aggregate gender breakdown was given showing that among the sample active beneficiaries 15.4% were female headed compared to 8.6% for dropouts and 12.2% for control group. Others were male-headed households, which indicate that either the sample was biased toward male headed households or that the project did not really reach its targets who should be principally women. Among the active beneficiaries, 44% could read and write, 52% could sign and 4% were illiterate; the corresponding figures for the control and dropout groups combined were 25, 40 and 36% respectively.

Similar problems in the sampling composition to identify beneficiary types remain in most other studies. For example, Swan (2000) identified three categories of beneficiaries as follows without giving any quantitative figure about the distribution of these beneficiaries: (1) women from poor and landless farmer households and female-headed households; (2) poor landless farmers who operate less than 0.5 acres (0.2 ha) of land and depend on the sale of more than 10 days per month of their manual labour as the main source of income; and (3) poor and marginal farmers with between 0.5-1.0 acres (0.2-0.4 ha) of land and an average daily income of less than Tk 17/day (about US$ 0.35/day or $ 128/year). Seeberg (2002) reported that 74% of the beneficiaries had less than 0.50 acre of land and 12% had 0.51-1.00 acre and 4.3% had 1.01-1.50 acres. This is also an indication that a good proportion of the participants were well-off households (with over 0.5 acre land and perhaps some livestock, as land and livestock ownership has good correlation), who were not the basic target of these projects.

The complexity and capital and skill requirements are not the same for the different enterprises, and the enterprises need to be adopted as independent individual choices on a voluntary basis but function as an integrated chain. Therefore, finding the ratio of different entrepreneurs and their profiles (asset and income base, skill level, demographic characteristics, market orientation and access etc) would be useful in explaining which type of poor women adopted which enterprise and why, what participant characteristics contributed to non-participation, participation, success or failure and why there was an imbalance in the model composition, if any. Such detailed analysis was missing in all the studies.

Some studies mentioned that benefits from the poultry projects have spilled outside the model participants. Rather than using the loan for poultry, some members used part or entire loan for other enterprises, some initially took up poultry but gradually moved into other things such as rickshaw pulling, petty trading. But these results could also be interpreted differently. Rather than spillover benefits, they might indicate and explain the high drop out rates (see below). Perhaps these participants did not have any interest in poultry in the first place but joined the project to access credit and soon moved out of poultry to engage in what they wanted to do. This implies that given freedom to choose a business with micro-credit, not everybody would take up poultry as the initial or first choice as required by the poultry projects. Mini-hatcheries and model breeders were supposed to sell their improved chicks to other enterprises in the model but some sold to local farmers outside the model either because there was inadequate number of key rearers in the model or because they produced a surplus. Other secondary beneficiaries include farmers in the locality who bought vaccination services from the poultry workers, and feeds from feed sellers. The extent of such spillover beneficiaries of the project has not been analysed in any study.

A more fundamental question is that the concept has been developed to target poor women, especially the ultra poor, but it is unclear from the various impact studies if the poorest women were targeted and reached in the various projects. An objective characterisation of the actual beneficiaries is essential because, while discussing the principles and problems of adaptation of the Bangladesh model elsewhere, Jensen (2002) mentioned that " it is surprising so many organizations and individuals have a policy to target the poorest, but either on purpose or in reality exclude the poorest segment of the population from their activities. Common phrases are : the poorest do not have the capability to learn, the poorest are lazy, the poorest have chosen to live in poverty, or it is better to start with the better off and then the poor will benefit through a trickle-down effect -an approach which has been rejected long ago".

Drop out

None of the formal impact studies tried to estimate drop out rates though some studies included drop outs in the sample. Nielsen (1998) reported drop out rates of 2-3% based on estimates of the implementing NGOs. Quoting PLDP monitoring system data, Nielsen (2003) reported that between 2001 and 2002, 59% of the Key Rearers in the PLDP project areas, who constitute 95% of the target beneficiaries, have dropped out. In her own case studies, 26% dropped out completely between 1999 and 2003 and another 30% stopped PLDP activities but have maintained contact with the NGO for savings and participation in group meetings. This latter group perhaps continues to maintain contact with the NGO to access credit to undertake activities of their own choice in the future. An IFAD review and evaluation mission reported that 50% of SLDP participants appeared to have dropped out after the project ended and 35-40% of PLDP beneficiaries dropped out even before the project was completed (Anonymous 2002).

Nielsen (1998 and 2003) mentioned losses suffered due to high chick mortality, lack of technical services and low productivity, problems in repaying loan, family problems e.g. advice of husband to stay away to avoid being indebted, as reasons for drop out. About 33% of the dropouts showed interest to join the project again. There are indications that some people dropped out because they joined the model only to obtain credit and initially adopted a poultry enterprise but soon moved into their choice of business leaving poultry partly or fully. The IFAD mission mentioned several reasons for drop out : (a) small loan size and very small poultry enterprise do not provide a pathway out of poverty, (b) some poultry enterprises, especially mini hatcheries and model rearers, were not profitable, partly due to low market price of eggs and other market distortions, (c) the design being fixed with type, scale and relative number of enterprises, adopters did not always had the freedom to choose the enterprise they liked best, (d) the ratio of participant to NGO field staff was much higher than normal NGO micro-credit programmes, especially under PLDP and SLDP-II, hence supervision, training, input supply and services and regular contacts with participants could not be maintained at optimal level.

