Bill Gates doesn't need convincing about the transformative power of chickens. "Just about anyone who’s living in extreme poverty is better off if they have chickens," he wrote recently on his blog. And Matt Dickson doesn't need convincing either. While Gates was in Lower Manhattan recently talking about his plan to alleviate poverty by giving away chickens, Dickson was in Kenya hatching Eggpreneur, an initiative that helps rural mothers sell eggs for a living.
Dickson identifies mothers of young children in rural Kenya who may not be getting all the nutrients they need, and then he persuades them to go into the egg business. He builds coops and furnishes them with 150 chickens of about 18 weeks of age. When they start producing, the women keep about 2% of the eggs at home, with the rest going off to market. Eggpreneur, a nonprofit, then pays the women, minus the cost of cleaning and packaging the eggs and the original cost of birds.
"It's a simple, practical, and visible project to solve child malnutrition, unemployment and poverty," Dickson says. "Families are able to access food, and at the same time, they're selling eggs from the same chickens for up to a year."
Dickson was recently selected for this year's Echoing Green fellowship, which comes with funding of up to $90,000. He currently has signed up 20 women for the program, each of whom produce 135-140 eggs a day from 150 chickens. Within five years, he hopes to have hundreds of eggpreneurs signed up, producing 1 million eggs.
There's likely unsatisfied demand for eggs. Kenya, a nation of 44 million people, eats only three million a day right now (Americans eat 0.68 eggs per person per day, a higher consumption rate). And half of Kenya's eggs are imported, making them more expensive than they need to be.
A tray of 30 Eggpreneur eggs costs about $3, of which about $2.60 goes to the farmers, Dickson says. He guarantees to buy everything the women produce, and he employs a vet who makes sure the birds stay healthy.
It would be easier for the women to breed their own chicks, but Dickson says it would be impractical. Without Eggpreneur taking the birds to 18 weeks, the venture wouldn't happen because too many chicks would die. "These mothers have no experience in rearing the young chicks. They would say 'this project is a flop and we don't want them'," he says.
It's early days, but Dickson, who has a master's in global health, may have hit upon a sustainable social good model that helps people with food and livelihood at the same time. He's living out Gates's egg-centric ideas in real time.
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