Empowering women through sustainable wildlife management: the story of Flora Gomes

Flora Gomes and her husband Patrick Gomes prepare to feed the chickens before locking them in their pen. ©FAO/Luke McKenna

In the Rupununi region of southwest Guyana, 59-year-old Flora Gomes is becoming a successful poultry farmer, with important implications for local diets and incomes, as well as for conservation from wildlife.

Last year, the resident of the village of St Ignatius took part in a poultry competition organized by the Rupununi Livestock Producers Association (RLPA), a local organization supported by the Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) program in Guyana, which aims to improve wildlife conservation and nutrition. Security. Through the competition, households and smallholder poultry farmers assessed the weight gain of small flocks of local breeds, using a range of local feeds.

The winners – including Gomes – received a small starter poultry package. As a result, Gomes was inspired to start raising poultry to produce eggs for her family. “I started with the intention of feeding my family, as we have always preferred locally produced eggs: they are much healthier – you can see and taste the difference,” she said. Her flock exceeded her expectations and she started selling the excess eggs in her village. Now she also hopes to expand into selling chicken meat.

Laying hens supplied by the Rupununi Livestock Producers Association (RLPA) thrive and produce a steady supply of eggs for local farmers. ©FAO/Luke McKenna

Why chickens?

In Rupununi, job opportunities are limited and families often do not have money to buy food. Seasonal weather conditions can make access to food difficult – a situation that is made more complicated by the impacts of climate change. Thus, many families rely heavily on wild meat and fish for their protein and income. But as the population grows, unsustainable hunting and fishing methods – such as the use of shotguns and seines – are increasing, threatening terrestrial species such as the plains paca (Cuniculus paca), red-rumped agouti (Dasyprocta leporina), collared peccary (tajacu dicots) and the red horned deer (American Mazama), as well as fish like the arawana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum), lukanani (Ocellar cichla), and the big catfish (Brachyplatystoma spp.).

This is why chickens are so important. Poultry plays an important role in the food security of many households in Guyana and is one of the favorite meats of the Rupununi. However, imported and industrialized Brazilian poultry currently dominates the local market. In this context, the SWM program and the RLPA recognized an opportunity for the local production and promotion of organic and ethically sourced poultry.

Flora Gomes proudly presents her laying hens and eggs to the Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) program team. ©FAO/Luke McKenna

Why women?

The women of Rupununi play a key role as primary caregivers and ensuring food security for their households. Local poultry farming can be an attractive business for home-based subsistence production, providing improved nutrition and welfare, and a surplus for income generation. Raising chickens is not a time-consuming activity and does not require expensive inputs, as semi-free-range chickens can find some of their own food. As Gomes explained, “Poultry isn’t hard to do and doesn’t take a lot of time compared to other farm animals like cows.”

With women like Gomes in mind, the SWM program has established breeding centers in the different districts, to provide easy access to technical support and inputs for women farmers. Each month, an average of 150 farmers visit the breeding centers, 50% of them women. The program also provides training for women interested in poultry farming and works closely with government agencies to improve policy-level measures for food security. At the same time, the RPLA is running an “unbeatable local meat” marketing campaign to promote local meats over imported meats, with an emphasis on chicken meat.

Since 2018, when the SWM program began working in the area with the RLPA, there has been a tremendous increase in poultry keeping, especially by women. Eighty-seven percent of female RLPA members, for example, now raise poultry for household use and/or income. “I got a lot of help – (RLPA) told me what types of food to use and what to do when getting started, and even put me in touch with some customers,” said Gomes said.

The demand for Gomes eggs is growing. She has a large number of regular customers in her village and now also receives weekly orders from neighboring villages. “My customers always comment on egg size and richness in color,” she says. With increased sales and readily available support from organizations such as the RLPA and the SWM program, Gomes is encouraged to pursue poultry farming. She plans to retire from her permanent job as a dorm mom in a year, and she aims at that time to expand her business from eggs to broilers, as she can see the local market start to grow. ; she hopes local poultry farmers will soon dominate the meat and egg market.

The GDS program in Guyana is part of a large international organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States, funded by the European Union, with co-funding from the French Global Environment Facility and the French Development Agency. The objective is to improve food security and the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife in the forests, savannahs and wetlands of 15 countries.

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