Limitations of egg production in Sub-Saharan Africa
Egg production in Africa, particularly in the developing countries, has a great impact on nutrition and food safety because the egg is a complete food that is relatively easy to produce.
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Importance of egg production in the Sub-Saharan Africa
Egg production in Africa, particularly in the developing countries, has a great impact on nutrition and food safety because the egg is a complete food that is relatively easy to produce. In this sense, egg production in Sub-Saharan countries is important, particularly now that an accelerated population growth is forecasted. Eggs can suppose an important part of the solution to starvation in these areas.
Despite this, egg availability is low in the region. Only 9 out of the 43 countries in the Sub-Saharan area consume a yearly average of 2 kg of eggs/person, and the average in Burundi, Rwanda, Chad, and Niger is around 300 g/person. This is because multiple limitations affect egg production in Africa and increase egg price. Therefore, eggs are not available for the lowest incomes, which constitute most of the population.
Image 1. Number of eggs available/person/year. Red: <100; orange: 100-200; grey: no data.
Current situation and forecast of egg production in Africa
Africa accounts for less than 5% of the world egg production but has experienced a marked increment in the last years and will continue growing in line with population. Moreover, thepurchasing power will also increase in the area, as a higher percentage of population will be in the middle class.
Charts 1 and 2. Forecasts show that African population and egg production in Africa will grow, though the latter will have a much limited increase because of the limitations in the sector. “Estimada”: estimated production.
The biggest egg producers in the continent are Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Argelia, and Morocco, accounting for 2.1 million of the total 3 African million tons. These five are the ones with the greatest growth rate. In the Sub-Sahara, Nigeria and South Africa are the biggest producers and have recently experienced a significant growth. Kenya is the following one with much lesser production, although remarkable among the region.
Africa’s small impact on world production is because, in Sub-Saharan countries, most of the eggs are produced in local and backyard farms with no biosecurity and limited market viability. In the next 20 years, production will become more intensive, as it already is in Nigeria and South Africa, which will help to expand egg production by approximately 15%.
Main problems and limitations in the region
To ensure a good forecast for egg production in the Sub-Saharan region, the limitations of the sector need to be solved, such as the high cost of the inputs and the volatility of the egg price.
The following sections explain the main limitations grouped by their characteristics.
One of the main problems that faces egg production in the Sub-Saharan region is the lack of infrastructures for the distribution and commercialization. Usually, farms are located in rural areas, which are far and poorly communicated with the feed plants and the cities where most consumers and warehouses (raw materials, veterinary drugs) are. This leads to an increase of the input prices and hampers commercialization. Eggs are sold in small local markets and farms have no chances to grow (Ajakaiye, Ayo, & Ojo, 2010).
Another factor to consider is that most eggs are produced in extensive production systems (Morris, Beesabathuni, & Headey, 2018), in villages and backyards, with poor biosecurity and facilities that do not protect birds from temperature changes and heat stress. To counteract this, producers use local breeds that can produce in warm areas, though they never reach the productive level of highly selected breeds. In some countries, such as Kenya and Zimbawe, there is also shortage of water and electricity.
Improving the communication and transportation infrastructures between production systems, suppliers and consumers is an essential factor to help the sector growth, as well as the modernization of the facilities to raise, transport and maintain the product at low temperatures. The intensification of the farms supposes a solution, because raising a higher number of birds means that more investment can be done and there are more possibilities to modify the market.
In addition, it is important to change to modern genetics or multi-purpose breeds to help to improve the benefits in modern facilities, since the rural breeds that are adapted to the environment can produce eggs in warm areas, but at a very low level.
The limitations of supplies are many and related to the deficient infrastructures for the distribution and commercialization of the product.
The biggest produces in the Sub-Saharan area have problems to buy one-day-old birds and hens about to lay, since there is almost no local production and they must be imported from other countries. Suppliers are very unstable, and prices are variable. For these reasons, old birds cannot be replaced, which leads to important production losses, as these hens have low laying rates.
All this adds up to the high price of raw materials, feed and veterinary drugs caused by their shortage and the difficulties in the transportation to the farms. In fact, feed is considered the highest production cost, which represents around 65% and 73% of the total production cost. Feed shortage is caused by periods of drought and the lack of knowledge of the devices and tools for grain culture.
Many cereals are highly contaminated by fungi and mycotoxins, because of the low quality of raw materials and the lack of knowledge about the importance of feed preservation. The mycotoxin with the greatest impact in the area is deoxynivalenol (DON), capable of causing necrosis by contact and causing big production losses, even at low concentrations.
Companies with more intensification do use mechanisms for feed and grain preservation, but they are usually based on traditional products such as organic acids. These compounds only control the growth of some of the microorganisms, but some others can still grow. In addition, they are not effective in long-term storage since their effect lasts for only 2 months.
The implementation of molecules with greater preservative capacity, such as the cimenol ring, represents a novel solution for grain and feed preservation in Sub-Saharan countries. This compound can eliminate bacteria, fungi, and yeast from feed to preserve the nutritional quality for, at least, six months.
The addition of mycotoxin binders in feed is also highly recommended to avoid the consequences of mycotoxin-contaminated feed. A molecule called Silicoglycidol has a broad spectrum of action and is highly effective to bind mycotoxins. In feed, it helps to improve parameters such as the laying rate and the percent of clean eggs.
