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A rural poultry revolution for poverty alleviation in rural india

Former Animal Husbandry Commissioner, Govt. of India, H.No. 110, Jaya Nagar , New Bowenpally, Secunderabad – 500 011


In spite of gross neglect for over ten Five Year Plans the Poultry sector in India made outstanding contribution to the National Economy and Food Security System keeping Protein Hunger at bay. It brought pride and glory to the country by making the Poultry Revolution pushing India as the fifth largest producer of eggs in the world. Over the entire planning era both egg and broiler production registered the highest growth rates consistently in the entire agricultural sector. Currently milk and eggs are the cheapest food items considering their nutritive value and are available at every street corner in urban areas up to midnight while poultry meat is the most affordable meat for the common man.

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This Poultry Revolution was largely an urban phenomenon centred in urban and peri-urban areas in the form of Poultry Estates all-round major cities and towns with large human population providing the essential market and also essential infrastructure for successful poultry operations on factory scale. This Urban Poultry Revolution was in fact a silent revolution without much fanfare and publicity and was achieved in a short span of around two decades based largely on private investment pioneered by the Gentleman Farmer. But for this timely Poultry Revolution India would have been in the grip of Protein Hunger with its diabolical effects. It is sad to recall that the country still has around 53% of children below five years of age suffering from protein malnutrition and infants born in India are worse of than those in strife-torn Ethiopia. This Urban Poultry Revolution is based entirely on the most modern technology right from the breeding stock to healthcare, feeding and management. By and large around 70% of eggs produced in the country are from the organized urban sector while the unorganized rural sector still contributes around 30%. To these members of the weaker sections poultry farming is a way of life and inseparable from the desi birds surviving largely on foraging and scavenging.

I. Role of Poultry in Poverty Alleviation

Poultry are inseparable from mankind whether in urban slums or the rural scenario not to speak of tribal areas and backward harsh environments. In the rural scenario poultry do not need any land, birds are easy to manage with these hardy birds managing themselves most of the time in a set pattern returning faithfully home for the night and regularly laying eggs at home. They are rugged, disease resistant and well adapted to the harsh rural environment. With better nutrition their egg production can also be stepped up substantially. Even stock multiplication is easy the hen brooding its eggs and tending to the young chicks till they can protect themselves. The only essential thing that these hardy birds need is a good Night Shelter. With all these attributes poultry farming in the rural environment can be a powerful tool for poverty alleviation and social justice. To the rural poor this can be Rainless Harvest with egg production and stock multiplication proceeding unhampered irrespective of rain or drought. It is women that are largely involved in poultry farming. In every village market and fairs poultry and eggs are major commodities.

II. Poultry Scenario in India

 India has the pride of place in World Poultry History for its outstanding role in the evolution of modern Layer and Broiler breeds based on the Red Indian Jungle Fowl and the Aseel otherwise known as Indian Game Bird. While the country has several strains of layer stock neither their performance is of a high standard nor do any of them conform to stipulated breed standards. There are no specialist farmers breeding any of them in purity. However, when we come to the Aseel the picture is vastly different with Aseels enjoying a high status in both urban and rural areas. The term Aseel indicates a type and not a breed since there are several breeds under this type like Reza, Yakhud, Khagar, Peela etc. breeders specializing in one or more of these breeds. Aseels enjoyed a very high status in ancient India with Rajahs and Nawabs patronising them. Kingdoms had fallen over betting in cockfights. In short Aseel rearing had a status symbol. In spite of the decline in the frequency of cockfights no festival in rural India can be complete without this activity. Andhra Pradesh is considered the home of the Aseel.

In modern times while all urban markets are flooded with white shelled eggs and white broiler birds and their carcasses there is hardly any trace of the Desi bird or its eggs at these centres. However, there is still a cross-section of the urban elite who yearn for the Desi egg and chicken meat and are willing to pay a higher price because of the superior table qualities. There are special items of Indian cuisine like chicken tikka, Tandoori chicken etc for which the broiler meat is a poor substitute. Even the desi egg has a taste of its own. However, the small traders are not able to capitalize on this opportunity because of scattered centres for collection as well as marketing and the problem of quality control. With the rapid growth of the popularity of Indian curries and other items of Indian cuisine in Western countries and also the great spurt in tourist traffic there is a district possibility of exploiting the desi egg and meat for internal consumption as well as for export. However, it is for the Government and Govt. agencies like Tourist Departments to initiate such programmes for the business community to follow later.

