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Eggs are among “nature’s first foods”, designed to holistically support early life and development. They are among the richest sources of essential amino acids, protein, choline, and long- chain fatty acids (DHA).  They are also an important source of some vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, B2, B5, B12, selenium, phosphorous and zinc, and contain other bioactive factors. In a symposium chaired by Chessa Lutter from RTI International and the University of Maryland School of Public Health and Saul Morris from the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and sponsored by the Child Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) at the International Congress of Nutrition (ICN 2017) in Buenos Aires, the potential of eggs to improve child nutrition and rural livelihoods was debated. 

Eggs

The Science Behind the Egg

For a full-packed symposium hall, Lora Iannotti from Washington University, presented findings from the Lulun Project, a randomized controlled trial in Ecuador, where eggs were given to children 6 to 9 months of age.  After only 6 months, linear growth was improved and stunting was reduced by 47% in the group receiving eggs –  an effect larger than those of any other complementary feeding interventions to date. The trial also showed significant  improvements in concentrations of biomarkers associated with cognitive development including  choline, betaine, methionine and DHA.  Currently, a replication study is on its way in Malawi that also includes assessments of child development.

In rural Ghana, poultry-based income generation activities embedded in an integrated agricultural and nutrition education intervention also led to improved egg consumption, dietary diversity and linear growth among young children. Dr Grace Marquis from McGill University presented the preliminary results of this intervention, in which households with infants up to 12 months of age received multiple agricultural and infant feeding interventions, including education and training on poultry, home gardens and beekeeping. Dr Marquis and her team are currently working with district partners on the sustainability of the intervention by helping women form farmer associations, opening opportunities for access to credit from the local rural bank, and strengthening technical assistance from government health and agriculture extension services.

Creation of demand and overcoming social and cultural taboos preventing mothers and caregivers from giving eggs can be major barriers to overcome when promoting the use of eggs for young child feeding. A key element of the previously described RCT in Ecuador — an intensive social marketing strategy — was described by Carlos Andres Gallegos Riofrío of Washington University. The project was branded as “Lulun”, which translates into ‘egg’ in the local indigenous language, and symbolically tied the practice of giving eggs to young children with indigenous worldviews. The strategy followed a structured process targeting all the six P’s in successful marketing: people, product, place, price, promotion and policy change. Creating a successful brand, brand loyalty and empowerment of mothers and caregivers to take decisions on their child feeding were critical for the successful and continued behavior change and central to the success of the study in improving egg consumption and child growth.

Availability of Eggs

To make eggs available and affordable to low-income households, small holder poultry business models need to be viable. Klaus Kraemer of Sight and Life presented the findings from a scoping study in Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi and India demonstrating the potential of four types of business models to be viable at-scale:  

(1)  Micro-Financing institutions that provide a small credit to underserved poultry entrepreneurs coupled with peer group support, technical, and business skill training. Such credit helps backyard poultry farmers set-up and operate micro-enterprises.

(2)  The Out-Grower Model: a partnership between smallholder poultry farmers and commercial players to improve the productivity of hens.  

(3)  In the Enterprise Development Model, an established local input supplier organizes smallholder farmers into groups and helps them invest in mid-size poultry enterprises. With relevant training, market support and funding, they manage businesses that not only generate profits, but also succeed in improving the availability of high quality eggs in their community.

(4)  The One-Stop Hub Model is a distribution and aggregation platform tailored for a rural environment. It is a combination of the above three models, and goes one-step further by providing a marketing channel for eggs to be accessible even in hard-to-reach rural areas.

All of these models were successful and in some contexts even hugely profitable. In Malawi, for instance, women farmers in the Enterprise Development Model, can each earn an average income of US$1130 per year!

Chicken

Finally, Emily Lloyd of the One Acre Fund demonstrated the importance of rigorous piloting before moving to scale to tackle issues with selection of the most appropriate chicken-breed in a particular setting, appropriate housing and vaccinations of chickens to prevent spread of poultry-related infectious diseases in the participating households, as well as distribution and financing challenges.

The Challenges

In a lively discussion, some important suggestions were raised by the audience. These included the potential to improve egg consumption in other vulnerable target-groups, in particular pregnant and lactating women, the need for behavioral change strategies and other interventions to prevent the spread of poultry-related infectious disease to the household, concerns about allergies, considerations of equity when rolling-out poultry business models and how to improve sustainability when these programs and interventions are further scaled-up.

Saul Morris, GAIN’s Director for Policy and Planning, concluded that the potential of egg and poultry interventions to impact child’s nutrition and improve rural livelihoods is ‘egg-citing’ and has been underexplored and appreciated. The symposium clearly demonstrated that together, interventions to improve young child egg intake and household and community egg production could radically reduce the global prevalence of stunting and improve livelihoods of the rural poor. The next challenge will be to bring these interventions to scale, and fulfill the promise that by 2020, 10 million eggs will be delivered to young children annually, as a key component of complementary feeding.

Watch the complete ‘Cracking the Egg’s Potential to Improve Child Growth and Development’ presentation from the 2017 ICN IUNS and access the linked research here on SecureNutrition’s website. For additional information on eggs read ‘Cracking the Egg Potential During Pregnancy and Lactation‘ featured in the Sight and Life magazine on Women’s Nutrition and ‘Eggciting Innovations‘ on our blog. 

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