These features led the IFAD mission to express concern about the sustainability of the poultry production system. A detailed analysis of the drop out rates and profiles of drop outs vs those who stayed in the business might be very helpful in increasing the sustainability of the model and the projects as targeting potential adopters and their training and other needs may be more objectively and accurately done in future projects.

Profitability of poultry enterprises

A number of studies assessed profitability of different enterprises and found them positive. Some of the important results are summarised in Table 4. The absolute values of profit for some enterprises appear to be very low while for others they are reasonably good. However, there is no detailed analysis of profit variability and related causes or factors. Cost of day old chicks, supplementary feeds, if any, health costs and output prices may have influence on profitability. Also there may be differences between enterprises, locations and operating areas of NGOs. For example, the IFAD review and evaluation mission observed that mini hatcheries and model breeders found it difficult to run a viable business producing hatching eggs and chicks because DLS farms supplied chicks at below commercial prices. Mini hatcheries also appeared to be technically difficult to operate because of high labour and management demand. The mission also observed egg prices lower than usual in several locations, especially near the Indian border as eggs come across the border and drive down local prices (Anonymous 2002).

Table 4. Profitability (US $) of semi-scavenging poultry activities 1994 and 1997

Year and parameter

Poultry workers

Chick Rearers

Key Rearers

Feed Sellers

Hatchery Operators







Profit per month












Gross revenue  per week






Total expenditure per week






Total profit per week






Profitability, %












Benefit/cost ratio






Source: for 1994 (BRAC 1995), for 1997 (Alam 1997; Saleque 2000); for 2002 (Raha 2003)

Market access for products may be a major factor in profitability. The implicit assumption is that poultry producers in the model should have no problem selling their small quantities of outputs locally. Egg sellers in the model buy eggs and sell usually in local markets. But if a large proportion of the poor families take up poultry and expand the size of the enterprise under semi-scavenging conditions, aggregate increased production may glut local markets unless traders can access larger urban markets. Moreover, increasingly these bigger markets and towns may be supplied by the rapidly expanding private commercial sector. Commercialisation may lead to falling poultry prices relative to feed cost but commercial farms may remain competitive due to economies of scale and they may push scavenging and other small-holder poultry units out of business. It is therefore necessary to analyse the competitiveness of scavenging/semi-scavenging poultry and identify production and market niches where they may have potential for survival.

Income of the beneficiaries

Several studies assessed income from poultry and its contribution to total household income. However, it is unclear how poultry income and total household income have been actually defined and if all the definitions are the same or comparable. It is also unclear if current or inflation adjusted prices have been used because inflation and currency devaluation would make comparison of values generated at different times difficult. Results derived from Alam (1997) are summarised in Table 5. The average weekly household income of the beneficiaries increased from taka 268 to 398, i.e by taka 130 or 48%. This was more or less equivalent to the income derived from the poultry enterprise at the time of the survey though in a few cases, poultry income was higher than the overall change in household income. The survey also showed that 28% of the households had increased their income above the poverty line (Nielsen 1997 based on Alam 1997) although no details was provided on whether they could move up any further after crossing the poverty line and what pathway they took to move up the ladder. Therefore, it appears as though the entire change in average household income came from participation in the poultry project. Poultry income accounted for about 35% of household income at the time of the survey, the figure in the beginning of the survey was not available. There was considerable variation in household and poultry income and its share between the different enterprises and also between different districts.

Table 5. Average weekly income of different beneficiaries and its share in total household income, 1995

Beneficiary group

Total hh income before project, Taka

Change in total hh income at survey, Taka

Total poultry income at survey , Taka

Poultry share in total income, %

Key rearer





Mini hatchery





Model rearer





Chick rearer





Feed seller





Poultry worker





All beneficiaries





Source: Alam 1997 ;
US $ 1=  approx. TK 41 in 1995

Neilsen (1998) found that net poultry income and its share in total household income were higher for project beneficiaries before the project and increased five times among project beneficiaries but only marginally among the control group(it is not clear if control group include the dropouts) (Table 6). Project members' own contribution to household income increased from 16 to 30% among the beneficiaries but only from 9 to 10% among the control group. Breakdown by type of enterprises was not available nor was any indication of the extent of variation across districts and NGOs.

