The present era’s Pakistan is cradle of animal domestication. The well known civilizations of Gandhara, Mohan jododo, and Mehergarh are the inimitable examples. The ruins excavated from the said civilizations, resulted in finding the sculptures of many important livestock species, especially, cattle, equids, sheep, goat and chicken. The native/indigenous chicken is the descendant of the said chicken of old ages. Exception to the industrial breeds, there are three main strains of the native chicken; i.e. Agro-pastoralist strain (Watani or Desi), Pastoralist strain (Pahwali), and Agrarian/Riverine strain (Desi and naked neck). Aseel (Kulengi) breed is additional to the above said breeds/strains. It is a large sized breed and usually use for cock fighting as a game bird.


Chicken Genetic Resources of Pakistan

  1. The Agro-pastoralist chicken, usually known as Watani or Desi is found with the semi-pastoralists communities of the country. This breed is also widely adapted by the agrarian societies of the country because of its special traits of adaptation and production in zero input systems. This chicken is found in almost all parts of the country, producing 50-60 eggs annually. Broodiness is the salient feature and is highly adapted to local conditions. Such breeds usually depend on the kitchen waste and vegetation of the nearby.
  2. The Pastoralist chicken is known as Pahwali or Kochani, it is highly adapted and produces 40-50 eggs annually. This breed is trans-boundary and found in the bordering areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pashtun nomads are the custodian of this breed. This breed also gets broody and depends on the rangelands’ vegetation, seeds and insects.Image
  3. Agrarian/Riverine strain (Desi and naked neck), it is found in Indus delta (the warmest region of Pakistan), produces comparatively more eggs than the other Desi strains. This strain is getting popularity both at national and international levels because of its unique potential to resist high temperatures. This breed can be a good tool to create sustainable chicken production system in global warming scenario. This breed/strain also gets broody and depends on the kitchen waste and cereals.Image
  4. Aseel (Kulengi) is one the distinctive breed, usually use for game (cock fighting) and meat purpose. This breed is predominantly use by the agrarian communities and hobbyists’. The bird gets larger size and attains good weight when enough feed is provided. This chicken is usually feed enough with grains and oil seed to make it vigorous and strong. In some parts of the country, it is getting importance as meat animal (desi meat). The meat is very much liked by the society and now its meat is available in luxury hotels in big cities.

Past Efforts to Improve Egg production at Rural Level

In different time period of Pakistan, exotic (pure or crossbred) chicken breeds were introduced to improve egg production. The aims of such intervention were either to upgrade local breed or to commence a new breed with high production potential. Introduction of exotic breeds (pure or crossbred) and other inputs from central facilities were not sustainable. As soon as the development projects ended, the new breeds introduced also disappeared.

FAO introduced Fayoumi and Doki in Pakistan several years ago. Today they may be found, if at all, only as a fancy breed or mixed with native breeds. Such projects make good reports but the breeds are forgotten with the end of projects. The only breed that survives sustainably in the rural areas are native breeds (already discussed briefly).

Unfortunately, the western educated poultry and rural development experts do not like these native chicken breeds. They look for an ideal breed that produces more eggs, larger sized eggs, has higher body weight, do not get broody, etc. However, scientist can develop a breed like that (RIR-Fayoumi Crosses). But the million dollar question is whether a breed like that can survive in the rural areas. This cannot be bear by a country like Pakistan. It can survive and produce so long as the necessary inputs like feed, shelter, health cover and better overall management are provided.

We forget that the indigenous scavenging breeds that produces only some 60 eggs (on average) do so at virtually zero input (no cost). Several trials have established that these birds have the genetic potential to produce around 100 eggs or so. These are producing 60 eggs only because they can scavenge only enough feed to produce only that many eggs. Every few years or so there is news about a new rural breed. But few years later no one hears about them because these disappear into oblivion with the development projects that introduced them and what remains is the original scavenging indigenous breeds. Frankly speaking, there is nothing between the scavenging indigenous breed and the modern hybrid chickens. There are really two options for development of poultry in the rural areas:

The indigenous breeds have been around for hundreds of years and are well adapted to the areas. Their major problem is high mortality due to diseases like Newcastle, Pox, new respiratory disease and parasitic infestation. These can be easily prevented through vaccinations and treatment. Training rural women in these skills have been very effective. This has drastically reduced mortality and empowered women.

