Factory Farming in the Developing World: In Some Critical Respects, This Is Not Progress at All

By Nierenberg, Danielle | World Watch, May-June 2003 | Go to article overview

Factory Farming in the Developing World: In Some Critical Respects, This Is Not Progress at All


Nierenberg, Danielle, World Watch


Walking through Bobby Inocencio's farm in the hills of Rizal province in the Philippines is like taking a step back to a simpler time. Hundreds of chickens (a cross between native Filipino chickens and a French breed) roam around freely in large, fenced pens. They peck at various indigenous plants, they eat bugs, and they fertilize the soil, just as domesticated chickens have for ages.

The scene may be old, but Inocencio's farm is anything but simple. What he has recreated is a complex and successful system of raising chickens that benefits small producers, the environment, and even the chickens. Once a "factory farmer," Inocencio used to raise white chickens for Pure Foods, one of the biggest companies in the Philippines.

Thousands of birds were housed in long, enclosed metal sheds that covered his property. Along with the breed stock and feeds he had to import, Inocencio also found himself dealing with a lot of imported diseases and was forced to buy expensive antibiotics to keep the chickens alive long enough to take them to market. Another trick of the trade Inocencio learned was the use of growth promotants that decrease the time it takes for chickens to mature.

Eventually he noticed that fewer and fewer of his neighbors were raising chickens, which threatened the community's food security by reducing the locally available supply of chickens and eggs. As the community dissolved and farms (and farming methods) that had been around for generations went virtually extinct, Inocencio became convinced that there had to be a different way to raise chickens and still compete in a rapidly globalizing marketplace. "The business of the white chicken," he says, "is controlled by the big guys." Not only do small farmers have to compete with the three big companies that control white chickens in the Philippines, but they must also contend with pressure from the World Trade Organization (WTO) to open up trade. In the last two decades the Filipino poultry production system has transitioned from mainly backyard farms to a huge industry. In the 1980s the country produced 50 million birds annually. Today that figure has increased some ten-fold. The large poultry producers have benefite d from this population explosion, but average farmers have not. So Inocencio decided to go forward by going back and reviving village-level poultry enterprises that supported traditional family farms and rural communities.

Inocencio's farm and others like it show that the Philippines can support indigenous livestock production and stand up to the threat of the factory farming methods now spreading around the world. Since 1997, his Teresa Farms has been raising free range chickens and teaching other farmers how to do the same. He says that the way he used to raise chickens, by concentrating so many of them in a small space, is dangerous. Diseases such as avian flu, leukosis J (avian leukemia), and Newcastle disease are spread from white chickens to the Filipino native chicken populations, in some cases infecting eggs before the chicks are even born. "The white chicken," says Inocencio, "is weak, malting the system weak. And if these chickens are weak, why should we be raising them? Limiting their genetic base and using breeds that are not adapted to conditions in the Philippines is like setting up the potential for a potato blight on a global scale." Now Teresa Farms chickens are no longer kept in long, enclosed sheds, but roam freely in large tree-covered areas of his farm that he encloses with recycled fishing nets.

Inocencio's chickens also don't do drugs. Antibiotics, he says, are not only expensive but encourage disease. He found the answer to the problem of preventing diseases in chickens literally in his own back yard. His chickens eat spices and native plants with antibacterial and other medicinal properties. Chili, for instance, is mixed in grain to treat respiratory problems, stimulate appetite during heat stress, de-worm the birds, and to treat Newcastle disease. …

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