In a recent blog post, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates posed the following question: If you were living on $2 a day, what would you do to improve your life?
This is a real question almost 1 billion people have to answer due to extreme poverty, and one Gates set out to answer. Through his Foundations work, he believes that anyone who is living in extreme poverty should raise chickens. He provided the following reasons:
- They are easy and inexpensive to take care of. Many breeds can eat whatever they find on the ground (although it’s better if you can feed them, because they’ll grow faster). Hens need some kind of shelter where they can nest, and as your flock grows, you might want some wood and wire to make a coop. Finally, chickens need a few vaccines. The one that prevents the deadly Newcastle disease costs less than 20 cents.
- They’re a good investment. Suppose a new farmer starts with five hens. One of her neighbors owns a rooster to fertilize the hens’ eggs. After three months, she can have a flock of 40 chicks. Eventually, with a sale price of $5 per chicken—which is typical in West Africa—she can earn more than $1,000 a year, versus the extreme-poverty line of about $700 a year.
- They help keep children healthy. Malnutrition kills more than 3.1 million children a year. Although eating more eggs—which are rich in protein and other nutrients—can help fight malnutrition, many farmers with small flocks find that it’s more economical to let the eggs hatch, sell the chicks, and use the money to buy nutritious food. But if a farmer’s flock is big enough to give her extra eggs, or if she ends up with a few broken ones, she may decide to cook them for her family.
- They empower women. Because chickens are small and typically stay close to home, many cultures regard them as a woman’s animal, in contrast to larger livestock like goats or cows. Women who sell chickens are likely to reinvest the profits in their families. Read more about women and chickens in Melinda’s blog post.
Because of this, Gates has devised a plan to end poverty by helping those in developing countries raise chickens.
“There is no investment that has a return percentage anything like being able to breed chickens,” Gates said at the fifth annual Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy. “Our goal here is to take West Africa, where 5% of the households have chickens, and get that up, country by country, to about 30%.”
Gates will be providing the seed funding to execute the plan. His foundation currently invests $400 million a year into livestock programs and hopes to reach it’s 30% goal in five years.
“It’s the classic thing of teaching somebody how to fish,” Gates said. “If you don’t live near water, then it’s pretty hard to fish. But you know, the parable could have been stated in terms of giving someone a chicken and showing them how to raise chickens. In fact, in West Africa at least, there’s more people who can raise chickens than there are who can go out and go fishing.”