Increasing farmers access to markets

by Lynn Kota

The LUSIP-GEF Sustainable Land Management Project is empowering livestock farmers in the Lower Usuthu region  reap financial benefits through sharing technical expertise and connecting them to steady markets  

At first impression, Thabiso Khumalo appears to be an impressionable young man who is still dependent on his parents for his livelihood. In fact, he is a resourceful 33 year old poultry farmer who has been responsible for his own livelihood since turning 18 years. His experience as a small stock farmer is relatively fresh and he attests that his engagement with the LUSIP-GEF Sustainable Land Management Project which was initiated in his community in the beginning of this year could not have come at a better time.

Khumalo has been running a small-scale, home-based poultry business for 3 years, through it managing to earn just enough money to sustain his own livelihood and meet the operational costs of the business.

Agricultural Productivity Sustains Livelihoods Better Than Formal Employment
 “I started keeping and then selling poultry out of a love for farming which I developed from living with my grandfather who kept goats, pigs, indigenous chickens and cattle. My High School grades did not qualify me for entry at University. I then upgraded the subjects I did not do well in and thereafter managed to enroll for a Certificate in Public Relations at Damelin College in 2001. This certificate combined with experience gained after my first job as a Conference Assistant at a local Game Lodge enabled me to be in employment on and off for four years ending in 2010 after which I Iost my job. That is when I decided I was better off committing to working full-time as a self-employed indigenous poultry farmer, instead of chasing after jobs that took most of my time but gave me little in return.”

Khumalo explains that reaching the decision to become a full-time farmer was based on more than just his failure at formal employment.

“I committed to becoming a farmer full-time because I realized that I actually made a better income when I was self-employed than when I was employed by companies. The jobs I got essentially enabled me to keep my other interests going instead of raising my income to the level where I could solely depend on my salary,” he shares. Khumalo goes on to explain that his working experience actually began before he entered formal employment.

“After getting my Public Relations certificate in 2001, I tried hard but couldn’t find a job. I realized that even my high school classmates who had managed to get University degrees were in the same predicament of unemployment as I was.  So I looked at what other things I enjoy doing which have given me other skills, and that’s when I began deejaying at local clubs. At the time I was living at my grandparents place in Piggs Peak. My deejaying paid me enough to be able to start a small spaza shop in the area where I sold airtime and a few other essential groceries and was able to make a living and not burden my grandparents with my needs. I did this between 2001 and 2006 when I got my first job at Maguga Lodge and had to suspend my after-work projects because I worked late shifts. My next job which was at a guesthouse however enabled me to rekindle my other interests and that’s when I used my salary
to purchase a few chickens from my grandfather and breed them for sale. ”

For a year Khumalo raised the conventional mixed breed of chickens most rural Swazi homesteads keep for food and used his salary to buy chicken feed to enhance quality and productivity amongst his chickens. At Christmas time when the demand was high, he sold 50 chickens that were between4-5months old making approximately E800. It was at that time that he discovered that the specialized indigenous chicken breed, Morris, are in high demand not only amongst individuals but also in restaurants, and that the selling price of these is much higher, which meant he could earn even more. At the same time, he lost his job and decided to move to his father’s place in Siphofaneni, where the LUSIP-GEF SLM Project site office is also located.

Indigenous Poultry Farming in Rural Areas and Associated Challenges   
Starting his indigenous poultry farm in Siphofaneni in December 2012, Khumalo soon discovered it would be a worthwhile, albeit challenging venture.

“I arrived here with a couple of the chickens I kept in Piggs Peak. Prior to my arrival, I had done an assessment to establish if this would be an appropriate environment to do my business. From this assessment I learnt that the climate was suitable with warm to hot temperatures throughout the year, and that though water is not easily accessible, there are means to ensure that there was enough to run a successful poultry business. Local residents would also provide a reliable market for selling my produce. On arrival, I soon learnt of other air-borne and two and four-legged threats, namely, eagles that swoop on unsuspecting chicks and uncovered eggs, as well as humans and squirrels who also steal the full-grown chickens!” he says laughing.

The location of Khumalo’s new home however had unique benefits for countering these challenges. “Located near my home, were the offices of the Swaziland Water and Agricultural Development Enterprise (SWADE) and the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) Siphofaneni Rural Development Area (RDA) Office which I promptly approached to get more advice on farming indigenous chickens in the locality.  This is when I discovered the LUSIP-GEF project which is housed by SWADE and met the Livestock Coordinator in this Project, Mr Mlangeni who has been advising me on the business since.” he adds.

