In Africa, the floppy chicken supplements the meager income

The yellow cubs squeak through the barn. “There are about 1,200,” says manager Boucar Kasambara (30). “We fatten them up in six weeks.” In the countryside just outside Bamako, the capital of West African Mali, Kasambara feeds the young chickens. From a burlap sack, he spreads food into red plastic bowls. “They get special concentrates to keep them healthy and strong.” When the poultry is fat enough, it is sold for slaughter. Due to the hot African climate, the barn, with its brick walls and corrugated iron roof, does not need to be heated. “The conditions here are ideal.”

The origin of the fast-growing broilers, called plofkip in the Netherlands, is unclear. “Most of them seem to come from the Netherlands,” says Kasambara. “But I don’t know if that also applies to this cargo. We order them through a local dealer who picks them up at the airport.”

In the Netherlands, nobody wants floppy chicken anymore, but as an export it is still as popular as ever. A deputy director of Cobb, the American company that developed the floppy chicken, says in an interview on pluimveeweb.nl that 95 percent of chicken farmers worldwide still prefer a fast-growing chicken. They are also popular in Africa. The reason for its popularity is simple: floppy chicken is cheap. With the same amount of food, they grow more than four times as fast as a traditional chicken. In professional terms, this is called an effective feed conversion. Animal welfare is rarely an issue in Africa.

Day-old chicks

Most broilers are exported as a fertilized egg and hatched at their destination, or they are transported as live newborn day-old chicks in plastic crates. Every day they depart from Schiphol by plane to go abroad. According to figures from Eurostat, the Netherlands exports around one and a half billion hatching eggs and chicks each year, making it the largest exporter in Europe. More than 57 million go to Africa, including more than one million to Mali. Once fattened, they are sold in Bamako for around 5 euros each as pool of chair (broiler). Shopkeepers everywhere are advertising it, with big cock’s feet pool of chair writing on their facade or self-made wooden billboards. Dealers sometimes transport dozens of live floppy chickens bundled with rope on mopeds.

Flock chickens are available in different breeds. “My preference is for Cobb 500,” says Salif Keita, director of Malian poultry company Walila, which supplies broilers. In his office in Bamako, located in a modern two-story building, Keita (47) says this fast-growing chicken is the most profitable. “Countless Dutch companies export this variety.” Including transport to Mali, a Cobb 500 chicken costs around one and a half euros. “If everything goes well and no serious diseases break out, you will earn about 300,000 CFA (500 euros) with 1,000 chickens in six weeks.” For comparison: the average annual income in Mali is just under 800 euros.

According to a report by the Malian Ministry of Agriculture, imported broilers annually provide more than eight million kilos of meat, which is a third of the total Malian chicken consumption. According to the same report, local broiler production is increasing by around 14 percent per year, and a quarter of all broilers come from the Netherlands. “Chicken fattening is a growth market,” says Keita, until recently a senior official at the Ministry of Labour. “My company sells all the technology you need.” Walila also supplies, among other things, concentrate and stables. “Agribusiness makes a lot more money than my old job,” says Keita. “The possibilities are huge.”

Also read: Dairying in Mauritania only flourishes when the grass is green

Vaccines

Western development aid organizations encourage the fattening of chickens that fly. According to, among others, the American Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which donated more than 26 million dollars to chicken breeding in Africa in 2016, it is an accessible way to fight poverty. Anyone with a piece of land can build a chicken house and buy broilers. With the surplus, the idea is that people can supplement their meager income. Founder Bill Gates writes that he would fatten chickens himself if he were in the shoes of a poor African.

There are also countless projects in Mali to stimulate small-scale chicken farming. The money, from organizations such as USAID and the World Bank, is not specifically intended for explosive chickens, but in practice it is usually used for that purpose. Aid organizations offer microcredit and subsidize technical assistance for livestock. The Malian government contributes by not charging tax on broiler imports. In addition to providing income for the poor, local poultry farming is important for food security, according to aid organisations. Plofkip is, after all, a cheap source of protein. Free-range chicken, which is also for sale in Mali and here poulet sauvage (wild chicken) hot, quickly costs twice as much.

But keeping chickens is not easy. Flock chickens are delicate animals. In order not to die prematurely, they should be vaccinated on time. According to Ya Sangaré, a Malian agricultural engineer specializing in poultry, most chicken exporters provide a detailed manual specifying exactly which vaccines are needed and in what quantity. “I follow a manual that recommends three doses,” says Sangaré, 50. “On day 1, day 17 and day 28.” Walking through a chicken shed in Bamako, Sangaré, dressed in a white shirt and jeans, explains that the vaccines are sprayed or added to drinking water

Imported broilers are often exhausted when they arrive in Mali by air. “Sometimes they haven’t had food for more than 24 hours,” says Sangaré. “It weakens them.” It is important to get the animals from the airport to their destination quickly so that they can be fed well. Therefore, most poultry farms are located around the capital. It is also important that the children get water that has the right temperature. It should not be too hot, because then they drink too little. “Keeping chickens is harder than you think,” says Sangaré. “I didn’t study for nothing.”

Chicken antibiotics

In order to grow as quickly as possible, young chickens receive imported nutritional supplements in addition to corn, milk powder and soy. The Dutch company Koudijs, which is part of the animal feed manufacturer De Heus, among other things, sells this concentrate in Mali. According to the packaging, the supplements contain, among other things, methionine (an essential amino acid) and phytase (an enzyme).

Critics claim that nutritional supplements often contain hormones and antibiotics, but according to the Dutch manufacturers, this is not true. What is happening, according to them, is that local dealers are administering all kinds of medicine to broilers on their own initiative.

In Bamako, there are strikingly many well-stocked stores with veterinary medicine, which, among other things, sell chicken antibiotics from the Dutch company Pantex.

Due to the many pitfalls, keeping chickens does not always lead to success. “I’m temporarily stopped,” says Allasane Ndiaye, a driver for the Dutch aid organization SNV in Bamako. “In my spare time I tried to earn some extra money as a poultry farmer. But it was less lucrative than hoped.”

Ndiaye (56) bought a hectare of land and built a chicken house on it. The fattening of the first batch of 800 floating chickens went very well. “After only 25 days they were ready for slaughter.” After that he had less success. “Especially the third load was a disaster. A quarter of the cubs died. I still don’t know why.”

Fish farming

In the canteen of the aid organization, which receives support from, among others, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ndiaye drinks tea with colleagues. He’s slumped on a plastic chair, waiting to get back on the road. Despite the problems, Ndiaye is considering starting again with floppy chickens. The trade in imported cars, in which he invests, is not going very well. And another project, fish farming, has also failed. “I will now handle it more carefully,” says Ndiaye. He knows that aid organizations encourage chicken farming as an additional source of income for poor Malians. “If they believe it, I should succeed too.”

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