Table 6. Average weekly poultry income and its share in household income among beneficiaries and control groups, 1997





At survey


At survey

Poultry income, Taka





Total household income, Taka





Poultry share in total household income, %





Source:  Nielsen 1998

Nielsen (2003) found average monthly beneficiary income of key rearers from PLDP poultry project activities was Tk 1470 in 2003, which was higher than the average for all PLDP activities though this comparison was perhaps not meaningful as the sample of different enterprises was not proportional. About 75% of the beneficiaries had more than one source of income in 1999 as well as in 2003. Average monthly income from non-PLDP activities increased from Tk 255 in 1999 to Tk 775 by the end of 2002.

DARUDEC (2002) showed that average monthly income of different beneficiary groups increased by 14-163% (Table 7). However, the small sample size and its lack of representativeness may have highly biased some of the estimates.

Table 7. Average monthly net income  (Taka) from semi-scavenging poultry, 1997 and 2002


Increased  Income

% change in income

Key Rearers



Mini Hatchery



Chick Rearers



Model Rearers



Feed Sellers



Poultry Workers



Egg seller



Source: DARUDEC (2002), US$1 = approximately Taka 56 in 2002

To be able to make any impact on poverty, the poultry enterprises in the model have to be sufficiently profitable and generate adequate income to be attractive. The income and the cash flow pattern should also enable repayment of loan and leave some margin for family expenditure. The beneficiaries are supposed to be poor women who have practically no or few other direct cash income generating activities though they contribute a lot of their time to other farm and household activities. Therefore, most producers practiced poultry as a complementary or supplementary enterprise to add to their other activities, direct income generating or not. In the absence of a good understanding or measure of the alternative income sources or opportunity cost of their labour and capital, it is difficult to judge if the profit rates and income derived from various enterprises shown above were sufficiently attractive for the majority of the poor to continue this as an income diversification strategy and use this to get out of the threshold of poverty. Whether the income and cash flow had any relation with repayment performance and drop out would also be useful information. None of the studies that assessed profitability and income looked at these issues thoroughly. The high drop out rates indicated by IFAD and Nielsen mentioned earlier imply that such detailed analysis is required to understand the viability and sustainability of the model and it's various components.

Consumption, saving and expenditure pattern

It was envisaged in the project design that increased poultry production would directly contribute to food security by enhancing consumption of poultry meat and eggs to some extent and indirectly by enhancing income to purchase other foods. Also enhanced income could be spent on non-food items, be saved and invested in other assets. Alam (1997) and Nielsen (1998) found significant increases in the consumption of several food items among the beneficiaries (Table 8). Nielsen also found that the control group had lower initial consumption levels and significantly less consumption increases over the project period. Nielsen (2003) found that starvation in the lean season (about 4 month per year) reduced in case of 75% of the beneficiaries and intake of meals with eggs and fish had increased in the rest of year, though it is unclear how much of this could be attributed to the PLDP poultry activities. Raha (2003) found that consumption of eggs and chicken increased significantly among chick rearers and model breeders but not so significantly among other enterprises.

Table 8. Changes in average intake of some food items among project beneficiaries, 1995 and 1997


1995 study

1997 study
























































Source: Alam 1997; Nielsen 1998

Nielsen (1997) showed on the basis of the survey reported in Alam (1997) that among the project beneficiaries ownership of improved breeds of chicken increased by 47%, ownership of goats increased by 30%, cattle ownership increased by 139%. Nielsen (1998) showed larger increases in saving and expenditure among beneficiaries compared to control groups (Table 9). Large increase in cash savings among beneficiaries is primarily due to compulsory savings requirements of the NGO credit groups. Other expenditure includes investment in non-farm activities such as rickshaw or other business run by the male members of the household for additional income generation. Investment in animals showed a ladder pattern over time: from chicken and ducks to goats and cattle. Nielsen (2003) found that beneficiaries have increased their total savings by 60% (from Tk 28314 to Tk 47278), have increased their average land holding- both owned and rented, and have improved their houses, invested in tube wells, improved latrines over the three year study period. Seeberg (2002) mentioned similar pattern in her case study households and Todd (1998) found a similar pattern among Grameen Bank's micro-credit recipients in Tangail district, which is outside the poultry project.

Table 9. Changes in average monthly expenditure and saving (Taka per household) among beneficiaries and control groups, 1997



Control group


At survey

% change


At survey

% change















School fees





















House repair



































Source: Nielson 1998

Empowerment of women

Participation of women in decision-making about various aspects of the household and increased confidence in making decisions are often considered as good indicators of their status and power in the family and society. Mobility, e.g. going out of the homestead and to the market, may also indicate empowerment. Nielsen (1997) mentioned that beneficiaries had gained more influence on deciding the use of income and schooling of their children. With the project income, joint decision-making by husband and wife had increased from 54% to 60% of all sample households. School attendance of children of beneficiary households increased from 86 to 99% and the increase was much higher for girls, which might be an indirect indicator of the influence of women in sending girls to school. Nielsen (1998) found large increases among both beneficiaries and control groups in women's participation in decision making on how to spend income. Also joint decision on which children to be sent to school increased from 44% to 70%, while women only decision increased from 14% to 27% among beneficiaries. For the control group, the same trend in decision-making was found. Seeberg (2002) reported that 92% of the interviewed women kept the income from selling of eggs and chicken in their own hands and they sent more of their children, especially girls, to school. Nielsen (2003) mentioned that beneficiaries had increased their confidence and mobility outside the homestead, they also had improved their status in the family by taking part in decisions as they were recognized as income earners. Women give priority to schooling of their children and they give priority to daughters.