Considering the impact of the rural poultry on poverty alleviation it is essential for Govt. to launch comprehensive programmes of development of the Desi chicken on a long-term basis. Given the initial all-round support such dynamic programmes can gain momentum and can move on their own steam. If these programmes are started all over the country on 100% grant basis in all states simultaneously within one decade the country can make a Rural Poultry Revolution pushing a large % of the poor above the Poverty Line.

III. Development of Rural Poultry

 The rural environment is much more complex in every aspect when compared to the urban scenario educationally, culturally, economically etc. Above all they lack economic strength to accept any new programme. The two great assets the rural sector is willing people and plenty of desi chickens. If we can provide a few more inputs like superior genes, improved health care and some feed support wonders can be achieved in a few years of sustained effort. Nothing is too much when it comes to pushing these people stagnating below the poverty line for generations above that line.

After achieving the Poultry Revolution to strengthen the genetic support to this activity the ICAR set up an All-India Coordinated Research Project one for Layers and another for Broilers. The Agricultural Universities also stepped up research efforts in the Poultry sector. Consequent on these intensive efforts over two decades ago several new strains of poultry had been developed by several centres which showed promise for use in rural areas in the unorganized sector to provide succor for the rural poor. These constitute environments where the exotic chicken used in the urban sector cannot survive. These are Giriraja, Krishna-J, Vanaraja, Gramapriya, Nandanam etc. There are over a dozen different strains claimed by their creators to extremely popular in different locations. Of these Giriraja and Vanaraja are the two varieties, which transcended state boundaries conquering a major part of the country. In spite of these achievements neither the ICAR nor the Govt. of India took even minimum interest to look into this matter in depth for exploitation in rural areas for alleviating the problem of poverty, which has been plaguing the country.

Of the several strains released some are of dual-purpose type while others are of layer type. Obviously all these strains cannot operate with equal efficiency in the same environment. However by and large most of the strains have performed to the satisfaction of the rural poor. It is high time even at this late hour for the ICAR and GOI to move into this area to explore the possibilities of the planned exploitation of such rich resources to alleviate rural poverty by launching comprehensive, long-term projects in drought-prone area, tribal areas and other poverty-striken areas. However, it is imperative that all these strains have to be subjected to critical scrutiny for basic economic parameters by an appropriate Central Agency to identify the most suitable strains for different parts of the country. This essential step has to be launched without any further delay. This work lies largely in the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture.

At this juncture it is appropriate to look into the terms Rural Poultry, Family Poultry, Back Yard Poultry etc., which are loosely used to talk about poultry in areas beyond the organized urban sector. During the past around couple of decades with increasing urbanisation and sky-rocketing of land prices everywhere due to population explosion and allied factors back-yard poultry units have vanished to a great extent from the middle-class and lower middle-class and lower middle-class people leaving poultry largely in the hands of rural poor in single digit numbers only who can only maintain these birds through a system of foraging and scavenging. To these deprived sections of our society Poultry constitute Instruments of Social Justice and measures for poverty alleviation. Against this background of poultry ownership there are only two major groups of Poultry keepers, the economically advanced Gentlemen farmers raising commercial units of Exotic stock and the economically poor rural farmers, labourers and inhabitants of arid regions and tribal areas etc., who supplement their meagre income by raising a few desi chickens. It may therefore be appropriate to term the poultry raised by the urban elite as Urban Poultry and the poultry raised by the rural poor the bulk of which belong to the desi group as Rural Poultry.

IV. Action Programme for Development of Rural Poultry

 The several strains of poultry that have been released during the last two decades are mostly of exotic inheritance and are not really ideally suited for the rural scenario in the hands of the weaker sections. Most of them are also of a dual-purpose type and a few of layer type. The creators of these strains claim that most of them give around 150 eggs or even more. By and large several of them proved their genetic worth and survival capacity by their field performance. This has been proven by the increasing demand for these particularly Giriraja, Vanaraja, Krishna-J, Gramapriya etc., with which the centres of their origin are not able to cope. It is appropriate that ICAR and GOI should step in at this juncture to strengthen such programmes.