Universities and other public sector institutions can play a bridging role as; to improve indigenous breeds with some necessary inputs, producing specialized lines and distribute among women’s cooperative societies through the involvement of the local NGOs etc. Universities and communities linking is one of the top priorities of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan. These cooperative farming is sustainable particularly those that are close to markets for eggs and birds for meat. Once the farmers are organized and poultry farms operational, these will become self supporting because there are no operational subsidies in this enterprise.



  1. Thank you very much for this interesting article. In my opinion, it is important to stick to the indigenous breeds, because it is an extensive way of animal husbandry. If I have to put much money in to get much money out this is not more lucrative than putting little money in and getting little money out. A breed which produces more eggs is useless if it can’t survive at local conditions or if it only survives on high cost.
    Thankyou for not forgetting the local breeds – they are a treasure.

    1. Dear Iris,
      You are so right. The native livestock breeds of livestock are well adapted to the local condition and are very eco-friendly. They usually rely on resources for food which are other wise useless; like residuals in farm field, kitchen waste and roughage etc.

  2. In poor communities in Africa, local poultry production act as insurance and a safety against against all kinds of disasters. Poultry come in handy when crops fail and farmers sell off one or two to buy seedlings to start off again. When a child is ill or there is school fees to be paid, poultry serve as a resource for income. When a farmer receives unexpected guests, poultry stand in the gap for providing a nutritious meal. The socio-economic impact of local poultry to rural dwellers can therefore not be underestimated, and it is encouraging to see that this is being encouraged through efforts such as this.
    Well done.

    1. Dear Vivian,
      You are so right. The same is the importance of native chicken in rural areas of Asian continent. All the livestock genetic resources of native breeds are eco-friendly and rely on the kitchen and farm waste which are otherwise waste. Chicken is playing pivotal role as scavenger, producing quality food in form of egg and meat. If a chicken flock is vanished because of any reason, starting again is economical and easy. Chicken is the guarantee of mom and kid health as both are very much prone to malnourishment and poverty. I hope the international organizations like that of FAO, ILRI, IFAD and others will give proper place to this indigenous/native genetic resource as a tool to eradicate extreme poverty and malnourishment in the rural regions of Asia and Africa.

  3. Reblogged this on DIANABUJA'S BLOG: Africa, The Middle East, Agriculture, History and Culture and commented:
    Excellent post, pointing out the problems associated with introduction of exotic breeds. In the below quote from the blog -watani- is arabic, meaning -national- or it could also imply -local-.
    / The Agro-pastoralist chicken, usually known as Watani or Desi is The The agro-pastoralist chicken, usually known as Watani or Desi isfound with the semi-pastoralists communities of the country. This breed is also widely adapted by the agrarian societies of the country because of its special traits of adaptation and production in zero input systems. This chicken is found in almost all parts of the country, producing 50-60 eggs annually. Broodiness is the salient feature and is highly adapted to local conditions. Such breeds usually depend on the kitchen waste and vegetation of the nearby.

  4. Salah El-Safty

    Dear Prof. Abdul Razik

    Thank you very much for this excellent article. Also, the native chickens play an important role in rural sector in Egypt, but it needs more work to develop and improve. I think we should work on the farmer awareness to disseminate the correct production practices to maintain both food safety and public health.

    In this concern we can work together regarding the indigenous chicken in rural development and poverty reduction.

    my best wishes
    Salah El-Safty, Ph.D.
    Professor, Poultry Production Department
    Faculty of Agriculture, Ain Shams University
    Coordinator, Patent and Creation Development Unit
    68 Hadaeq Shubra, 11241, Cairo, Egypt
    Fax : +202 44444460 (Egypt)
    Home Tel.: +202 26359543 (Egypt)
    Work Tel : +202 44441711 (Egypt)
    Mobile: +20122 3421084 (Egypt)
    Mobile:+218926353483 (Libya)

