Strengthening food and nutrition security through family poultry and crop integration in Tanzania and Zambia

Food security is a global priority requiring a multi-pronged approach.  Despite increases in agricultural production over the past two decades, malnutrition rates in children have not diminished significantly in many developing countries. Additionally, available data indicate that gender inequality and cultural issues have been inadequately addressed in most research linking agriculture and nutrition.   Under nutrition is a result of complex causes and to date little research has examined nutrition-specific, health-based approaches in collaboration with food system and livelihood-based interventions.  Crucially, supplying women of childbearing age and their children with sufficient calories is important but it is not enough to optimise wellbeing; the proper balance of micronutrients is also essential for both short- and long-term health. 

In Tanzania and Zambia stunting in children under five, a major determinant of individual development, is estimated to be 42% and 45%, respectively, despite years of agricultural research and development.  Human health-related multilateral agencies have been supporting micronutrient fortification and supplementation through Ministries of Health while agriculture-related multilateral agencies have been supporting increased agricultural production.  The long term sustainability of these interventions is being questioned, because many of the rural poor are not able to access fortified foods and increased agricultural production has tended to emphasise energy-rich and nutrient-poor staples such as hybrid maize.  Both Tanzania and Zambia are seeking sustainable solutions to the food security challenge that will improve human nutrition through improved household income and dietary diversification.  Local initiatives, such as enhancing traditional livestock-crop systems can provide a sustainable solution to the ongoing demographic challenges in Africa which are driving the need for more food.  For these initiatives to succeed we believe that understanding the social, cultural and economic context of the food system is critical in gaining equitable access to food for the vulnerable.

Feeding village chickens in Tanzania. Photo Credit: Mellissa Wood, AIFSRC

Our project “Strengthening food and nutrition security through family poultry and crop integration in Tanzania and Zambia” got underway in February 2014 and was designed in response to the situation described above.  It is a five-year project funded by the Australian International Food Security Research Centre (within ACIAR) and implemented by the University of Sydney (veterinary science, public health and agriculture and environment) in collaboration with the Tanzanian Veterinary Laboratory Agency, the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre, the Sokoine University of Agriculture (animal and crop health and production), Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (public health), the University of Dar es Salaam (social sciences), the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology, the Zambian Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, the Zambian Ministry of Health, the National Food and Nutrition Commission of Zambia, the Tropical Diseases Research Centre, the University of Zambia (animal and crop health and production, public health and social sciences), the Kyeema Foundation and the Royal Veterinary College, London.

The aim of our project is to reduce childhood stunting by analysing and testing opportunities to enhance the key role that women play in improving poultry and crop integration and efficiency to strengthen household nutrition in an ecologically sustainable manner.

Family poultry (which comprises extensive and small-scale, intensive poultry production) have a special place in food security as they are owned by between 70 and 99% of households and are frequently the only livestock under the control of women.  They require low investment and can contribute significantly to both poverty alleviation and food security.  Newcastle disease (ND) is considered one of the most important poultry disease worldwide and a model for its sustainable control in family poultry using thermotolerant vaccine is now available.  Improved family poultry production can increase nutritional outcomes directly by providing meat and eggs and indirectly by providing cash income to purchase food.  Poultry meat and eggs provide high quality protein and micronutrients (e.g. zinc, vitamin A and iron), which provide wholesome nutrition and are important for child growth.  These benefits are also of notable significance to vulnerable community members such as growing children, pregnant women and people living with HIV.  Secondary crops such as sunflower, millet and sorghum are often under women’s control and provide flexibility in the face of variable climate, a broader range of nutrients and a way of managing farmer risk.

A transdisciplinary approach is being employed by the project in support of increased poultry and crop value chain efficiency and household food and nutrition security by bringing together animal, crop and human health specialists, economists, ecologists and social scientists to work with participating communities.  The project will work with participating communities to assess the existing family poultry-crop systems and poultry value chains in order to characterise, assess and identify opportunities for improvements that are feasible under local conditions.  Sustainable models for poultry-crop integration are under development, focusing on the role of women, and evaluating their impact on food security.  The impacts of both improved family poultry production and a crop systems intervention on childhood stunting will be assessed.

Capacity strengthening and catalysing strategic long-term partnerships between key institutions and individuals associated with family poultry, food security, and sustainable agriculture are key components of the project.  The capacity of core sectors to work as a multidisciplinary team to analyse the causes of and respond to food insecurity and stunting will be strengthened significantly at national and local levels.  Skills in multidisciplinary collaboration and sustainable knowledge management will be enhanced in support of in evidence-based policy development.  The capacity of the next generation of transdisciplinary researchers will be built in Tanzania, Zambia and Australia.


Dr Francis Mulenga, Zambian Chief Veterinary Officer, indicating that animal products can make a significant contribution to human nutrition. 

The 1,000 most critical days program is being implemented by the Zambian National Commission for Food and Nutrition to improve the nutrition of children from conception to 2 years of age (i.e. 1,000 days after conception).

Photo credit: Robin Alders, University of Sydney