by Tafara Mugwara
HARARE, Oct. 6 (Xinhua) -- Peter Chivhumbura had generally kept free-range chickens at his rural homestead in Zimbabwe for domestic consumption and never considered their commercial value.
That all changed when he was selected to be part of the pilot program of a China-funded chicken and rabbit farming program in his community last year.
The program, which is being implemented in the China-Zimbabwe Agricultural Cooperation Demonstration Village in Ward 28, Zvimba District in the Mashonaland West Province, is supported and funded by China through China Aid.
Ward 28 has approximately 2,000 households who mainly rely on subsistence farming.
"This program helped us a lot," said Chivhumbura. "First of all it was an eye-opener, we had no idea that engaging in poultry farming is like growing money."
Twenty-Six households benefited from the pilot program, with 14 doing poultry farming while the other 12 focusing on breeding rabbits. Each member of the poultry farming project was given 20 hens and 2 cocks, while those in the rabbit breeding project were given 10 does and two bucks, with all the breeders being funded and purchased by China.
With the pilot program, ten Chinese agriculture experts were assigned to give technical assistance to the villagers, while a poultry hatchery center with a capacity of 6,000 eggs was also set up to give technical support.
Previously, the idea of making a fortune from poultry farming never even crossed Chivhumbura's mind.
Since he started the poultry project, life had never been the same, Chivhumbura said. After selling the first stock of 600 birds, Chivhumbura decided to spend all the 2,500-U.S.-dollar profit in continuing his poultry business.
"This program has been of great assistance, it has made our lives easier, a while before I sold 100 chickens, 8 are currently incubating, so I'm expecting 100 hatchlings, and by the end of the year I should have 600 chickens," said Chivhumbura.
Chivhumbura has already started sharing the knowledge he acquired from Chinese agriculture experts with other villagers.
"At the moment there are people who are coming to learn about poultry farming. Since this is a pass-on program, I am expecting to give another farmer 20 hens and two cocks so that in three years' time the whole village will be rearing chickens," he said.
Andrew Chirenda, community leader and councillor of Ward 28, said the aim of the pilot program is to make sure that the whole community benefits.
"This is a pass-on project, and the 26 farmers who benefited from this project will also pass on to the next 26 farmers, so maybe in about two to three years to come, almost everyone would have benefited," Chirenda said. "Their source of livelihood was farming, of which they would only do farming when the rains come, but as of now they have income all year round."
The community leader expressed gratitude to Chinese experts for their technical assistance. "I would like to give gratitude to China Aid for this program. It's going to have an impact especially on this community in alleviating poverty and I would really want to thank the Chinese government and the China Aid experts who were working with us, we really thank them, we really appreciate it as a community."
Teckla Manhando, another beneficiary of the pilot program, who has sold 500 chickens this year and made a profit of 2,000 dollars, said there has been a huge demand for free-range chickens.
"We hope to find a huge market because free-range chickens are on-demand, so we have to expand the markets. China Aid promised us if we have large stocks we can get in touch with them and they can help us to even export the chickens to China," she said.
Free-range chickens, locally known as "roadrunners," have gained popularity among Zimbabweans as they offer a healthier organic option.
"Roadrunners are chemical-free, they eat natural foods. We were advised to eat organic foods because genetically modified foods are unhealthy. China Aid (program workers) taught us that with free-range chicken, even if you don't have a lot of feed you let them scavenge for food on their own, they can survive, they eat grass, they eat ants, they eat termites, all of that are natural," said Manhando.
Manhando believed while free-range chickens take longer to raise than broilers, the initial capital required is low and the birds are cheaper to keep as they thrive on natural foods, making them ideal for villagers with limited resources.
In addition to China-Zimbabwe Agricultural Cooperation Demonstration Village, one of several initiatives that China is undertaking to enable Zimbabwean farmers, more than 3,000 Zimbabwean students and farmers have benefited from the China-Aid Agricultural Technology Demonstration Center near Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, through technical skills transfer.