  5. Dear Dr Salah,
    Thanks for your interest and feed back. We have already submitted a proposal for development of indigenous chicken breed here in Pakistan and to use this unique genetic resource for rural development and women empowerment. I am looking for other organization to help/fund us for this proposal.
    Our cooperation is available. Please keep finger crossing.
    Best regards

  6. I hereby paste some comments I received via emails about the role of indigenous chicken in rural development.
    Such comments are well concentrated with knowledge and experience.

    a. “Keep supporting the indigenous chickens without meddling with their genetics and providing external inputs like feeds”
    comment by Dr Haleem Husnain from Pakistan.
    B. ” This problem might be as complex as nuclear science, please don’t underestimate it. Under village management condition ~ 40% of flock loss recorded due to disease and predator and under some circumstances this has made smallholder farmers to give up chicken rearing. This equates to loss of millions of dollars every year. The development of thermostable vaccine for Newcastle disease is a good move”
    Takele Taye Desta from UK
    C. In today genetic breeding improvement, it is important to recognized that (i) not all village chicken are genetically the same, we are dealing with a complex history of movements and between population hybridization, the genetic make-up of our populations might be different even within a single country, (ii) village chicken are locally adapted (chicken ecotypes) (iii) Commercial lines have a restricted geographic origin and therefore a smaller genetic background compared to village chicken as a whole, they only carry a subset of the diversity of village chicken.
    Olivier Hanotte, University of Nottingham
    The only disadvantage is that they grow slowly under traditional extensive system with very little inputs. This could be improved by improved housing and feed supplementation added to their scavenging habits. Diseases such as NCD, fowl pox, endo and ectoparasites are also great limiting factors. Controlling NCD with thermostable I2 vaccine is a good option. We tried I2 in some villages in the Gambia about 10 years ago. The vaccinated chickens developed high levels of antibodies against NCD, and the disease epidemic was greatly reduced. However, we noticed that Fowl pox came in as soon as NCD was minimised. Therefore interventions targeting improvement in the management of these chickens, disease control and even crossing with larger cockerels would go a long way in improving the livelihood of the rural poor and minimizing protein-calorie deficiencies of many poor households.
    Dr Arss Secka, The Gambia
    I am an indigenous hen. I do not feel any pain whenever I see the small and broken hut of my owner. Although I have a tiny shed, my few neighbor friends don’t have nothing and live in kitchen. You are feeling proud about
    our scavenging and insect eating. Is it our choice? No, you indirectly force us to go outside. Oh, sorry! I forget that it’s a loss business for you to feed us every day. Anyway may be it will not decline your profit, if you ensure clean drinking water near my shed and a minimum feed supplementation. Last time, I lost my 7 chicks out of 15. Most of them were snatched by predators. Why? Is it not possible for you to give at least 10 days’ support to me and my chicks after hatch in a safe and captive place in your house? I noticed most of my chicks were died or lost in this time. Don’t worry, during that period my chicks eat very little. Now I am in brooding with 17 eggs. Unfortunately, I would not able to recognize the father of my up-coming chicks once again. Is it very difficult for you to keep my partner in your house? Please save me at least from the mating with my son or father like other friends. You are talking about cool chain of vaccine. Oh god, I cannot but laugh! Last year my farmer tried to give ND and fowl pox vaccines to me and my chicks. He did not do that, as the transportation cost from our house to hospital was nearly to my market price. Moreover, there is no electricity in my area. I have lost several friends, although they were vaccinated with ND in time. Is it not possible for you to find out any possible solution against ND which will convenient for all types of farmers in an easy way? We are always trying to give you a maximum profit and contribute to the rural development, but you should give us a minimum care. May we not expect that?

