The Republic of Benin, a small country in West Africa with a population of 10 million. It’s one of the poorest in the world. It survives on it cotton and its re-exports.
Each year, some 150,000 tons of frozen chicken passes through the town of Cotonou.
Cheap cuts, which come in from Brazil, the United States and from Europe, find themselves on these market stalls at knockdown prices.
The import of these « morgue » chickens, as they are called in Benin, has increased by 150% in 15 years.
The low prices are a god-send for the third of the population living below the poverty line. But for local farmers, it means competition.
At his warehouse, Kenneth Adiho impatiently waits for his delivery : Several thousand frozen chickens, direct from French farms.
Etienne, come and take that box there, and attach it.
I’m just checking the expiry date of these smoked chickens… These are from Normandy, from the Societe SNV…Expiry date 9 December 2015
Kenneth is an importer and wholesaler. He’s one of the big names in frozen chicken in Benin.
Thanks to his French connections, he has access to the biggest names in the French market : SNV, Remi Ramon, Anjou Volaille, Ronsard and others are all present among these boxes. But the meat he buys from these French poultry companies is a certain kind.
ITW KENNETH ADIHO
In Africa, we don’t eat a lot of chicken, we mainly eat hens. These are usually ‘retired’ hens, that are a bit tough for European teeth, whereas we love them.
‘Retired’ hens are laying hens that are battery-farmed for their eggs, then butchered after 18 months.
ITW KENNETH ADIHO
This is a hen that the local population eats…This is another French hen, grain-fed and free range, which is nice and fat and costs a bit more. This one, she laid a lot of eggs, a lot, and she’s lost value.
Kenneth receives between 15 and 20 containers every month. One of these can contain up to 25,000 chickens.
He doesn’t pay much for these cheap cuts : €1.25 for each ‘retired’ hen, resold for €2 in Cotonou.
Business is good. But he’s not boasting about it.
To be honest with you, I’m not proud of selling imported frozen goods. If even 10% of what I sold was locally produced, I could say that my country also produces something. We don’t produce anything. 100% of what I sell today to the population comes from outside the country. When I think I went to school. That the state have me a bursary to go to school, and now I come in and sell EU products…It’s good that I make a bit of money, but I’m not proud.
04. 17 Background :
Mama, come and take your change
Like every morning, Mama Love has come to buy her frozen chicken from Kenneth Adiho.
I have come to buy some frozen chicken, some French Flechard chicken, which I am going to resell in the market. I hope it sells quick so I can come back and re-stock.
Mama Love is a « bonne dame », as they call female market traders in Cotonou. 30 years of experience have given her an expert eye.
ITW LUCIE AHOUSSINOU
This chicken has got some blood on it, I’m not taking any. Clients won’t buy that, I’m going to swap it. If there’s coagulated blood, it’s blemished. I need clean chicken.
Now a bike taxi, the most common form of transport in Cotonou, will take her across town.
Her destination is Dantokpa, one of the biggest markets in West Africa, where she has a stand.
In Dantokpa, chicken is king. It’s the main source of meat for the majority of Beninese people.
In the big towns, imported frozen chicken is becoming a fixture.
ITW LUCIE AHOUSSINOU
Frozen chicken is practical, because all the work is already done. There are no organs or feathers, it saves us time. That’s why we like frozen. When you buy a local chicken, you have to buy them live and kill them yourself. That’s the main reason we’ve switched to frozen chicken in Benin.
All Mama Love has to do, is chop it up. There’s no processing plant anywhere in Benin.
ITW LUCIE AHOUSSINOU
I chop the pieces to sell them. I sell each piece for 600 FCFA, and that permits me to make a profit of 1700F.
At just under 1 euro a piece, that’s half the price of a local chicken. A huge difference when you consider that the minumum salary is equivalent to €60/month.
Come on Madame, come and buy. Come on young lady, come and buy.
It’s good meat, I assure you it’s very tasty.
This poultry is low-cost for a number of reasons : subsidies on cereal crops in Europe, a cheap third-world workforce, and above all…low quality.
In France, for example, laying hens are considered too tough to be eaten.
Did you know that in France laying hens is used as food for cats and dogs ?
What ? In France they feed this chicken to dogs ? And they send that to us ? Are you saying it’s not good ? I’m trying to understand. They use this chicken for pets and they send it to us to eat ? I don’t understand.
The cheap cuts found here aren’t eaten in their countries of origin. After freezing, they’re not suitable for the Beninese market, where cold storage is not guaranteed.
Philomène Dassiga is delighted by the variety of her poultry, which she keeps in her repurposed freezers.
