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Empowering women through sustainable wildlife management: Flora Gomes’ story

Poultry and perseverance help to conserve wildlife in Rupununi, Guyana
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Flora Gomes along with her husband Patrick Gomes get ready to feed the chickens before locking them in their pen. ©FAO/Luke McKenna

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

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

The winners – which included Gomes – received a small start-up poultry farming package. As a result, Gomes was inspired to start rearing poultry to produce eggs for her family. “I started with the intention of just feeding my family, as we have always preferred locally produced eggs: they’re much healthier – you can see and taste the difference,” she said. Her flock surpassed her expectations, and she began selling excess eggs in her village. Now, she’s hoping to expand into selling chicken meat, too.

   Layer chickens provided by the Rupununi Livestock Producers Association (RLPA) are thriving and producing 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 the cash to purchase food. Seasonal weather patterns can make access to food difficult – a situation that’s made more complicated by the impacts of climate change. As such, many families depend heavily on wild meat and fish for protein and income. But as the population grows, unsustainable hunting and fishing methods – such as the use of shotguns and seine nets – are on the rise, which is threatening terrestrial species such as the lowland paca (Cuniculus paca), red-rumped agouti (Dasyprocta leporina), collared peccary (Dicotyles tajacu), and red brocket deer (Mazama americana), as well as fish like arawana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum), lukanani (Cichla ocellaris), and large catfish (Brachyplatystoma spp.).

That’s why the chickens are so important. Poultry plays an important role in the food security of many households in Guyana, and is one of the most preferred meats in the Rupununi. However, imported, industrialized Brazilian poultry currently dominates the local market. In that context, the SWM Programme and RLPA recognized an opportunity for local production, and the promotion of organic and ethically-sourced poultry.

   Flora Gomes proudly presents her layer chickens and eggs to the Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM) Programme team. ©FAO/Luke McKenna

Why women?

Women in Rupununi play a key role as primary caregivers, and in ensuring the food security of their households. Local poultry farming can be an attractive venture for at-home subsistence production, offering improved nutrition and wellbeing, and surplus for income generation. Rearing chickens is not a time-consuming activity and does not require expensive inputs, because the semi-free-range chickens can find some of their own food. As Gomes explained, “poultry is not hard to do, and does not take up much time compared to other livestock like cows.”

With women like Gomes in mind, the SWM Programme has established livestock hubs in the various districts, to provide easy access to technical support and inputs for women farmers. Each month, an average of 150 farmers visit the livestock hubs – of which 50% are women. The programme also provides training for women who are interested in poultry farming, and works closely with government agencies to improve measures at the policy level for food security. Alongside this, the RPLA is running a “local meat you can’t beat” marketing campaign to promote local meats over imported ones, with an emphasis on chicken meat.

Since 2018, when the SWM Programme started working in the Region with the RLPA, there has been a considerable increase in poultry rearing, particularly by women. Eighty-seven percent of women RLPA members, for instance, now rear poultry for home use and/or income. “I received a lot of assistance – (the RLPA) told me the types of feed to use and what to do when starting up, and even linked me with some customers,” said Gomes.

Demand for Gomes’ eggs is growing. She has a large number of regular customers in her village, and she now gets weekly orders from nearby villages, too. “My customers are always commenting on how big the eggs are, and how rich they are in color,” she says. With increased sales and easily accessible support from organizations like the RLPA and the SWM Programme, Gomes is encouraged to continue with poultry rearing. She plans to retire from her permanent job as a dormitory mother in a year, and she aims by this time to expand her enterprise from eggs to meat birds, as she can see the local market beginning to expand; she hopes that local poultry farmers will soon dominate the market for meat and eggs.

The SWM Programme in Guyana is part of a major international organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific states, funded by the European Union, with co-funding from the French Facility for Global Environment and the French Development Agency. The aim is to improve food security and the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife in forest, savannah, and wetland environments in 15 countries.

 

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