Eggs: A cracking opportunity

Containing many essential vitamins and minerals required for a healthy diet, eggs are an affordable and accessible source of high quality protein. Increased production of quality eggs for local markets is stimulating integrated efforts to supply poultry feed and layer chicks.

Demand for high-quality eggs for local markets is transforming domestic poultry sectors © PBS NewsHour/T. Miller

Worldwide, around 65 million t of eggs are produced each year, with 65% coming from medium and large-scale commercial producers, according to the Worldwatch Institute. Backyard systems are also a valuable, low-risk farming enterprise for small-scale farmers. For those with little resources, a few hens can be kept, fed largely through their own foraging, to provide eggs and even meat for the household. But many developing countries are working to expand their commercial poultry sector, and develop cost-efficient systems which can compete with the low- cost eggs imported from developed nations (e.g. the EU to Africa and the US to the Caribbean).

Successful examples of poultry sector development can be found throughout the ACP regions. In northern Rwanda, where rates of chronic malnutrition are high (over 40%), poultry farms have been set up to provide sufficient eggs for all children under five to eat one boiled egg each day. As well as providing an income to those employed on the farms, the eggs are transforming the health of pre-school children, who would otherwise eat few, if any livestock products. In the Caribbean, poultry production is vital in ensuring food security within the region. Recent years have seen encouraging growth in the sector, although despite this, significant amounts of chicken meat, eggs and egg products continue to be imported.

Beating the competition

For egg production, Jamaica is the biggest contributor within the CARICOM region, providing over 80% of total regional output. With just over 2,000 small farms and 100 large facilities, the industry produced more than 130 million eggs in 2014; import of eggs is now only necessary if local production is impacted during the hurricane season. President of the Jamaica Egg Farmers Association, Roy Baker, attributes that success to the restructuring of the industry, which has included upgrading its production systems, ensuring compliance with standards and constructing a liquid egg plant. Established in 2007, the facility was built to meet the demands of the hospitality and commercial food sectors, which had previously preferred imported products. However, table egg production costs remains a challenge for many farmers due to the cost of feed, which is mainly imported.

In northern Mozambique, to compete against low quality imported eggs from neighbouring countries, Mozambique Fresh Eggs (MFE) uses an out-layer model by which small-scale farmers look after 500-1,000 specialised layer chicks supplied by a local hatchery. Land around the hatchery is used to grow soya and maize feed for the chicks, and is fertilised using the chicken manure. Eggs are collected from the farmers and transported for marketing by a sister company. MFE is currently working to upscale its model with an aim that the majority of eggs consumed within the region will be produced locally.

In the Pacific, Tonga is largely self- sufficient in eggs, although production is seasonal and dependent on the temperature. When supply is short, eggs are imported from New Zealand. The national market is dominated by Tonga's largest commercial egg and chicken producer, which contributes around 80% of production, selling to supermarkets and smaller retailers. Day old chicks and feed are currently imported from New Zealand by the company, with some being sold on to other poultry farms and small farmers. Whilst the company is interested in developing a more integrated value chain and establishing a hatchery for chicks, it recognises that this would involve significant costs and challenges, not least that half the chicks would be male.

Susanna Cartmell-Thorp

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.