    Shahjahan, BANGLADESH
    Improved feeding and housing and management seems to be good ideas for village poultry, it all will improve both productivity and and bird health. But I do not understand all the talk about vaccination for ND, this will probably benefit medical industry more than villagers. Breeding for genetic resistance is much more sustainable. If villagers should get better output from their poultry it will help theme most to improve management of their local resources not becoming dependent on fodder or medication from outside the local area.
    Heine Refsing, Center for Biodiversitet
    I follow with interest the discussions about the role and opportunities of indigenous chicken production.
    FAO together with the INFPD organized in 2011 and 2012 three electronic conferences where these topics were discussed as well and similar arguments were exchanged to those we hear now. The summaries of these discussions are all available online ( and based on the discussions the working paper “Family Poultry development – Issues, opportunities and constraints” ( was prepared. There are also proceedings from earlier INFPD e-conference in 1999 and 2002 and the similarity to what was then discussed is also striking.
    So where do we go with that information? Are we making progress, are we sufficiently serving the people who keep those indigenous birds to improve their livelihoods? Obviously the world is changing almost everywhere, resources are getting scarcer, young people are moving to urban areas to find better opportunities. Very often it is then the older and poor people that rely on the traditional management of indigenous chickens. Where are the opportunities to make use of indigenous chicken production for a better life? While the traditional system can be very efficient, the output in terms of products or income is mostly rather low and opportunities for scaling up are limited in many conditions. Can the traditional system help to get out of the “poverty trap”? I assume none of us wants to comprise the livelihood opportunities of poor people for the conservation of indigenous chickens.

    We have seen from the previous discussions that arguments are expressed basically for two main approaches: A “conservative approach” advocating for the preservation of existing practices and a “progressive approach” advocating for the introduction of new practices. You may find more details about these two positions in the above mentioned working paper.

    From an analysis of development experiences for family poultry production one can conclude the following:
    • Lessons learned clearly show that a “one-size-fits-all” response is not successful.
    • It is crucial to assess the feasibility and economic viability of family poultry interventions in each specific operating environment, and to develop an appropriate and tailored response in order to achieve sustainability.
    • The “conservative approach” seems more appropriate for remote village conditions, where the introduction of new technologies is challenging and poultry production is subject to many constraints.
    • The “progressive approach” seems more appropriate for family poultry producers living in villages with better access to communication technologies and for those living in peri-urban areas.
    • The choice of development strategy should be based largely on the local context and access to markets and services.
    • Interventions focused on a single component of the production system (e.g. feeding, housing, health or breeding) often yield little improvement in family poultry production, as other constraints may arise and hamper productivity. This is also true for focusing only on ND vaccination.
    • It is difficult to achieve higher productivity from improved breeds in unimproved traditional production environments, but there are a number of cases that show that introduction of improved genetics can be an appropriate tool to improve the production system if accompanied by supporting changes of the environment (Baladi in Egypt, Sonali in Bangladesh, Kuroiler in India, improved Kienyeji chicken in Kenya).

    Looking forward to your views
    ​Of course vaccination would also benefits the vaccine producers, please assess the amount of chickens that could be saved in each household thanks to the use of the vaccine, and socioeconomic and nutritional benefits. I know some things because i am currently working on this initiative.
    breeding for genetic resistance is a good and medium or long term initiative depending on the effort each country is able to bring in. but how many developing countries are able to support that research? while ND alone sometime wipe out almost the whole flock.
    so please, while working on genetic resistance, let’s protect and develop the existing flock, through vaccination, housing , nutrition and all proper management practices.
    In Nigeria we love you and want you to gain more weight, give more chicks with greater survival so as to give us more profit to enable us send our children to school, bring us out of poverty and improve our well-being too.

    Prof.’Funmi Adebambo MNSAP,RAS,FASAN, FNIAS
    Professor of Animal Breeding,Genetics & Biotechnology
    Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics
    University of Agriculture.
    P.M.B.2240, Abeokuta
    Most rural people have their own strategies, which include safe roosting and
    nesting places and a safe enclosure for little chicks and their mothers.
    Modern wire fencing, when available, helps with this. Chickens need to be
    free-range, and sooner or later predators will get them, but letting them
    out only at certain times of day, say the afternoons, helps a little.

    As for disease control, this is best not even tried, but to allow adaptation
    to play its role, thus strenglthening the landrace.

    Dear Haleem,

    I’m a vegetarian myself (so my chickens generally end up as food for predators or thieves), but others in this correspondence and a lot of the people I live among would agree with you about the taste of the meat.
    Europeans consider it tough, but this does not seem to be problem with other people, who like to have something to chew, it being good for the teeth and the digestion – I am the same with vegetables. And I do eat eggs, mainly because I’m keeping chickens anyway, and they have a taste and richness not to be found in supermarket eggs, even those claiming to be free-range.

