After making contextual observations about the agricultural landscape in Senegal, I fundraised and managed end-to-end implementation of an industrial chicken coop. This helped to achieve outcomes of increasing food security in a low-resourced environment and boosting income generation amid agricultural unpredictability.
Ibrahima Diakhate, Farm Owner
Ndeye Khady Ly, Project Manager
Rhianna Taylor, Peace Corps Volunteer
As a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, I began working with a number of entrepreneurs to help promote economic development. One of my work partners was Ibrahima or “Ibou”, a farmer in the village Tawa Fall. After working together for a year, we saw the opportunity to establish an animal husbandry arm as a complement to his farming efforts.
Raising funds through the Peace Corps Partnership Program, I worked with Ibou and The Nubian Vault Association, a non-profit that promotes sustainable housing throughout Africa, to build a chicken coop.
In Senegal, agricultural yields are often unpredictable due to pests, an inhospitable climate, and a lack of resources. In the event of a good harvest, farmers’ profitability is still limited — a saturated market means with falling prices, thereby reducing the profitability of crops. With these factors in mind, our main challenges were:
1. How might we increase food security in a low-resourced environment?
2. How might we boost income generation amid agricultural unpredictability?
PROCESs: how might we increase food security in a low-resourced environment?
Chickens for the village.
During day-to-day life in Senegal, I observed that apart from chickens, most available meat comes from larger livestock like goats and cows. Without access to electricity (and hence, refrigeration), meat had generally reserved for consumption on holidays or special celebrations in Tawa Fall. However, as a smaller animal, chickens had the advantage of being easily consumed in a single family meal and not requiring refrigeration for leftovers. As a result, I hypothesized that raising chickens in the village would improve access to meat.
I came to know about the French nonprofit The Nubian Vault Association through Ndeye Khady, a friend and daughter of another work partner. The organization works throughout sub-Saharan Africa to promote sustainable architecture. Bricks are made from local dirt with simple wooden molds, as opposed to the imported cement blocks that are used on most buildings. The domed ceilings are also a stark contrast to the average area roof, which is a few flat sheets of steel.
The innovative design of these structures mean their interiors invert the exterior temperature. More simply: when it’s hot outside, it’s cool inside, and vice versa. I postulated that this temperature regulation would be ideal for raising chickens, who cannot sweat and as a result, do not have the capacity to regulate their own body temperature. Since the architectural style was so different from what the community was used to, however, Ndeye Khady and I held an event to build awareness about this type of building’s properties and to gain approval from the village chief.
PROCESs: how might we boost income generation amid agricultural unpredictability?
Filling unmet demand for chickens.
After living within the community, it became apparent that demand for chicken is strongest around special celebrations — particularly Korite, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan. While chickens are generally understood to be a luxury food, the local demand is high and supply is low. Tawa Fall sits between three larger metropolitan areas with disposable income (Thies, Mbour, and the capital Dakar), making it well suited to sell to customers within these three markets.
A complementary compost business.
Discussions with Ibou revealed an additional benefit of owning chickens: their waste and feather byproducts would prove to be valuable as well, enriching compost made on the farm. Higher quality compost could then be sold to other neighboring farmers in the area as a side business, while also helping to boost agricultural productivity on Ibou’s own farm.
A viable business plan.
I worked with Ibou to generate a business plan and budget we would need in order to build the coop. Once the plan was complete, I filled out a lengthy application for the project to be reviewed by the Peace Corps administration. After about a month, it was approved, and I then proceeded to raise the initial startup costs, around $5,000. (While this may not seem like much in US dollars, this amount goes a long way in Senegal!)
Over the course of a few months, we completed construction of the coop. I ended up finishing my Peace Corps service before we were able to complete a full production cycle of chickens, though I passed the project onto another fellow volunteer, Rihanna Taylor, before my departure.
There were some delays in construction, though they weren’t entirely unexpected. As a seasoned Peace Corps volunteer, I knew that timelines would likely stretch beyond initially planned, as often happens in Senegal. (A popular proverb is “Ndank ndank mooy jaap golo ci ñaay”, or “Slowly, slowly is how to catch a monkey in the forest” – similar to “slow and steady wins the race”.)
However, the duration of this project – and culmination of my Peace Corps service – helped boost my attention to detail (given the grant application requirements) as well as my persistence during delays. While the context of this project is a world away from my current work, it nevertheless helped me develop essential project management skills that I continue to use today.