It is necessary to mention that there is one singular commendable example of a private breeder who had the courage to enter this complex area of poultry breeding and tinkering with desi germplasm to create a new meat strain to cater to the market in Maharashtra. This pioneer is Anant D. Samant of Mumbai who struggled for quite a long time with desi germplasm to evolve Kalyani-D.K for meat purposes based on which he was able to built a prosperous desi Poultry Meat market. After evolving Kalyani-D.K he distributed the breeding stock to his selected clients to multiply the stock and multiply the number of farmers raising this strain and has consolidated his business. This single example of a breeder in Mumbai running prosperous business based on desi poultry extending over a large area of Maharashtra is a standing example of the market still available for desi chicken meat and eggs. Against this background Scientists should use their knowledge of genetic engineering to improve the new strains they created based on exotic inheritance by infusing the required dose of indigenous inheritance to create a more efficient bird with higher productivity greater disease resistance and higher adaptability to the harsh rural environment. They may even go a step further by creating new breeds of hybrid chickens combining exotic and desi inheritance of selected breeds and regulating the level of desi inheritance to get the best results. However, it is essential to remember that we cannot create Magic Birds that can produce in plenty with meagre inputs under harsh environments.

Against this background the development of rural poultry should be on a multi-pronged drive based on Short-terms, Medium-term and Long-term planning. a committee of Poultry scientists from the ICAR and the Dept. of Animal Husbandry and Dairying should be set up immediately to work out the full details of the several plans.

A. Short-term Measures

Under this programme whatever poultry resources of a proven nature or of established reputation are available should be made use of on top-priority basis for the benefit of the rural poor. Under this category come poultry strains like Giriraja, Krishna-J, Vanaraja, Gramapriya, etc., which have been in circulation for a considerable time over extensive areas in the country and which the farmers have accepted and the creators of these strains are not able to cope up with the public demands for want of funds, staff and several other reasons. The main object of this category of projects is to render immediate succor to the rural poor through the total exploitation of accepted strains. With the limited resources the centres which evolved the strains are not able to further improve them.

The GOI has several large Central Poultry Farms with immense infrastructural resources which are not currently being utilised to a large extent. Each of these farms should take up multiplication of birds of such strains, which have been already largely accepted by the farmers. The breeding stock of each strain has to be supplied to a specified Central Farm for multiplication. The State Govt. concerned where the farm is located should take up the responsibility of collecting the demands from the rural areas, distribute to the concerned farmers and collect the money involved and pass on to the Central Farm. There should be complete understanding between the Central Farm and the Research Centre, which evolved the strain. All major details should be discussed and finalised by the Special Committee of the ICAR-GOI. There should be a feedback mechanism between the farmers and Central Farms, which in turn should pass on the required technical information about the birds to the Research Centre concerned.

B. Medium-term Measures

After the essential prerequisite of identification of the expert Poultry Committee of the Poultry strains which have inherent potential to develop rural economy and have already been accepted by the farmers appropriate genetic inputs have to be made to improve their efficiency in several parameters. Since most of these strains are of exotic inheritance the first input should be induction of desi inheritance to improve their disease resistance and foraging ability etc., without depressing egg production or growth.

Of the several desi strains available Naked Neck, Khadaknath and Frizzle Fowl appear to offer the greatest potential on the basis of work done at CARI. The next most important issue is the percentage of Desi inheritance that has to be inducted and this can be decided only after generating several genotypes. 25% of Desi inheritance can be the lowest level while 37.5% can be optimum to promote egg production as well as meat production and quality not to speak of disease resistance. The pattern of genetic manipulation is presented taking the example of Vanaraja (VR) and Naked Neck (NN).

Table I

Step I

Step II

Step III

Parents ♂ NN x VR ♀

♀ F1 x VR ♂

Parents ♂ F2 x F1 ♀

F1 Pro. NN – VR

F2 Pro. NN – VR

F3 Pro. NN – VR

Inheritance (50%) - (50%)

Inheritance 25% - 75%

Inheritance 37.5% - 62.5%

This type of work can be replicated with other genetic combinations in other centres the total number of which should not exceed four. One of the centres can be at PDP, Hyderabad, another at CARI, Izatnagar, the third one at Bangalore, Karnataka Vet. & Animal Science University and the fourth one at Agril. University, Jabalpur . Since this work is of an entirely research nature it should be funded by the ICAR.

C. Long-term Measures

This is a programme which is entirely new based on new exotic breeds and the same old desi strains mentioned earlier. The exotic breeds are White Leghorn (WL), Rhode Island Red (RIR), New Hampshire (NH) and Austrolorp (AL). These breeds have been suggested because they have been used in the country for the longest period, performed well and with the hope that sufficient number will still be available in the country. In them we have the great advantage of the stock being acclimatized to local conditions being bred for several generations. The desi breeds used will continue to be Naked Neck, Khadaknath and Frizzle Fowl or any other that may be found to be equally good. The exotic breeds selected are of dual-purpose nature except the White Leghorn.

