Nouakchott — The building is standing empty now, but Fatimetou Mint M'Barkenni is looking forward to when it is again filled with the soft cheeping of day-old chicks. Earlier in the year, she raised a first batch of broiler chickens as part of a pilot project, to boost rural incomes and food security here at Bourate, in rural Mauritania.
"The first brood of chicks I raised was sold in June, and I'm waiting for PROLPRAF to deliver a second batch - there was such strong demand," said 53-year-old M'Barkenni.
PROLPRAF, the Value Chains Development Programme for Poverty Reduction, is a joint project between the government of Mauritania and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), aimed at strengthening food security while promoting domestic production of seven agricultural commodities -vegetables, dates, milk, skins and hides, red meat, forest products, and poultry.
"The Bourate Broiler Production Unit is a godsend for us, especially during this period of serious drought when there are serious problems with malnutrition," M'Barkenni told IPS.
"This initiative is vital for women, because the men have gone to find work in the big urban centres, like Nouakchott and Nouadhibou," she added.
Mariem Mint Sidi is the manager of a second poultry facility at Foum Gleita, in the southeast of the country. She is proud of what she has already learned about feeding and caring for chicks. She is also pleased by the affordable price of the chickens. "One can buy a 2.4 kilo broiler with healthy, nutritious meat for six dollars."
In June, the two poultry units at Bourate and Foum Gleita each received 1,600 day-old chicks imported from neighbouring Morocco, explained Ahmed Ould Sidina, PROLPRAF'S assistant for animal production. A fast-growing commercial variety of broiler was chosen for the project; a breed called Cobb500 that was developed in the U.S. to thrive on even low-quality feed.
"The chicks adapted perfectly to conditions of extreme heat (40 degrees in the shade) and only 34 of them died out of the 1,600," said Ahmed Ould Brahim Khlil, a vet with PROLPRAF.
He told IPS that the chicks were immunised against Gumboro and Newcastle, two common diseases affecting chickens in Mauritania, and managers were trained in techniques for cleaning the chicks and giving them a dose of vitamins.
Each of the units cost around 10,000 dollars to put up, including construction of the arched, galvanised iron buildings, the purchase of chicks and feed, and installation of troughs for water and food, thermal insulation, and solar-powered lighting and freezers.
Mint Sidi and M'Barkenni are unpaid volunteers for the project, which is still in its pilot phase.
The income from the pilot phase has allowed the project to build up operating capital of around 3,500 dollars which will be used for the purchase of new chicks and feed. The next order of 2,000 chicks is expected in mid-August, said Brahim Khlil.
"Poultry farming in zones of extreme poverty aims to guarantee sustained local production and stimulate revenue-creating activities and create jobs," explained Mohamed Ould Abdallahi, coordinator of PROLPRAF.
Abdallahi says that with 4.17 million dollars in support from IFAD, PROLPRAF aims to reduce the loss of precious hard currency by gradually replacing imports with domestic products. The programme's overarching goal is to strengthen living conditions and incomes for women and young people in particular.
According to the rural development ministry, Mauritanians eat an estimated 11,000 tonnes of chicken per year, an average of three to four kilogrammes per person.
Mauritania's demand for poultry is partly covered by local production, but most chicken is imported, in the form of 5,000 tonnes of frozen chicken and around 40,000 day-old chicks imported into the country each year. Similarly, only a third of Mauritania's annual consumption of about five million eggs is produced locally.
The cost of importing eggs, frozen chicken, chicks and feed, equipment and other materials is estimated at 18 million dollars per year, according to Moktar Fall, an advisor on livestock for the rural development ministry.
Abdallahi Ould Nabgha, president of Mauritania's national association of poultry producers, said there are 60 farms clustered around the cities of Nouakchott in the southwest, Nouadhibou in the west, and Rosso and Sélibaby in the south.
"The poultry industry employs 10,000 people, not counting the profitable by-products the sector makes available to others, such as manure used as organic fertiliser or feathers used to make dusters to clean computers," said Nabgha.
He was critical of the country's lack of infrastructure, which forces the importation of chicks, feed and equipment for poultry operations.
To address this lack, the government signed an agreement with a local businessman on July. 22 for the construction of a poultry complex in Nouakchott, the capital, at a cost of 34 million dollars.
To be completed in the next 18 months, this complex will be a production unit for day-old chicks and broilers with a capacity of 20,000 tonnes per year, as well as producing 15 million eggs and 120,000 tonnes of poultry feed per year, Yahya Ould Abdeldayem, director of investment at the finance ministry, told IPS.