Thu, 04 Mar 1999

Empowering people through free-range chicken breeding

By Joko Sarwono

BOGOR (JP): The Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) is currently running a chicken breeding project in Pamijahan village here in a bid to empower local people to overcome the effects of the current economic crisis.

No skills or special training are required to keep the free- range chickens. Even children can do it.

"I too have only started breeding free-range chickens. I also involve my family in taking care of the chickens," said Shalahudin, 56, a local religious leader who is the program's first participant in his community.

The project, launched on Aug. 8, 1998, has had 10 families participating since January. It is supported by an interest-free loan from the KualiVa foundation.

"Dozens of new participants have registered with me. They are interested in the program after seeing its success," Shalahudin said.

He said that at the start of the project each participant was given 55 free-range chickens, including five cocks. "After one month, the hens started laying 10 to 12 eggs per day on average," he said. Most of the eggs are sold to the organizer (IPB) at Rp 500 a piece.

"We receive an average of Rp 5,000 per day. For us villagers, the income is very significant. It covers pocket money for the children and other costs. It also helps in the household," said Shalahudin, the father of 11, four of whom still go to school.

Shalahudin said his main income source used to be his 10 milk cows. Before the economic crisis struck the income from the cows was enough. But when the crisis set in everything changed. He said he now cannot rely solely on the cows for his income.

"I already have problems buying feed for them and then there are the additional costs of keeping the animals."

Shalahudin said the price of cow feed, which once was Rp 12,000 for 50 kilograms, has now jumped to Rp 32,000. But despite the burden, Shalahudin is determined to keep his milk cows.

"I hope to get some calves. I also hope that the crisis will be over soon," he added.

Shalahudin says he is fortunate to be a participant in the chicken raising project. "Frankly speaking, my current fixed income is solely derived from free-range chicken eggs," he admitted.

It is different with Atni, 60, another participant in the program. Her chickens are her main occupation. "I do nothing other than take care of these chickens," she said.

The official participant in the project is not herself but Udi, her youngest son, who still lives with her. "In reality it is me who takes care of the chickens because Udi goes to school," said Atni, a widow of 10 years.

She said she gets, on average, 10 eggs per day. She sells them and uses the money to meet daily needs and to pay for Udi's education at Madrasah Tsanawiyah (Muslim junior high school). The medicine for Udi's illness is also bought with money from the sale of the eggs.

The project organizing team is lead by Veterinarian Zahid Ilyas, who teaches Epidemiology and Agricultural Extension at the School of Veterinary Science at IPB.

"We are endeavoring to boost the region's potential and to raise the community's living standards through the free-range chicken breeding," said Zahid.

He explained that no great production input is required to breed free-range chickens as local resources could be used, such as agricultural waste, rice bran and rice leftovers. No special treatment is needed.

"This commodity is suitable for development during the crisis," he said.

Zahid said there are plans to gradually develop the project and extend it to other areas. "In the initial stage, program packages are given to 30 family heads. But because the funds are not all available yet, the current implementation involves only 10 packages," he said.

Each package, worth between Rp 3.8 million and Rp 4.2 million, consists of 55 chickens plus facilities and management assistance. Participants must repay the loan in 24 months. "The management will assist participants in the timely repayment of the loan," said Zahid,

Participants are required to start repaying the loan after sixth months, by returning 70 percent of the sale of the eggs to the organizer. "We will supervise the hatching of the eggs so that even if participants only sell eggs at Rp 500 each they can sell one-day-old chicks for Rp 1,200. We also assist in marketing the chicks," Zahid said.

"Our team also periodically checks and vaccinates the chickens. We even have a veterinarian to help the participants when they have problems," he said.

For the IPB students involved in the implementation stages, the project is a way of doing practical work in the community. "They learn to understand the various problems in the community and look for solutions to these problems," Zahid said.

The activity is also the first step toward the scientific development of free-range chicken breeding. Chickens have in the past been farmed without efforts being made to foster quality birds. As such, there is a lack of well bred chickens. "We have set up a laboratory for the breeding of good chicken specimens. It will start operating shortly," Zahid said.

He shows determination to continue with the program. "We hope the participants of the first stage will continue to develop (their techniques). We will move on to other places so the activity will spread and the number of family heads receiving program packages will increase steadily," he said.