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On a quiet morning in rural Mchinji, a small district in Malawi, Grace wakes up and walks over to the house she constructed just a year ago. She inspects her 1,200 chickens carefully – they are all hale and healthy! It will soon be time for their breakfast – a specially formulated meal with the right mix of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals so they can lay healthy and fresh eggs. All of this is thanks to the egg hub – a  Maeve, Lenziemill and Sight and Life project that aims to increase the income of farmers like Grace by providing high quality and affordable inputs, credit, training, and access to markets; as well as increase availability and affordability of eggs in Malawi. 

Challenges to improving egg consumption in Malawi

As a source of high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals and fatty acids, eggs have the potential to dramatically improve nutrition outcomes for vulnerable populations. Yet, in many parts of the world eggs remain inaccessible to those who need it the most. At the same time, the poultry industry is growing exponentially in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), making it an important source of income for poor households.

In Malawi, 37% of children under five are chronically malnourished (stunted), and about 86% of the population lives in rural areas, where most people practice smallholder subsistence farming. The rural poor are particularly affected by malnutrition despite increases in caloric consumption across all socioeconomic quintiles. Although eggs have proven nutrition benefits, eggs continue to be scarce and costly in Malawi – the average per capita annual consumption is only 27 eggs, compared to 180 globally. 

This is due to multiple demand and supply side challenges, notably disease and mortality among chickens, cost and quality of production inputs, and access to credit and markets leading to high egg cost (8-11x the price of cereals, compared to 1.6x in the US and 3.4x in Europe) and low availability. Cultural beliefs and taboos also undermine egg consumption. For example, in some Malawian communities, eating eggs is associated with stomach pains, or even with babies becoming bald.

Increasing egg production using the Egg Hub model 

In Malawi, there is a huge unmet domestic demand for chicken meat and eggs; and the Government of Malawi is committing to improving food security and nutrition through progressive national livestock strategies.

Against this background, interventions and innovations across the poultry value chain that consider the role of poultry for society and the prevailing farming systems are increasingly being implemented. The Maeve/Lenziemill/ Sight and Life egg hub projectwas launched in 12 villages in central Malawi to set up and develop bird poultry farms with 3-year break even period.This project has brought together various partners to support poultry farmers, who are organized into groups of five. In addition to receiving specialized feed, the groups also receive all important vaccinations for the birds, which are ready to lay when they arrive at the farms, training, and continuous supervision.

Since the project was initiated in September 2018, 60 farmers have been registered, received training, established farms and started egg production; and a total of 12,000 birds were placed in these farms to start egg production. The program aims to produce 3.5 million eggs annually. Sight and Life has also built a digital platform for the farmers to track progress, program outcomes and biosecurity protocols.

Not only has the project led to increased egg production and consumption among participants like Grace and their families, but it has also increased their incomes as the eggs are also being sold in local markets.

There has been a surge of excitement and interest in the villages to the point where we have had current farmers also asking for more chickens to meet their local demand. It is very exciting to see the overall demand and drive the farmers.” – Maya Stewart, fund recipient & Director of the Maeve project

The way forward

In addition to addressing supply side concerns, Sight and Life will also create demand through a targeted social marketing campaign, making eggs aspirational and desirable for caregivers of young children, pregnant and lactating women. Sight and Life is on a quest to end malnutrition, and we believe in the power of eggs to improve health and nutrition for all.

Read more about Sight and Life Eggciting Project at: https://sightandlife.org/resources/#publications&id=5786&f=2019

And visit the NEW egghub.org to find information on egg production and consumption in LMICs and aims to improve the collaboration and innovation around eggs.