Valuable lessons in chicken health profit rural women

A project researching tropical diseases in poultry is uplifting women farmers in eastern Zambia in more than one way.

Eastern Zambia’s Veterinary Services and Australia’s James Cook University (JCU) have partnered in a poultry disease investigation that has benefited local farmers by making valuable additions of protein to their diets and increasing household incomes.

“We offer poultry production and marketing lessons to these farmers. In return, farmers inform us when they notice signs of disease,” said project leader, Professor Bruce Gummow, of the JCU’s College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Services.
“Veterinary Services processes the information which is vital for early disease detection and response, a key aspect of controlling disease outbreaks in rural poultry.”

The project has made a real difference to local chicken production units that belong primarily to single women, who have, in some cases, been widowed by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, said Professor Gummow.

“Only a year into our project we are seeing increases in the numbers of backyard poultry, with many farmers expanding from four to over 50 chickens per household. This means they have a surplus they can sell to improve their livelihoods and to provide food for others.”

Co-operation in the community has led to the formation of groups working to curb the incidence of disease. Group members co-operate to buy vaccines that will protect their poultry against certain diseases, said Prof Gummow.

After the training, farmers were able to increase their number of chickens and were able to generate an income.
After the training, farmers were able to increase their numbers and were able to generate an income.


Poultry interest groups, a positive project outcome, has stimulated engagement between farmers and veterinary extension officers.

The skills community members gain in the monthly training can be applied to other enterprises in the agricultural sector Prof Gummow said.

Australian value

As the only Australian university in the tropics, JCU looks at how to apply the knowledge acquired in Zambia in other tropical regions of the world. The university is involved in projects in the Pacific Island countries, Australia’s neighbours.

Australian experts can gain fresh insight into this disease that is non-endemic in Australia, which allows them to prepare for possible outbreaks on home turf.

The Newcastle disease is one of the priority diseases, since it is believed to be the leading cause of poultry mortality in Zambia, Gummow says. This research can also be used as a model to apply to other viral diseases such as Avian Influenza.

“By controlling these diseases at their source, Australia and other unaffected countries are directly reducing the risk of global disease outbreaks.”

Exposing Australian experts to control strategies of such diseases practically within Zambia would prepare them adequately in containing similar outbreaks if they were to occur in Australia.

The project is funded through the Australian government aid programme, JCU and the National Research Foundation in South Africa, with support from the Zambian Department of Veterinary Services.

Prof Gummow visited Zambia in October to meet senior state veterinary officers and directors of veterinary science to discuss ongoing collaboration between JCU and the Zambian Veterinary Services.

The Australians have an agreement with the Zambian Government to allow JCU veterinary PhD students to work on surveillance, control and prevention of disease in Zambia’s poultry flocks.

“We have a multinational agreement involving Zambia, South Africa and Australia, and a multi-institutional agreement between the Zambian veterinary services, the University of Pretoria in South Africa, Charles Stuart University in Sydney and JCU,” said Professor Gummow.

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