Although participation in the poultry project might have positively contributed to some of the indicators of enhanced women power and status as mentioned above, a clear attribution to the project would be difficult because of the presence of other parallel programmes in which both the beneficiaries and the non-beneficiaries have participated. For example, there is a countrywide programme on 'food for education' run by the Education Ministry and implemented through some NGOs including the ones implementing the poultry project. In order to encourage poor families to send their school age children to school, a certain amount of food grain is given per child every month if they attend school regularly. The food compensate for their lost work and income, and the programme contribute to the country's literacy expansion objective. Some NGOs also have informal literacy/schooling programme of their own. Increased school attendance in the project areas might have resulted largely due to these programmes rather than the poultry project per se.

Performance in delivery of services

Micro-credit is an essential component to support the expansion of the model. Alam (1997) found that as envisaged in the plan, the amount of loan received by different beneficiaries varied due to the size and type of enterprise. For instance the Key Rearers received the lowest amount of loan (Taka 1003), while the Mini Hatchery owners received the highest amount (Taka 5750). All loanees were found to be regular in weekly repayment. DARUDEC (2002) reported that among the Key Rearers, Poultry Workers and Egg Collectors, around a third to half of the loan provided was used for the poultry enterprise; the rest was mainly invested in some other income-generating activities. Two main investment items from loans was petty trading and procurement of goat. A number of beneficiaries dropped out of the programme due to late disbursement of credit.

Nielsen (2003) found that one third of the PLDP beneficiaries had problems of loan repayment due to sickness in the family, natural calamities and livestock mortality. Among the dropouts, 65% had problems with loan repayment and finance, 22% had problems in repaying the first loan. An IFAD review and evaluation mission that assessed SLDP I observed that small loan size was a reason for many drop outs as it did not provide a basis for a viable business to get out of poverty. They also observed that in SLDP I project areas, poultry production has been sustained where the two larger NGOs- BRAC and Proshika- had the resources to continue the credit operation along with technical support. The mission also found poor loan recovery - below the level expected in normal micro-credit programme, where drop out rates were high. Similar problems in SLDP II led the PKSF, the apex credit management agency, to suspend credit fund disbursement to 4 out of 10 of the NGOs whose operational areas had high loan default rates (Anonymous 2002).

Training and technical support

Short-term training to potential beneficiaries to be provided by the implementing NGOs is an essential component of the project. Under SLDP I, out of a target beneficiary of 400,000, training had been provided to about 77,310: 3,900 poultry vaccinators, 1,400 chick-rearers, 400 feed-sellers, 71,500 key rearers and 110 mini-hatchery owners, though it is unclear whether these numbers were for the entire project period or for an incomplete period (Nabeta 2002). Up to September 1999, the total number of trainees covering the different beneficiaries of PLDP was 170,550 out of a target of 364, 000 (Newnham 2000). The type and duration of training provided to various target beneficiaries of PLDP appeared to be more or less the same irrespective of type of cadres. The beneficiaries who successfully operated their enterprises gave a general positive assessment of the training they had received, whereas dropouts from the same groups and villages assessed negatively. Many beneficiaries could not recall much of the technical aspects that they had been taught and this was more apparent among the dropouts. Only Mini Hatchery owners, Chick Rearers and Poultry Workers received handouts.

It appeared that NGOs, especially smaller ones in PLDP and SLDP-II, put considerably more emphasis on credit disbursement and recollection, than on technical support services (DARUDEC 2002). Nielsen (2003) mentioned that communication and cooperation among the DLS and NGO staff in the field and the poultry workers has been poor, and much less than desirable to make the model work efficiently. Since the poultry workers are the key players in providing health and other technical support to the various enterprises, it is essential that they get proper training and timely supply of vaccines and other inputs to perform their job. This did not appear to be the case in the PLDP project areas where 25% of the area offices of the NGOs did not keep the local DLS offices informed of who the poultry workers were.

There did not appear to be adequate understanding among the beneficiaries concerning the Poultry Model, the inter-action and inter-dependency of the various enterprises. Project implementing agencies and donors alike have grossly neglected training in the technical aspects of the model as well as extension service and so only limited human capabilities existed in technical support of the model (Dolberg 2001). The NGOs stated that 60% of the field staff time was used on credit disbursement, recollection and savings, 20% on technical aspects and 20% on social services. However, none of the Area Offices had staff fully conversant with poultry management. Although the projects paid for recruiting graduate level technical staff (with animal husbandry or veterinary training) for area offices, only about 5% of the staff had such qualification. The NGOs apparently had difficulty hiring and retaining staff with graduate animal science training, as they tended to look for better paid and higher status jobs in urban areas (Anonymous 2002). Given the number of unemployed animal husbandry and veterinary graduates in the country, finding trained staff for the project should not have been a problem. It is however, to be expected that such graduates will look for better jobs if the NGOs do not provide adequate incentives for them to stay. Whether the salary and benefits offered to these graduates by the NGOs are reasonably attractive in relation to the market and whether the NGOs are budgeting lower benefit packages to keep project cost low needs to be closely examined.

