And they’re not the only ones who have thought about them as an alternative food source – the Ministry of Agriculture and the Secretariat of Pacific Community (SPC) are working closely on a project to preserve and even farm local chickens.
A team from SPC visited Rarotonga earlier this month to discuss several programmes they are currently following up with the ministry, and one of them involves chickens.
Information about the project on the SPC website says the chicken project in the Cook Islands involves establishing two new chicken pens on Rarotonga which will become a collection, breeding and conservation centre. One will be located at the Takamoa Theological College and the other is already implemented at the Tai Areai-Avatiu farm.
“Most local chickens are free-range, fending for themselves for feed, water, shelter and production. The addition of shelters, feed and water will increase production and management will allow public access to local chicken products. A total population of 100-150 breeding chickens is expected to be kept on the farms on a confined free-range production system.”
Given the recent shortage of imported chicken products, Ministry of Agriculture secretary Dr Matairangi Purea agrees it would be a good idea for Rarotonga residents to consider farming local chickens.
He says it appears hardy Cook Islands chickens are particularly resilient to climate change and are in fact an important breed for this country.
“We must keep in mind that during cyclones or other extreme weather events, these chickens can be a source of food security.”
Purea says the ministry has been told Cook Islands wild chickens had particular genes which helped them survive long-term changes in weather patterns.
“SPC supports the programme and wants to preserve the Cook Islands chickens, which are quite different to English birds. They have taken blood samples from them.”
With climate changes and the effects of El Niño weather patterns being experienced in the Pacific, SPC is focused on ensuring that food sustainability and security are priorities.
These include the development of new varieties of taro, the breeding of livestock, as well as the development of agricultural policy and marketing systems.
Research is being undertaken on which crop varieties could be grown successfully in flooded areas.
“At the moment we have been testing cassava (maniota) and how long the plants can last in very wet soil. The results of these trials have been given to SPC,” Purea says.
SPC has also helped with policy and marketing programmes which will help the ministry to make better use of their own records and data to establish a marketing database system to enable staff to determine how much produce is sold at the market.
The organisation says animal genetic resources play an essential role in contributing to food security and sustainable livelihoods.
“They provide meat, milk and dairy products, eggs, fibre, clothes, manure for fertilizer and fuel and many other products.
“The present generation of the world community is responsible for identifying, characterising, conserving, sustainably using and developing animal genetic resources to supplyfuture generations.
“Because they have adapted to local conditions and survive better in times of drought and disaster than exotic breeds, indigenous breeds are important for providing a broad genetic pool to draw upon as we improve traits and characteristics under changing conditions. The demand for high quality niche products from indigenous breeds is also increasing.”
SPC says animal genetic resources have many causes, including marginalization of traditional production systems where most local breeds are kept, diseases, natural disasters, and the negative effects of climate change.