Insecure supplies of corn and soybeans through to next year are among the factors threatening the survival of the poultry sector in Zimbabwe, according to the latest report in Newsday.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union has warned that erratic rainfall caused by El Nino could lead to failure of the corn crop, causing great hardship to both human and livestock populations in the provinces of Matabeleland, Manicaland and Masvingo.

In a normal year, the harvest will amount to a little over 1.2 million metric tons (mmt), requiring imports of around 700,000 metric tons (mt) to meet the country’s total requirement of around 2mmt.

Zimbabwe Poultry Association Chairman Solomon Zawe told the newspaper that delays in importing corn are threatening the sector’s viability, and industry stakeholders have been urging the government to take action to speed up the import process.

According to Zawe, the table egg and broiler markets are depressed as the result of reduction in buying power since the festive season. Producers receive $1.85 to $1.90 per kilogram for their broiler chickens, while wholesale prices are in the range of $2.50 to $2.80 per kilogram.

Poultry feed production in Zimbabwe averages 30,608mt per month in 2015, he said, which represents an increase of 10 percent over the previous year. Annual increases of 33, 55 and 15 percent, respectively, in broiler grower, pullet and layer feed output were balanced with little change in broiler starter and finisher feed production and a 14 percent decline in breeder feed.

United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently estimated the 2015 corn crop in Zimbabwe at 49 percent lower than the previous year, with sorghum and millet output down by around 70 percent.

“A consecutive poor cereal harvest in 2016, resulting from the El Niño‑associated dry weather, could further worsen the poor food security situation,” warned FAO.

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In December of 2015, the chairman of the poultry producers’ association announced that Zimbabwe’s producers could meet domestic demand for poultry meat and that imports were not needed.

Alternative feed for the future: Maggots?

The challenging feed supply situation in Zimbabwe is forcing people to explore alternative nutritional strategies, and a recent report in BD Live describes maggot production on both small and large scales in Zimbabwe.

One poultry farmer, Lovemore Kuwana, grows his own maggots on poultry manure and feeds the dried worms to his 120 free-range laying hens and 1,000 quail.

“The birds can’t resist the worms,” he said. “My birds now look healthier than before.”

The maggots contain 65 percent protein and 25 percent fat, compared with 35 percent protein in soy-based feed, according to Victor Marufu of the Zimbabwe Organic and Natural Food Association, and 1kg of fly eggs turns into about 190kg of dried larvae in just three days.

“Maggots can be farmed at wastewater treatment plants where primary sludge attracts a lot of house flies,” said Happymore Mbiza, an urban water systems specialist with the Chinhoyi University of Technology.

Research at the University reveals that growing the maggots this way cuts waste at water treatment plants and landfill sites, reduces production of methane and sulfur oxides, and generates 5 times less greenhouse gas emissions than soy or maize stock feed.