Research and capacity building

Teaching and research at universities and public sector institutions generally ignored the scavenging poultry sector, except in a few cases where backyard poultry projects through cockerel exchange programmes were implemented on a pilot scale, perhaps assuming that it had no prospect for development. Consequently, since the 1980s, because of the rapid expansion of the smallholder poultry project activities, there is a shortage of well-trained livestock staff at all levels to address the research, extension and development issues to support scavenging poultry (Dolberg 2003). SLDP and PLDP made provision for adaptive research and capacity building for developing the semi-scavenging poultry model. DANIDA has allocated funds for field research within SLDP II through 50 scholarships for M.S studies and thesis research (10 per year). The Smallholder Poultry Network based at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Copenhagen provided training to 15 Bangladeshi students at M.Sc level through a sandwich programme, where a University in Denmark has awarded degrees, but research has been conducted in one of the poultry project areas in Bangladesh.( The main university involved in Denmark is the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, but the board of the Poultry Network is multidisciplinary with disciplinary support provided by some other institutions including Copenhagen University, The Centre for Development Research and Aarhus University.) These graduates are likely to make good contribution to the project in the coming years provided they are retained in the poultry related work rather than transferring to other sectors.

Poverty alleviation through scavenging poultry was the original goal of the initiators of the concept (BRAC, DLS and others who contributed to the design and evolution of the Model). However, the evolved model is no longer based fully on only local breeds and scavenging feeding systems rather a combination of local and improved breeds as well as supplementary feeding and management are part of the model, hence described as semi-scavenging. All of these require an elaborate technical and institutional support system. Although required input and service support systems have been developed through trial and error and implemented under the three projects, research on their effectiveness and alternative modes of delivery are absent.

Some research has been conducted to determine the best breed under semi-scavenging conditions. Rahman et al (1997) in study compared the performance of crosses of local with White Leghorn, Rhode Island Red and Fayoumi. Based on the results of this study Dolberg (2003) concluded that there was no significant difference in performance among the different breed combinations, and location rather than breed was more important affecting mortality and productivity. The implication drawn was for adoption of a flexible approach in breed use rather than fully depending on Sonali breed (RIR x Fayoumi). However, a re-examination of the results indicated that Dolberg's interpretation of the results and the conclusion was not fully accurate. It was found that in terms of age at first laying there was no significant difference among the breeds and that the combination of RIR x Fayoumi (Sonali) had the statistically significant best performance with the highest egg production (156 eggs/hen/year), lowest mortality (16%) and highest profit per hen (205 Tk/hen). Among the other four breed combinations these differences were not statistically significant. There was no significant seasonal effect on egg production.

Another field trial conducted in 2001 in the PLDP area as part of an M.Sc thesis research compared Fayoumi breed with the Sonali and crosses with the Native Naked Neck, and confirmed the superiority of the Sonali (Zaman 2002). On the other hand, Ali et al (2002) found in a similar trial elsewhere in the country that location had significant effect on productivity. However, it is quite possible for location to have general effect on productivity because of ecological and production system differences: a grain based production system may generate more feed supply for scavenging poultry than a non-grain based system, a dry environment may produce less organism in the soil for birds to pick and may produce less disease conditions than a flooded, wet condition. The numbers of observations involved in experiments in these studies were relatively small. For example, in the trial by Rahman et al, there were 3 sites, 8 breed combinations and 4 hatches, i.e. 3 factors and 96 cells. There were 1272 birds in 297 households , i.e 3 hh/cell or 12-13 birds/cell or 4 birds/household. Ali's trial included 72 birds distributed to 18 households in 10 locations in 7 villages. Therefore it is unclear if statistical analyses and conclusions drawn from such small numbers of observations are robust enough for generalization.

The objective to find best breed under scavenging system needs to be assessed with caution as except the Sonali breed there is no other successful example of improved breed coming out of the scavenging system, and none of the backyard poultry development or cockerel exchange programmes anywhere has produced any stable, sustainable crossbreed (Hans Jensen, personal communication). In pure scavenging systems, perhaps significant attention need not be given to breed, as people will be expected to use whatever breed they have locally. If the system is semi-scavenging or semi-intensive for which day old chicks and other support services have to be organized, and if improved breeds are to be considered, choice of breed(s) may become a major consideration because even with one improved breed, Sonali, the supply of day old chicks from the DLS farms is often inadequate. With several breeds and several suppliers, the system may be even more complex and chaotic. Partly as a response to this problem, BRAC has started to produce DOC in order to service the requirements of the poultry model (Dolberg 2001). BRAC perhaps also sees here a business opportunity as DLS farms may not be able to continue supplying the expanding demand for DOC from the rural areas. It is likely that BRAC will use the poultry model to develop a contract growing system whereby BRAC will supply DOC and other inputs and buy back eggs and broilers. The difference with commercial contract growing may be that BRAC will still keep the focus on poverty alleviation and target the poor women, or poor households in general, as in the poultry model.