ITW Philomène DASSIGA
This box is from Italy, but people but like what they like. If they like Italian, that’s what they take. But I’ve got other boxes I can show you. This is French chicken. That’s what sells best. As you can see, I keep the boxes in the freezer. It’s the freezer that keeps them cold, so it can’t defrost. We’ve got all types of freezers here, small and big. It depends on the size of the products.
However, the chicken has been defrosted during its delivery by bike taxi.
After that, the chicken is at risk of defrosting again, due to the country’s frequent power cuts. But that doesn’t seem to worry its reseller.
ITW Philomène DASSIGA
We don’t need electricity here in the market, because we only work in the daytime. So there’s daylight.
Defrosted then refrozen, the poultry, which is exposed to sunlight, risks being infected by bacteria that can cause diseases such as salmonella.
In Benin, there is yet to be a national survey on the dangers of this meat, and in the markets, sanitation inspections rarely take place.
Those that take place in Cotonou’s port, the economic power house of the country, are brief.
Lionel GBAGUIDI (Agricultural expert)
The vetinerary services do inspections, but on the arrival of frozen goods. The vets are in charge of opening the containers and verifying if the goods have been kept frozen for the duration of transport, by checking the temperature charts and doing what’s called a macroscopic inspection. So they only look at the product in its packaging in the container and it’s only when they suspect something that tests are done, but if not, the product is declared fit for consumption and it is allowed to go on to importers. The checks end there, in reality.
However, this poultry of unknown quality and origin is flowing into the country.
Sunday morning, in Akassato, on the edge of Cotonou, people have got up early to get the best pieces.
In this mini-market owned by trader Kenneth Adiho, they are preparing for the arrival of customers.
Sunday is the weekend, it’s a day of rest for people from the village. It’s an opportunity for them to come and stock up for Sunday lunch…then it’s time to celebrate.
0.10.34,04 Voiceover :
Frozen chicken is now available in these dedicated stores, which have developed along with growing urbanisation in the last ten years.
For customers, they’re a guarantee of quality.
0.10.45,14 ITW client
If everyone was always touching the chicken with their hands, you could fall ill, but people can’t touch it with the wrapping, so they can’t transmit their microbes. And God will make sure there is no disease in this chicken. God will make sure that if the chicken is diseased, it will stay in France and not come here.
In Benin, 15,000 tons of imported chicken are consumed every year.
Lionel GBAGUIDI :
The State has allowed importing to grow for numerous reasons. The first is they have signed certain international agreements, so their hands are bound. At the same time, it must be said that a country like Benin doesn’t necessarily have resources other than the revenue coming from taxes and customs, so this large-scale importing of frozen chicken accounts for up to 10-15 billions of FCFA in direct revenue for the state of Benin.
This large-scale importing of frozen chicken could be called dumping, given that the price of the chicken on the Beninese market is so low that local production cannot compete. In Benin today, poultry farming for meat has stagnated.
Every morning before sunrise, 27-year-old Gédéon Kouato feeds his animals.
The young agronomist decided 3 years ago to start intensive farming of chickens for meat.
Well, today, since they’ve eaten 6 kilos and since we want to maximise their growth, we can try to serve them 7 kilos to see if they finish it.
On the farm, Gédéon is sure to feed his animals with local grain. He has a hundred or so chicks and just as many chickens. A tiny operation, when compared to multinationals in the global poultry industry.
These chicks will rapidly become broiler chickens…with a lot of meat on their bones. They fetch a better price, even if they are more costly for farmers to raise. And it’s the sale of this chicken that is directly threated by imported poultry.
0.13.15,05 ITW Gédéon KOUATO :
People would rather buy frozen chicken than broiler chickens. Firstly, because frozen chicken is cheaper to buy. We aren’t big producers who can bulk-buy our raw materials. And that means a kilo is a bit more expensive for us than for someone who is raising 1,000 chickens, or 500, and so on. We have to have a little profit margin to make up for everything we go through. More than once, they’ve threatened to stop our activites. We produce ourselves locally. The state of Benin should encourage us in order to raise local production.
0.14.05,24 Voiceover :
After 4 years spent in lecture halls at university, Gédéon barely scratches a living. He makes 15,000 FCFA, or 54 euros, a month. It’s hardly enough to feed his family. And not nearly enough to expand his business and employ staff.
For three months, Paterne, an intern, has been assisting him on the farm. Gédéon is making him something to eat.
Gédéon KOUATO :
Right now, I’m making some porridge to fill us up till lunchtime. When you slaughter animals, especially since we’re familiar with our animals, you don’t want to eat them. But we polish off the chicken feet, we love them.