The breeding programme involves three breeds two of which will be exotic and the third one desi with the aim of producing a bird that is superior to the current strains in egg production and vastly superior in meat qualities. Since this is an entirely research project and making its beginning the project should be sponsored by the ICAR. Three centres may be selected, PDP, Hyderabad, CARI, Izatnagar and TANUVAS. The breeding programme adopted is on the same pattern except for the use of three breeds. In view of the best available dual-purpose breeds acclimatised to Indian conditions being inducted we can expect to produce an excellent dual-purpose strains excelling in both egg and meat production of high quality a significant contribution of desi inheritance. In the first part of the programme there will be two breed crossing with variation of inheritance pattern between the exotic and the desi parents. In the second part three-breed crossing will be undertaken and inheritance pattern modified. This project is of a path breaking nature and if funded fully and given a good start without any lapses in inputs can be expected to produce outstanding results and produce infallible Instruments of Poverty Alleviation for the Weaker Sections. This breeding stock can be used in any of the developing countries without any reservations.

Table II. A - Two Breed Crossing

Step I

Step II

Step III

Parents - NN ♂ x RIR ♀

Parents F1 ♀ x RIR ♂

Parents - F2 ♀ x F1 ♂

F1 Pro. NN - RIR

F2 Pro. NN - RIR

F3 Pro. NN - RIR

Inher. (50%) (50%)

Inher. 25% 75%

Inher. 37.5% 62.5%

Table II. B - Two Breed Crossing

Step I

Step II

Step III

Parents NN ♂ x WL ♀

Parents F1 ♀ x WL ♂

Parents F2 ♀ x F1 ♂

F1 Pro. NN - WL

F2 Pro. WL - NN

F3 Pro. NN - WL

Inher. (50%) (50%)

Inher. (75%) (25%)

Inher. (37.5%) (62.5%)

Table III. A – Three Breed Crossing

Line I

Line II

Parents - WL x RIR

Parents - NN x RIR

F1 Prog. WL - RIR

F2 Pro. NN - RIR

Inher. 50% 50%

Inher. 50% 50%

F2 – Line I x Line II crossing

F2 Inheritance


25% 50% 25%

Table III. B – Three Breed Crossing

Line I

Line II

Parents - RIR x WL

Parents - NN x WL

F1 Prog. RIR - WL

F2 Pro. NN - WL

Inher. 50% 50%

Inher. 50% 50%

F2 – Line I x Line II crossing

F2 Inheritance


50% 25% 25%

(Further genetic manipulation of this triple breed crossing is possible.)

The research programme either of the two breed cross or the three breed cross will be indeed most exciting and will provide several opportunities for selecting genotypes for superior egg and meat production in the basically dual-purpose types barring WL. As far as desi inheritance is concerned anything more than 37.5% of inheritance may effect drastically egg and meat production. If this programme is to involve the other exotic breeds like New Hampshire and Austrolorp also the programme will be one of the greatest Research work ever undertaken in Poultry History. There is every reason to expect this project to be a success if implemented with the right staff and full infrastructure including liberal funding. Strains produced under this project can be expected to give 180 to 200 eggs with excellent meat after the pullet year instead of layers being sold for throwaway prices after pullet year of laying. What is even most exciting is that these new strains can be efficient even in other developing countries, which will be grateful to India for its global contribution once again in Poultry History.

If this work on appropriate poultry for rural development is pursued through implementation of appropriate field programmes as indicated earlier all over the country for over one decade we can liquidate rural poverty and malnutrition in children. This programme will usher in the Rural Poultry Revolution pushing India as No. 1 Egg producer in the world within a decade of intensive development, a matter of pride for one and all. This will not only strengthen our Food Security System but will ensure Nutritional Security, which is even more important.

At this juncture it is extremely important to realize that notwithstanding the Genetic Breakthroughs in the Poultry sector unless this is strongly supported by Nutrition and Healthcare all these efforts will be nullified. These new Poultry Strains are only efficient machines, which can perform on efficient fuelling in the form of nutrition.

India has done classical research work of an applied nature for well over two decades in the area of utilization of agricultural by-products and industrial by-products as well as other unconventional and unused potential nutrient resources for livestock. It is sad commentary that while the Livestock Feed Industry has made considerable use of the findings of these research endeavours the public sector has remained complacent. This is the time of food crisis both for man and animals. It is most relevant for the ICAR to re-open this closed chapter and stimulate the Scientist Community to work out economic Poultry rations based on unconventional feed materials and local feed and fodder resources to lay the foundation for the Rural Poultry Revolution and the liquidation of Rural Poverty in India.

Source : IPSACON-2005