Some of the changes introduced in the model as it evolved from scavenging to semi-scavenging system are partial confinement and feed supplement. Since improved breeds are used, supplement has to be of good quality protein to be useful. Confinement and supplementation is also required in local chicken to reduce mortality due to predator and diseases. The Newcastle Disease is found to be most common, so regular vaccination through poultry workers has been introduced in the model. However, interaction between breed, feed supplement and disease control need to be systematically studied in order to define optimal ration and management regimes to produce best results. An extension and dissemination system with high biosecurity has to be developed and implemented as the first step to make semi-intensive systems viable (Jensen 2000; Dolberg 2001).

But research in these areas is virtually absent in Bangladesh. Ali et al (2002) conducted a small trial to assess the effect of supplementation on egg production of crossbred birds and found that ad libitum feed supply gave the highest egg yield and also location was a significant factor in egg yield difference. Several papers on the subject quoted a study by Roberts et al (1994) conducted in Sri Lanka, showing that a supplement containing 26% crude protein significantly reduced mortality in village chicken, 9 and 15% crude protein supplements were not effective as it was well known that sufficient protein in the diet was required to build up a chick's immune system. However, it is unclear whether supplementation with 26% CP (or 16% for local chicken) was profitable to encourage poor people to make such investment in scavenging local poultry, especially local breeds.

Stakeholder participation and sustainability of the system

From the foregoing analysis it appears that the poultry model has been developed as an integrated supply chain. The enterprises in the model were designed from the suppliers' perspectives and new enterprises were designed in the process of evolution to fill a perceived gap. Although feed back from beneficiaries and learning have been used to some extent in introducing changes in the model, it is clear that a fully or sufficiently demand driven, beneficiary participatory approach was not applied in designing the model or in introducing changes. All three poultry projects funded by donors had explicit budgetary provision for hiring adequate technical staff, for providing adequate and appropriate training to potential beneficiaries, and for establishing a sound monitoring and evaluation system. In all three areas, actual performance appears to be poor and the IFAD review and evaluation mission expressed concern about the sustainability of the semi-scavenging production system.

In order to address some of these concerns, the newly agreed project funded by IFAD and DANIDA is primarily focused on enhancing capacity building of the various agencies involved in servicing the poultry model. NGOs have developed good micro-credit systems but such credit is often provided without technical training, and the objective of the new project is to promote a 'credit plus technical support' approach. Moreover, credit will be made accessible without restriction on the choice of enterprise so credit recipients can choose what they want and can do best. This will also reduce the drop out rate from poultry. Several enterprises in the poultry model will be either eliminated or be made optional and changed in terms of content so that beneficiaries at a location may use a flexible approach, i.e. there will no longer be a fixed model with fixed number of enterprises, beneficiaries and scale of operation. The IFAD evaluation mission concluded that "in fact, with a demand driven approach it may be best not to talk of a model at all, but let the components evolve as the circumstances permit" (Anonymous 2002).

If this is the key lesson from the three big projects implemented in fairly large areas over a decade, and if this is assumed as the key to development of a sustainable approach to scavenging poultry for poverty alleviation, then it appears that all the experiences of the BRAC-DLS poultry model development and its evolution need to be put upside down in spite of its several positive achievements. Also, widely held belief among some professionals and practitioners that 'the idea of smallholder poultry for poverty alleviation is well established' (Funso Sonaiya, personal communication) needs to be significantly moderated until more sustainable scavenging systems can be established.

Knowledge gaps and needs for further research

The findings of the various studies reviewed earlier indicate that the poultry projects have made positive impacts in terms of income, nutrition and consumption, women empowerment etc. However, these results, especially their dimensions need to be interpreted with a high degree of caution because the studies suffer from one or more of the following methodological deficiencies: size, distribution and stratification of the samples; approaches used in attributing benefits to the projects and their beneficiaries. More objective, inclusive and systematic impact studies are required to assess the characteristics of the actual beneficiaries reached by the projects, the impacts made (where, how and why), the indicators of success or failure and sustainability of the model. Such knowledge is essential to guide the intended adaptation or replication underway in several countries or to guide further efforts in using poultry as a tool for poverty alleviation. Three major issues need to be considered in future studies and for supporting smallholder poultry as a tool for poverty alleviation.