Another important issue is the presence of antibiotic residues in the eggs. Studies conducted in Nigeria point out that 30% to 80% of farms produce eggs with antibiotic residues, and even with non-authorized products, such as nitrofurans (Ezenduka, Oboegbulem, Nwanta, & Onunkwo, 2011). This supposes a danger for human health and leads to the development of microbial resistances.
Infectious diseases have a great impact, particularly due to the biosecurity problems in extensive traditional production systems. Moreover, many farms lack of a program to collect performance data and do not know how to identify diseases. For example, in Nigeria, the use of drugs and veterinary services is rare, only 6% of the farmers use vaccines and only 15% of them say that their birds suffered some disease, which points out that most diseases remain undiagnosed.
Salmonellosis and coccidiosis are the infections that worry egg producers the most. The former, because of the implications for human health, already threatened by the sociosanitary situation of these countries; the latter, because of the high percent of floor-raised layers, which facilitates the transmission of the disease.
A zoonosis such as salmonellosis will gain importance with the intensification forecasted for Sub-Saharan poultry production. The most frequently isolated Salmonella strains are zoonotic: S. enterica serovar Enteritidis, Typhimurium and Typhy (Thomas et al., 2020).
Additionally, Salmonella, whether zoonotic or not, can cause severe problems to egg production: infected birds suffer from higher mortalities, growth retardation and egg production disorders, since the bacteria can also affect the reproductive system.
Formaldehyde is used to eliminate salmonella from the feed and the digestive tract of birds. It has several negative consequences: it is toxic and cancerogenic for both animals and humans. Moreover, its efficacy to treat digestive infection is low, and can cause burns in the upper digestive tract of the birds.
On the contrary, the cimenol ring is an active molecule that helps to eliminate salmonella from the feed and can control its presence in the digestive tract. It is a natural product, innocuous for both humans and animals, that is highly effective against Salmonella.
Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease with a big impact in Sub-Saharan egg production, where 30% of the hens are raised on the floor. In countries like Uganda, this percentage can reach 80%. This production system facilitates the transmission of the disease: birds are in contact with contaminated feces and can ingest vectors that carry the infective stage of the parasite.
Coccidia replicate inside the enterocytes and cause cell destruction. They reduce feed utilization and cause diarrhea, decrease epithelial integrity, and make animal more susceptible to secondary infections.
Coccidiostats are widely used in the intensive production systems in the area, but the disease is still a problem because of the development of resistances against most of the drugs.
It is necessary to find other tools to control the disease, such as the natural solutions based on intestinal optimizer pronutrients. These are plant-based molecules that stimulate the physiology of the local immune system. In the birds, they increase the resistance against coccidia, making the animals capable to eliminate the parasites with their own defenses.
Heat stress is an important problem in warm countries because most facilities do not allow to control temperature. Birds’ mechanism to reduce body temperature consists of increasing the breathing rate. If warm periods are prolonged, this mechanism of action leads to the loss of the calcium stored in the bone.
Bone calcium is necessary for the proper formation of the eggshell because, many times, the calcium supplied with the diet is not enough to achieve the requirements. When this storage decreases, shell quality issues start, and the prevalence of broken eggs and cage fatigue syndrome increases.
The use of products with carbonates during heat stress helps to prevent the loss of calcium. In addition, the combination of carbonates with mineral conditioner pronutrients (natural molecules that promote calcium absorption) allows a better protection during the warmest seasons.
Another infectious disease worth to mention because of its importance in the area is avian influenza. There was an outbreak in several countries of the Sub-Saharan area between 2017 and 2018 that affected, among other countries, South Africa, which is one of the biggest egg producers in the area. Such outbreak represented a problem for the international market and the importation of eggs in countries that strongly depend on it.
Newcastle disease, Gumboro disease and infectious bronchitis are also in the agenda of countries like Burkina Faso, territories that lack of vaccinations and disease control programs (Daodu et al., 2019; Oakeley, 2000) . These diseases are responsible for outbreaks in the Eastern Africa. Countries such as Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda show a solid growth, but suffer outbreaks that negatively impact the market between regions.
These viral diseases cause immunosuppression, which makes animal prone to be infected by other microorganisms. This is why vaccination and the administration of immunostimulant products, whether during challenging periods or together with vaccinations, is highly recommended. Immunostimulants boost the immune response and, therefore, improve the resistance of animals against infections.
Egg production in the Sub-Sahara has a promising future, which will depend on the sector’s capacity to face the limitations that slow down its growth. The intensification of the sector is necessary for bigger investments and the improvement of production facilities and the distribution and market infrastructures.
Another thing to consider is to increase the knowledge and formation of the producers, as well as the introduction of vaccination and disease-prevention programs, which will lead to a greater use of the veterinary services. This is an essential factor, since, nowadays, there is a lack of control of the infectious diseases that are endemic in the area.
Finally, the use of natural additives, such as the cimenol ring or pronutrients, represents a solution to replace antibiotics, formaldehyde and coccidiostats. These natural tools have a positive impact on productive performance, reduce the risk for public health problems and make the egg sector more competitive in the international market.
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MV. Júlia Pié Orpí
Veterinary Technical support to the area of Latin America at Biovet S.A. Laboratories Official Veterinary Services (SVO) in poultry slaughterhouse