How chickens can empower Ethiopian women and reduce poverty

  • Thursday, January 5, 2017

Professor Garry Marvin and PhD student Melanie Ramaswamy from the University of Roehampton's Department of Life Sciences are using their expertise to help African women improve their livelihood through their flock of chickens.

The lives of Ethiopian women will be enhanced through a £250,000 Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded research project, 'Going Places', which will also benefit the economy of Ethiopia. The project, largely based on the PhD research of Melanie Ramaswamy, uses the expertise of researchers from across the arts, humanities and sciences (anthropology, archaeology, genetics, chemistry, livestock research and museum studies).

Many Ethiopian families rely on the income generated through livestock. While men manage the more lucrative animals – cows and goats – women are responsible for chickens. The money made by women through chicken production tends to be fed back into the local community used to pay for education, health care and nutrition. 'Going places' will work with women to help them make the most out of their flocks.

The research project will uncover the genetics of chickens, their resilience, disease risks and husbandry to understand what can be done to improve productivity. The academics will work directly with women in in different parts of rural and peri-urban areas of Ethiopia, exploring with them issues of different chicken breeds, chicken hygiene, feeding and how to achieve larger stocking densities. To ensure information can be made available throughout the country, a bilingual graphic novel will be developed based on the work of the team.

One of the project's lead researchers, Garry Marvin, Professor of Human-Animal Studies at the University of Roehampton, explains: "This is one of the few projects which embraces arts and humanities research to bring about a scientific, economic and social change, the result of which will empower women and enable them to provide more for their families."

Professor Marvin also warns that the project will need to take account of societal attitudes towards women: "There is a sensitive matter at stake; if the project's success is such that chicken production becomes lucrative it will attract attention. There is a chance that as a result women will become marginalised from this activity. This is a risk the Going Places team will have to monitor throughout the eight month project term and beyond. There's a need to highlight the importance of women's rights and their position in society should be improved."

In addition to the social and economic advancements Going Places will make, the research team has partnered with the British Museum's Africa Programme, which provides skills and training to curators across the continent. Going Places will facilitate the development of digital and educational resources for the National Museum of Ethiopia with the relationship between chickens and women being the starting point. This will also contribute to the country's tourism and cultural heritage which is one of the government's priorities to drive its economy.

The Going Places research project is supported through a substantial grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). It is largely based on the PhD research of Melanie Ramaswamy, who was funded by a previous AHRC grant to conduct an anthropological study of women and the cultures of chickens in Ethiopia. Research contribution includes Professor Garry Marvin, Anthropology, University of Roehampton; Dr Naomi Sykes, Archaeology, University of Nottingham; Melanie Ramasawmy, Anthropology, University of Roehampton; Alison Foster, Archaeology, University of Leicester; Holly Miller, Isotope analysis, University of Nottingham; Ophelie Lebrasseur, Palaeogenomics, University of Oxford; Professor Olivier Hanotte, Genetics, University of Nottingham; Dr Richard Thomas, Archaeology, University of Leicester; Professor Greger Larson, Palaeogenomics, University of Oxford as well as Heidi Cutts, researcher on British Museum's Africa Programme.

The Department of Life Sciences at the University of Roehampton offers outstanding undergraduate courses in Anthropology and Zoology.