The poultry model and its components

The literature on 'poultry for poverty alleviation' is now quite extensive, especially in relation to the Bangladesh model. In these writings, the terms scavenging, semi-scavenging, village poultry and smallholder poultry are frequently used, often interchangeably, and without a clear definition or description of what they are or what they constitute. The Bangladesh model as implemented through the three large projects is more frequently described as 'semi-scavenging'. Jensen (1996) defines a semi-scavenging poultry model as an integrated system to provide supplies and services to establish and maintain a semi-scavenging poultry sector. The need for a clear definition or conceptualization arises because these terms do not convey the same meaning or thing.

While discussing the principles and problems of adaptation of the Bangladesh poultry model, Jensen and Dolberg (2003) wrote, "the smallholder poultry development concept has been developed in a unique learning process in Bangladesh over a period of more than two decades. It is seldom that a development concept, in its basics, is maintained over such a long period and that lessons learned in one project are incorporated in the succeeding project, especially when different donors are involved. It is also unique that the same stakeholders, and to a great extent the same persons, have been involved from the very formation of the concept till its present stages" (p.1). These authors are some of the few who have been involved throughout the evolution of the model and is often considered as the architects of the structure of the model and its rationale. They suggest six essentials for successful adaptation of the Bangladesh model as below:

These essentials have been derived from experiences in Bangladesh and elsewhere over many years. Only some of them were mentioned at the early stages of development of the Bangladesh model. However, it is unclear what is actually meant here by 'village poultry keeping', whether it is purely scavenging or semi-scavenging, because enabling environment, support services and institutional development are also considered essentials. The confusion or lack of clarity on the content of the concept increases when they further explain comparative advantage as follows: "the main comparative advantage is the scavenging feed resource base (SFRB). However, it is a common mistake to ignore the limitation of the SFRB and start with flock sizes far above the bearing capacity and, consequently, the main part of the feed will be supplementary feed. Such an operation will not be viable" (Jensen and Dolberg 2003, p.4). It appears as though they are arguing for village poultry to be based primarily on scavenging but argue the need for other services such as health, credit, extension etc to make it productive and profitable. Depending on the proportion of feed coming from supplementation and the level of investment required to procure other inputs and services, the system may lie anywhere between pure scavenging to very intensive. The experiences in Bangladesh and elsewhere show that development projects have been unable to meet all the seven essentials of success, hence achieved different levels of performance. As mentioned earlier, the impact studies conducted so far did not analyse the economics of supplementation of indigenous and crossbred poultry or the implications of seven essentials in a holistic manner to shed any light on this question.

Using scavenging poultry as a development tool will require recognition of a number of facts. The finite nature of food to be scavenged in the surroundings of the homestead and competition for the same food resources among several households limit the flock size in pure scavenging system. Where settlement pattern is more dispersed and individual household based, such problem may be minimal. In the absence of support from formal extension, health, credit, marketing sectors, productivity is low and mortality, especially among chicks, is very high yet free range combined with adaptability of indigenous breeds to local environment form the basis of comparative advantage of this enterprise.Feed and diseases are major constraints for improving productivity. Increasing flock size beyond certain limit, introduction of improved breeds in pure scavenging system or scaling down the commercial production system to fit into the scavenging system is unlikely to work effectively without investment and support in feed, health, extension, credit and marketing to create an enabling environment. Such investment will also be required forreducing mortality and improving productivity of local birds under scavenging system. However, the economics of such investment from both public and private points of view need to be assessed carefully to design interventions.

The various components of the poultry model were developed to overcome local constraints, e.g. limited access to health service from the Livestock Department in remote areas, lack of access to feed supplements in local markets, lack of supply of day old chicks in local markets and high transactions cost to access these from commercial hatcheries. However, with extension of markets and infrastructure in the rural areas, the degree of some of these constraints has reduced or disappeared. Therefore, it may be unnecessary to keep all the components of the poultry model in future replications in Bangladesh or elsewhere. The model should be used more as an organizing concept or framework and model components suitable for a given country or circumstance need to be conceptualized, tested and evaluated continuously rather than mechanically replicating the model that evolved in Bangladesh under specific market and service delivery conditions. Much remains to be done in this regard to make the poultry model as a sustainable tool through its flexible use in varied circumstances by the poor themselves.

Impact indicators and measurements

There is much debate in the development community, especially among those involved in project evaluation and monitoring and in evaluating project impact, on how to assess the impact of development projects on poverty. The problem may be complicated because some projects are of a general nature while others have more specific objectives and targets. Poverty is indicated both by lack of resources and the consequent outcomes. Several indicators may be chosen in each domain, e.g. one or more of the five types of assets described in the DFID livelihood strategy, or income, nutrition, consumption etc from the outcome side. Some of these indicators may be more easily tractable and directly attributable to a project intervention than others. Yet donors and their governments are increasingly asking for putting numbers on what public donations are doing to help overcome poverty in developing countries. There is no general consensus on how to address the problem though it is generally agreed that impacts and outcomes should be measured in terms of the explicitly stated project objectives and targets rather than trying to link every project with specific indicators of poverty. Where projects are designed to address poverty alleviation through changing specific indicators, easily tractable and directly attributable indicators should be chosen such as income and employment generation, food consumption (quantity and quality), nutritional status of children (anthropometric measures), extent of income diversification and asset accumulation which may provide the basis for more sustained way out of poverty. For example, IFAD is currently discussing the possibility of using a common set of indicators as above to monitor the impact of its projects specifically targeted to the problems of the poor (Kennedy 2003).