To be economically viable, Gédéon has diversified his produce. On the farm, he also raises bicycle chickens, the most popular type in the country. But this isn’t very profitable either.
Tonight, once again, Gédéon will have to spend the night on his farm, far from his family.
6AM. In the wheelbarrow are Gedeon’s best birds, which he has handpicked. A supermarket has just made an order for 30 chickens.
Step 1 : Killing the animals.
Next, boiling them in order to pluck them. It’s a long process. Gédéon has called on extra hands to assist him. He’s closely involved in every stage.
0.26.00,09 Gédéon KOUATO :
We try to pluck the chickens in such a way that they are as close as possible to the appearance of frozen chicken. So that we can at least compete a bit. We see it as an unfair competition because from the beginning to the end of the chain, we slave away. We do everything ourselves, and most of the time the young people who try do what we do are forced to give up because they don’t manage to sell their produce. So they have to give it up and go looking elsewhere.
0.16.54,02 Voiceover :
Benin only has 550 poultry farms, which receive little help from the state and are subject to very high lending rates, as the activity is considered high risk. To increase his sales, Gédéon has enlisted the help of Fifa.
Fifa lives in Cotonou, not on the farm, as his main role is finding clients. He has a motto : don’t slash prices.
0.17.03,20 FIFA BADET :
People come and see me, they say that they can find frozen chicken at 1500F, they say : « Come on, make an effort ». And I say « OK, but taste my product. I don’t sell frozen chicken, my product is fresh. It’s good produce, if you want, come and see the farm. With frozen chicken, you don’t know where it comes from, what it’s eaten, what it’s gone through. But me, I’m trustworthy, you can come and see me. » So it’s not the same thing.
0.18.07,09 Voiceover :
Fifa and Gedeon have managed to win the loyalty of some customers : a few big hotels, some supermarkets and a few wealthier individuals. But their business isn’t taking off.
The business partners often run into financial problems. And their difficulties have repercussions for the entire sector. The first to be affected are the suppliers of feed.
Gédéon is on his way to see Vital Tchibozo, his supplier. They met at university.
0.18.26,21 Gédéon KOUATO & Vital Tchibozo
How are the animals ?
And the little ones ?
Good, they’re putting on weight.
Food for poultry makes up 60% of his production costs. A mix containing maize and vitamins.
This month, Gédéon doesn’t have the means to pay.
He has a favour to ask his friend.
0.18.40,08 G : I know you’ll understand, I need another 100 kilos on credit.
Vital : I hope you’ll sell soon and pay me back.
G : As soon as I sell, I will pay you back. Generally my problems are due to the clients. When they don’t buy, I find it hard to shift my produce.
Vital : And I find it hard to buy maize.
0.19.11,02 Voiceover :
The majority of Vital’s clients are poultry farmers. His livelihood is directly linked to theirs.
Even I’m directly threatened by the importing of produce because if a farmer stops production, they stop selling. He stops producing and I won’t sell. So I won’t be able to buy maize. So it doesn’t just affect me because I produce feed, but it also affects the poor growers, who produce the maize, and those who produce the soya as well. So we all have a problem : the whole chain is threatened.
0.19.45,22 Voiceover :
Vital was able to start his business with the help of his father and a small budget of 750 euros.
He has put all his thriftiness and all his energy into the project.
0.19.57,22 ITW Vital Tchibozo
All my difficulties have come from farming. All my joys have come from farming. Everything I hold dear today, it’s farming that has given it to me, and all my greatest disappointments have come from farming. And I don’t have the choice, all I can do is carry on, because I don’t have other options, and if I did, I wouldn’t be passionate because this is my passion. It’s my priority, my passion, it’s what I live for.
0.20.40,00 Voiceover :
It’s not just a sector that is struggling, but the whole youth of the country.
Thirty kilometres away is Porto Novo, the administrative capital of the country.
Damal El Mahaboub was forced to give up on raising chickens. It wasn’t working. Now he sells plumbing and electricity supplies.
The ex-farmer is angry with a government that pushes thousands of young people like him into a sector with no future.
0.20.57,12 ITW Damala El Mahaboub
When I was training, we were about 40/41 students. Whereas once there were only two agricultural schools in Benin, now there’s around ten of them, and due to promotion there are around 200 students, maybe more. So more and more young people are coming out of agricultural schools, and there’s no work. They want to get set up, but what can they do ? Chicken farming is impossible, because there’s the frozen chicken from Western countries, which is sold for so cheap.
