Emmanuel Sonaya, principal investigator for ACGG Nigeria and professor at Obafemi Awolowo University, introduces himself and his work with the program. It is one of a series of portraits of key people in Africa Chicken Genetic Gains (ACGG).
Tell us about your background
I am an animal scientist. I have been working on smallholder poultry research for the past 38 years.
What is your function and what are you currently working to accomplish in ACGG?
I am the principal investigator for ACGG in Nigeria and I am committed to see ACGG succeed in the county to the point where smallholder poultry producers can get replacement chicks from hatcheries – as this does not happen now.
What is the next piece of work you are focusing on?
I am focusing on the on-station and on-farm testing of the strains we want to introduce. That is critical because it affects everything else. If we are careless we could end up with a disaster. It is extremely important that we get it right and do it in time.
Why does this project matter and what gets you excited about it?
It matters a lot to me because it is an idea I have had for many years. I always hoped there would be a big project that would make a difference and benefit farmers in the villages of this country, especially the women. So for me, ACGG is a dream come true and I am happy to be part of it.
What about the project is a cause of concern for you and how can it be addressed?
One of the concerns I have is that most of the people who should be stakeholders and value chain actors such as educationalists and vaccine producers, are not interested in smallholder poultry. Their lack of commitment could become a real obstacle for the program. But we can overcome it by showing these partners that smallholder poultry production has value to the poorest people. Smallholder poultry production should not be seen as a competitor with large-scale (industrial) poultry production which is perhaps what they are feeling. I am trying to show that these two types of production systems can coexist.
I also have a concern about the scale of the project. It is a big project even in Nigeria and it is good that we have backstopping from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). We may make wrong appointments, decisions etc. which may cause damage to the project and the goal of alleviating poverty.
What do you foresee as the lasting impact of ACGG?
The main point is to get a commercial breeder farm and hatchery to adopt the preferred breeds and start doing business with us. If that happens it is going to change the game because smallholder (scavenging/semi-scavenging poultry) has a lot of potential. Supplying appropriate birds is crucial. If we can make sure that commercial companies provide the supply, I can foresee that chickens from smallholder farms will be sold in supermarkets and supplied to restaurants, schools, hospitals etc. because we will have a reliable source of branded products. One of the benefits of smallholder poultry is that is can be accessed by many more people compared to commercial poultry farming and it can support the livelihoods of those who have little resources, which really important in a country like Nigeria.
Any other thought?
The experience of being involved in this project with ILRI is very interesting. I worked with ILRI for a year at a time when mentioning poultry projects was a capital offence (laughs) and now it is a good feeling to see ILRI taking smallholder poultry as an important part of its mandate of improving the livelihoods of the poor.