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Finance & Innovation

Bill Gates wants to end extreme poverty - with chickens

Flickr: Alex Starr

Why did the chicken cross the road? To change the world.

702 million people live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than USD$1.25 a day - and Bill Gates has a feathery solution: chickens.

Though there are many ways to fight poverty, Gates has said that he would raise chickens if he was living on less than $2 a day. That’s the idea behind his Coop Dreams of giving flocks of chicks to families in need as a solution to extreme poverty.

Why chickens?

In addition to sneaking a chicken coop (live chickens not sold separately) into a skyscraper to surprise the Forbes annual summit on philanthropy, Gates explained his his Gates Notes blog this morning.

Chickens are in high demand in sub-Saharan Africa and typically go for around $5. So in a pinch, chickens can quickly be sold to cover daily expenses or pay for an emergency.

They’re relatively cheap to raise. Many chicken breeds are foragers and will happily munch on whatever they can find; the few vaccinations that chickens require cost less than 20 cents; and hens only require a basic shelter to nest.

Chickens multiply like rabbits (or perhaps it’s the rabbits who multiply like chickens). This means they’re a wise investment.

Here’s the simple math breakdown: if a farmer begins with 5 hens and borrows her neighbor’s rooster to fertilize the hens’ eggs, in three months, she may have 40 chicks. At a rate of $5 per chicken, she could earn over $1000 each year (that’s almost a 50% increase from the cost of living on the extreme poverty line, about $700 a year).

And then there are the health benefits. Eggs are protein-rich and contain many nutrients. When a farmer’s flock grows big enough, she will have enough eggs to spare some to eat. Adding eggs to diets can relieve malnutrition and improve children’s health. This is particularly important in sub-Saharan Africa where one in every four people is malnourished.

Cracking India's egg debate- Flickr- Peacock Modern- Hero.jpgImage: Flickr: Peacock Modern

Surely by now you’ve noticed that I’ve been referring to this hypothetical farmer as a woman. Though tending to chickens is often seen as women’s work (because chickens usually stay close to home), having a flock to raise would allow women to gain economic independence, and thereby amplify their voices as decision-makers within their households. And when women have financial influence within their families, evidence has shown that they tend to spend more money than men on education, health, and nutrition, all of which helps combat poverty.  

On top of that, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) predicts given the same access to productive resources as men, women would increase the total agricultural output in developing countries by up to 4%. Women produce more per hectare, on average, than men, but do so working on smaller land areas. The FAO estimates that if women had the same agricultural resources as men, they could reduce the number of hungry people by 12–17%, that’s about 150 million people.

How you can help Bill Gates?

Check out the special post Why I Would Raise Chickens on Gates’ blog.

I say special post because it’s not your average op-ed or press release, it’s an interactive post. The goal is to fulfil Coop Dreams using the “coop points” you’re awarded. So what do you have to do to earn points?

  1. Read his post!
  2. Watch a short video - and you really do have to watch it, but it’s well worth the watch. (Helpful hint: don’t even try to hit play and then sneak away because the video stops playing the second you start to scroll.)
  3. Impress Bill Gates with your knowledge in a one-question quiz, tell him how much a chicken usually costs in West Africa.

Then what happens? Gates will give a family in need a flock of chickens on your behalf. And he’s got 100,000 chickens to give, but you have to play the Coop Dreams game so he can start doling out these flocks a la Oprah and reach his goal: to raise the proportion of rural families in sub-Saharan Africa who are raising breeds of vaccinated chickens from 5% to 30%.