Given that poultry is to be used as a tool to help alleviate poverty, and a few poultry birds will often constitute the first step to get out of poverty, it is essential that easily tractable and directly attributable indicators are chosen in impact measurement. For example, some studies tried to link scavenging poultry with increased school enrollment of children where a number of other programmes were involved in enhancing school attendance. Similar is the case of the asset ladder concept in which one moves from a few poultry bird owner to a goat then a cattle owner over time. Practically, poultry income might have complemented income from other activities in the household to acquire the goat, and the goat and a host of other things might have helped to move up the ladder to acquire cattle. Charting the asset growth path may be useful provided all the sources of growth including the role of poultry can also be identified.

The mechanism by which any poultry model affects poverty suggests multiple dimensions through which poverty impact need to be measured and assessed. These include: effectiveness of delivery of services by public, private and NGO sectors to the target groups; whether different component of the poultry model are functioning well as per the model design and why; how the benefits of the model are distributed among the different levels of the food system chain including farmers, traders and consumers and how supply changes affect prices; some measures of individual and community capacity including impacts on individual capacity for decision making and at the community level, enhanced capacity for taking collective action. Capturing these dimensions will require adoption of an appropriate sampling and survey design.

Policy and research support

A pure scavenging system of poultry production, with all its limitations and potentials, may be used as an entry point for helping the poor to diversify activities as a pathway out of poverty but poultry alone may not be adequate to get out of poverty in the long run for every poor household. Widespread use of the strategy in different countries and socio-economic and ecological situations will require policy and research support in several areas and these also need to be built into any project design and its impact assessment.

One of the important policy factor to be considered in using scavenging poultry as a strategy for poverty alleviation is the dynamic market context in which this system has to operate. An implicit assumption of the Bangladesh model is that local market can absorb the small quantities of output coming out of the model participants. However, some marketing problems have already been observed in Bangladesh and in other countries where such model has been applied. If a significant proportion of the poor take up poultry, aggregate local supply may be too much for the local market to absorb yet provide a price that will make smallholder poultry viable. Therefore, access to distant market may become a necessary condition for viability once the initial success is achieved. One potential problem for accessing urban markets is the expanding commercial poultry sector in many countries. Technical progress in the commercial sector and economies of scale, often facilitated by public policies such as subsidized credit, liberal tax and tariff policy, may push the smallholder low productive systems out of the market. In an increasingly globalised world, the growing food safety and quality requirements, even in domestic urban markets, may limit the market opportunities for the smallholder sector as increased transaction costs will be required to engage in modern marketing chains, e.g. supermarkets and feed trade. Potential of the scavenging system and its impact on poverty reduction need to be assessed within this broader context.

Feed available in the natural environment and the incidences of diseases are major factors limiting the flock size and productivity of the scavenging system. Improving productivity of the system then will require supporting extension, health and credit services targeted to the poor and these have to be supported by appropriate policy and investment. Private sector investment in these areas is highly unlikely and sometimes public investment may not be justified on only economic criteria, e.g. rate of return, given the scarcity of resources and alternative demands for that resources. Poverty alleviation is a social as well as an economic goal and public investment to support scavenging poultry for poverty alleviation may need to be justified on a broad set of criteria including cost effectiveness. Project design and impact assessment also need to address these issues.

Research is required to solve technical problems and constraints and also to facilitate decision making at household, community and higher levels. Given the current status of scavenging poultry as a development tool and its problems in developing countries, a group of practitioners in the field suggested the following research areas (Summary of a group discussion held at the workshop on 'Management of research, communication and change within Agricultural Sector Programmes', held at Tune, Denmark, 31 March -4 April, 2003):

Economic and institutional issues

Some may scale up poultry (larger flock, better breed and management), some may scale up by acquiring larger species (asset ladder through acquiring goats, cattle), some may add new activities, farm or non-farm, some may leave poultry to do other things.

Which of these research topics may generate location, project or country specific outputs and which may generate public goods for wider adaptation and application is an important issue for guiding research investment decisions. Both public sector investment in a country and donor supported development projects targeting poultry need to consider these in order to make decisions on investment in research and assess its impact.


This is shortened version of a longer document (see, Islam and Jabbar 2003). The authors are grateful to Frands Dolberg, Hans Jensen and William Thorpe for comments on an earlier draft and to ILRI for providing funding to undertake the review. However, the authors alone are responsible for the content.


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Received 11 November 2004; Accepted 20 August 2005; Published 1 October 2005

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