0.21.34,10 Voiceover :
As a young Beninese farmer with limited means, poultry can easily seem like the easiest source of income… however,…
ITW Damala El Mahaboub
Poultry isn’t that difficult to raise and is in high demand, and the youth who are jobless, if they can find a way to do it, to produce it and sell it, that would reduce the unemployment rate, so really the importing of frozen chicken is killing the youth, and they will react by flocking to the Western world, because there’s no work for them here.
0.22.31,22 Voiceover :
In Benin, the unemployment and under-employment of young people could be as high as 70%.
The state has put all their faith in the cotton sector and in imports that ensure them a steady return, thanks to customs taxes.
The brand new agriculture minister isn’t on board with these choices.
0.22.35,22 Issa AZIZOU
Agriculture Minister, Benin
If it didn’t, immediately the level of production on our soil would increase, and we would satisfy our own needs. But as it is we’re lazy because for even less you have what’s coming in from outside so no-one can be bothered to increase production which of course requires effort… The government collects taxes from imports but if you really do the economic calculations, I think stopping importing of chicken will bring in more money. I believe that one fine morning, we will wake up and realise we need to stop importing in this country.
0.24.09,19 Voiceover :
For the moment, there’s no sign of a change in direction. In the meantime, a collective of poultry farmers is mobilising to put in place a local solution. A new breed of fowl : the Zado chicken.
- Hi, I produce bicycle chickens, my name is Nicolas
- I’ve come from the town of Zoungbome, I’m starting up a poultry farm.)
Many of these poor, rural farmers live hand to mouth, forming part of the informal, subsistence economy. Some only make the equivalent of €30 a month.
0.24.50,02 Beninese farmer :
People are coming from further and further to ask us advice. Even in the ministries now, they know us. We have a handbook explaining how to feed your chickens to make them grow quickly, how to raise them and how to sell them.
The poultry farmers are enthusiastic. For them, the Zado chicken might just be the answer to their prayers. It is said to combine the tastiness of the bicycle chicken with the fleshiness of imported chicken and broiler chicken.
0.25.16,09 ITW Man in yellow
With this new technique we will escape poverty. It will require a lot of work, but never is ever achieved without effort.
ITW The women in red :
What interests me about this plan, is that for example it is impossible to raise a sheep and sell it in the space of three months. With this breed of chicken it’s possibe. With this new technique you know you can sell in 3 months. You will have piece of mind knowing that if, for example, your child is kicked out of his class because you couldn’t pay the school, that just by selling 2 or 3 chickens, you can solve your problems. That’s why it’s a good plan.
0.25.54,14 Voiceover :
A good plan, although for now the price of the Zado chicken cannot compete with imported meat. Only measures imposed by the state, such as a ban on imports like in Cameroon or a cap on imports like in Senegal, seem capable of giving poultry farming a boost.
As far as the banning or limiting of frozen poultry imports is concerned, there is the model adopted by Senegal, where they appealed to the World Trade Orgasination in order to give greater powers to customs officials so that the production cost of imports is the same as local products. That has meant a doubling in the production of poultry in 10 years in Senegal, with all the other advantages that come with it – the creation of jobs, the boost to agriculture and a boost to the national economy.
0.27.08,12 Voiceover :
But for Gedeon, patience is a virtue. It’s been 2 weeks since the young farmer was last home…
He is reunited with his 3-year-old twins Fleuri and Fleurida and his wife Hermione.
Hi, how are you ? How are you doing ? How was the week ?
- I’m tired and I’m hungry, is there anything to eat ?
0.27.27,21 Voiceover :
The family lives in Calavi, a suburb bordering Cotonou where the rent is cheaper. Their modest home is composed of a single room with a corrugated iron roof.
I hope you behaved for mummy this week.
Living here has its fair share of challenges, but Hermione is hopeful.
ITW Hermione KOUATO
A mother of a family can only hope for the best. I’m really tough sometimes, when it comes to money. We barely manage to make ends meet.
However, like Gédéon, she places her faith in poultry farming.
ITW Hermione Kouato
I would like my children to become poultry farmers, because it’s a job of the future, as long as you train.
ITW Gédéon KOUATO
In the future, our plan is to create a bigger chicken farming operation, so we must have a child to take over when I no longer have the strength.
Gédéon KOUATO :
Don’t cry, we going to buy sweets and yoghurts. See you later !.. Why are you crying ?
0.28.56,15 Voiceover :
In Benin, almost half the population is under 15.
How will this population, which is set to grow and urbanise, feed itself in the future ?
What model will the young people, who dream of enterprising, turn to next ?
Or will they have to invent new way forward for the development of their country ?