LUSIP-GEF is a pilot project promoting sustainable land management practices amongst agro pastoralists in the dry Lower Usuthu region of Swaziland as a way to combat climate change and increase food security. The project is jointly funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), International Fund For Agricultural Development (IFAD), Government of Swaziland and the communities involved (read more in insert box).

LUSIP-GEF Project Technical Assistance Helps Farmer Improve Agricultural Productivity
Undeterred by the theft and other business teething challenges, in January 2012 Khumalo forged ahead on his mission to build an indigenous poultry business and purchased 4 hens and 2 cocks of special breed which brought the total to 9 hens and 3 cocks including the chickens he had arrived with from Piggs Peak. He created an 8mx4m fenced shelter installed with grass-thatched laying pens in a shaded area in his front yard to address the challenges he had so far faced. “Mr Mlangeni in the LUSIP-GEF project advised me on where I could buy the indigenous chickens at a cost I could afford, further recommending best feeds and approaches to bolster growth including mixing the feed with sand and grass to aid digestion,” he shares.

In 3 months his chickens had grown to a brood of 27 and he was getting ready to take them to the market when disaster struck again. Disease and the winter cold hit hard on Khumalo’s stock and he lost all the chickens and chicks remaining with only three.

“The disease outbreak struck in the space of less than one week and I was really devastated at the loss. The chickens would emit a white substance from their beaks, would shake uncontrollably and eventually die with hung heads; I had never witnessed anything like it”. Not one to back down from difficulty, with the two hens, one cock and some unhatched eggs left, Khumalo called on Mlangeni and the MOA RDA office to get technical assistance on tackling the disease outbreak.

Livestock Coordinator in the LUSIP-GEF SLM project, Ntandoyenkosi Mlangeni states that after examining the chickens with the MoA Veterinary Officer, they deduced it was newcastle or joint disease both of which are well known poultry plagues.

 “Having been working collaboratively with Khumalo for over four months by then, it was easy to visit his home and together with the MOA RDA office organize Terramycin to help him prevent the remaining chickens and chicks from contracting and succumbing to the illness. We also recommended that Khumalo buy multivite to boost the health of the chicks and to make sure that all the chickens got the recommended medication in order to eliminate the outbreak”.

Mlangeni explains that the LUSIP-GEF SLM Project broadly aims to promote alternative livelihoods in the target area through making community livestock production more
efficient and sustainable, hence the support to Khumalo. “Mr Khumalo is one of the first success cases in this endeavor and we hope to assist 30 more farmers by the end of the year.”

Project Establishes Strong Partnerships for Sustainability 
The involvement of the Ministry of Agriculture local office in addressing Khumalo’s challenges is by no means incidental. The LUSIP-GEF SLM Project is implemented in partnership with various stakeholders from non-governmental agencies operational in the project area and several government departments under the Ministries of Agriculture, Tinkhundla and Decentralisation, Natural Resources and Energy, Economic Planning and Development, Health as well as Finance. The non-governmental partners include World Vision International, Africa Cooperative Action Trust (ACAT), International Relief Development, Women in Development and many more. The government departments involved include:

  • Veterinary services and animal nutrition, crop production, research, home economics & food security, Swaziland Dairy Board (SDB) and National Agricultural Marketing Board (NAMBOARD) all under the Ministry of Agriculture
  • Swaziland Environment Authority (SEA), Swaziland National Trust Commission (SNTC) and the Surveyor General’s under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy
  • the Decentralisation Unit within the Tinkhundla Ministry

A Sustainable Future through Livestock Farming
The collaboration between the LUSIP-GEF SLM Project and the MoA RDA office eventually saw Khumalo fighting off the plague and his chickens growing to 30 again in two months. He shares that this was possible from following the extensionists’ advice, as well as keeping the remaining eggs and chicks warm inside his house throughout the rest of the winter. “I had to keep the chicks inside the house and feed each one with doses of the recommended treatment in order to curb the disease spread and ensure they survived.”

With marketing assistance from the project in May he was able to sell-off 27 chickens to a restaurant in the business hub of the country, Manzini earning E680. Khumalo used the income to extend the fencing of the shed where he breeds his chickens. “By August I hope to be having over 60 and plan to continue to extend my business. With the support I continue to get from the project and MoA I know I will make a success of this venture,” he says beaming with hope.