    The Malawian experience of Newcastle disease is unfortunate – it didn’t seem to reach us, and may be a result of high population densities facilitating the spread. Heavy reliance on drugs is not only too much of a burden on rural households, I am also of the opinion that it is unwise. Somehow I don’t think ‘indigenous’ chickens (meaning local breeds, because as far as I understand, all our domestic poultry originated in South East Asia) will disappear from Malawi. Numbers may decline, but the disease-resistant ones will slowly increase. After all, even in Africa, they have been with us for a few millennia already.
    Peta A. Jones, MSc, PhD
    Donkey Power CC
    South Africa
    You are very right that the meat of the indigenous chickens are tough. The more free ranging the chickens are, tougher is their meat. This trait with their insect diet gives their meat the special flavour and taste that most people in the third world like. The taste of Europeans about this meat is not relevant. And as we know taste is a variable human trait. As for the diseases of the indigenous chickens, ND and pox are the major problems together with internal parasites. The ND vaccines available in most countries are mostly effective, cheap and easily available. The problem is their availability in the villages where they are needed. It only take few hours to teach a rural woman how to take care and administer this vaccine. If administered in time and properly, the results are dramatic.
    All the best, Haleem
    Within the livestock sector, village poultry are often the most commonly owned type of livestock and they are more frequently owned than larger livestock species by resource-poor households. In a recent publication of
    FAO, it was reported that family poultry in Africa is truly the invisible animal as it is hardly counted in wealth ranking as cattle, sheep and goats are. Yet, they are important as providers of egg and meat (each hen
    produces about 30 eggs and 15 chicks every year) and the cocks find various uses in religious and cultural life. However, in Nigeria, sub-saharan Africa and other third world villages, much is yet to be done towards
    increased productivity. To achieve this greatly, emphasis should be holistically laid on community or village-based selective breeding schemes considering farmers’ traits of preference as a good option to rational and
    sustainable way to improve and conserve poultry genetic resources.
    Abdulmojeed Yakubu,
    Department of Animal Science,
    Faculty of Agriculture,
    Lafia, Nigeria.
    One major attribute that I have read from all submissions on this indigenous chicken business is their adaptability to harsh environment, free ranging, scavenging etc. So if you begin to vaccinate them then it will be difficult for the poor to manage them and therefore that adaptability is lost.
    Secondly, its my opinion that once a treasure is left in the hands of the poor then its lost completely. Its a matter of time. Because, a moment these poor people’s income improves they turn to something more productive and rewarding economically.
    The third issue I notice here is that, it appears indigenous chicken is synonymous with Africa, Asia and Latin America. How about the rest of the world? Can we have a proper definition of indigenous chicken?. When I lived in UK, I used to attend farmer shows in west Sussex. I saw many local/indigenous chicken and although I do not remember well, it appeared to me that the farmers who kept indigenous chicken were not poor. They then mobilized the market using associations and had deeply penetrated the rich consumers. To me this is more sustainable and can save the indigenous chicken. Actually the management seemed to be comparable to exotic or improved.
    So what am I saying? Natural disasters can lead to extinction of species, genes, etc and any resource which is not utilized by the majority (particularly the rich) may get extinct provided its not conserved. Conservation through use seems to be a way forward for indigenous chicken and can only be championed by rich farmers provided they can create demand for such local breeds at a profitable price. If not then try gene banking at animal genetic resources centers.
    Agrobiodiversity and Biotechnology Programme

    Entebbe, Uganda



  7. Reblogged this on Small Scaled Farming and Sustainable Food Production and commented:

    The indigenous breeds have been around for hundreds of years and are well adapted to the areas. Their major problem is high mortality due to diseases like Newcastle, Pox, new respiratory disease and parasitic infestation. These can be easily prevented through vaccinations and treatment. Training rural women in these skills have been very effective. This has drastically reduced mortality and empowered women.

  8. Pingback: Bill Gates launches chicken plan to help Africa poor – Camel, food security and climate change

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