Supporting Ethiopian Poultry Farmers in Times of Crisis
As discussed in a recent blog post on shifting our data collection methods, COVID-19 has challenged us to be more flexible, adaptable, and creative in supporting our smallholder farmer and agribusiness clients. One consistent issue we’ve encountered in every country where we work is disruptions to supply chains. In Africa, it’s difficult in the best of times to reach and connect the thousands of smallholder growers, agribusiness service providers, traders, processors, distributors, retailers, and others that operate in the supply chain. This blog examines the challenges and solutions put forth by our technical experts working to ensure poultry markets in Ethiopia can continue despite the disruptions.
The Ethiopian poultry market rapidly increased over the past 10 years, with both egg production and poultry stocks growing steadily. The Feed the Future Ethiopia Value Chain Activity (VCA) is working with small-scale poultry producers to increase their technical capacity, access reliable suppliers and buyers, and generate income and employment opportunities in rural communities, while also contributing to overall national production. Since mid-2019, VCA has worked with more than 15,356 poultry farmers, of which over half are women. During FY2019, poultry farmers generated over US$405,000 in sales.
With the outbreak of COVID-19 and subsequent state of emergency, travel and commerce came to a grinding halt in early April. For rural poultry farmers, this translated into a scarcity of inputs like feed and vaccines, as well as poor market integration – supplies could not be moved from surplus areas to markets. When some movement restrictions were relaxed, transaction costs were so high that Ethiopian consumers, whose purchasing power is precarious in good times, could not afford to buy poultry or eggs. Additionally, restaurants and hotels – major buyers of meat and eggs – remain closed. The outbreak also coincided with Lent, a month when most Ethiopians do not consume any animal products, further limiting market options for poultry producers.
Realizing the numerous challenges facing poultry farmers, the VCA team sprung to action to address the constraints along the entire supply chain. Here are a few key takeaways we hope are helpful for other actors working in the sectors.
- Develop alternative marketing channels. With many farmers concerned about their egg surplus, Fintrac technicians realized the market needed to move to the farmers, rather than the farmers moving their goods to markets. After securing travel permits from local authorities, our staff traveled to rural villages to collect eggs and chickens and deliver them to temporary tents at designated market centers. Our team worked with the authorities to ensure these makeshift tents followed all health and safety protocols. This innovative model helped stabilize the poultry market and was replicated by our teams across the country. It also proved quite timely in giving both suppliers and consumers the products (and income) they needed for Ethiopian Easter celebrations. In the words of one farmer, “I had not slept for two weeks thinking about the 30,000 eggs in my farm…I was negotiating with brokers to sell them at a loss, but thanks to the VCA team, I was able to sell them at the market at a fair price.”
- Use technology to connect input suppliers and farmers, and be flexible with when and how you use the technology. In one village, for example, we found a supplier with the inputs our farmers needed but who had no way of organizing a bulk delivery. Our technicians called farmers individually or sent messages via social media, and were able to coordinate a delivery that benefited both producer and supplier. Understandably, networks in already spotty areas became quickly overwhelmed by the spikes in usage (and remain so). Therefore, our staff have been connecting after midnight when usage is lower or driving to higher elevations for stronger signals. Relying on the existing relationships with our farmers allowed our staff to stay in constant contact, despite late-night work, when in-person assistance was not possible.
- Link farmers with government and private organizations that are still operating. Fintrac technicians connected poultry farmers with large businesses in Addis Ababa to supply their Easter celebrations and other food needs. In Mekelle, poultry technicians linked a commercial egg producer with the local military unit to supply 12,000 eggs per month and another 11,000 eggs for a pharmaceutical factory.
- Negotiate with lending institutions. As part of our commercialization strategy, we help farm enterprises access capital to grow their businesses. Many commercial poultry farms and multiplication centers had outstanding loans on their books, but, with the pandemic and subsequent market collapse, were unable to make payments. Some multiplication centers reverted to killing millions of chicks for lack of demand, while other farmers sold egg-laying birds prematurely as feed prices skyrocketed. These hits were compounded with looming fallout with lenders. Our team helped ameliorate the stresses by working with businesses to negotiate better loan repayment schedules or extensions of additional credit. Without these interventions, many of the businesses would have closed by now.
- Plan ahead, when possible. Fintrac technicians were able to take precautionary measures before the state of emergency based on information from other countries hit earlier by the pandemic. We advised farmers who were able to purchase and store feeds in bulk to do so as soon as possible. That some farmers were able to act quickly reinforces that resiliency requires cash; development programs must continue to focus on financial products that can help farmers in times of shock. Savings should not be a luxury, they need to be digital, so rural farmers can access funds when they need them.
While we have been able to mitigate some losses with quick thinking and creative problem solving, there remains an inordinate amount of fear and uncertainty. No amount of time – not even 20 years of field experience – can prepare for the realities of a pandemic. Producers and consumers are feeling hopeless, especially those who were just starting to invest in their land and move to commercial production. We don’t yet know the full extent of the impact of COVID-19 on global food security, but we remain committed to supporting our smallholder partners, and each other, in adapting their approach to meet the current reality as best we can.