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Eggs, ‘perfect protein,’ deliver hope

Egg Farmers of Canada is part of an international development project in Swaziland that built two modern egg barns

An egg a day is helping feed and educate thousands of people in Swaziland.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” said Egg Farmers of Canada chief executive officer Tim Lambert, who recently visited the small African nation.

Lambert said eggs are beginning to change the future of a country that has been decimated by the HIV/AIDS virus.

“Forty-two percent of the adult population is HIV positive. As a result the adults are dead, dying or incapacitated,” Lambert said.

“The country’s population is a little under one million people and of that, 250,000 are orphans. The average life expectancy in 2003 was about 61 years of age. Now it’s 29.”

Egg Farmers of Canada responded to the crisis by building an egg farm in Swaziland as part of Project Canaan. Working with the International Egg Foundation and the nonprofit organization Heart for Africa, the goal is to reverse widespread protein malnutrition, teach sustainable agriculture and provide skilled jobs.

Egg farming will enhance Heart for Africa’s existing feeding program, which delivers 74,000 hand-packed meals a month to rural communities through a network of 30 churches. The orphanage feeds 106 children, and 280 farm workers each support about 13 people for a total of 3,300.

Lambert said learning about Project Canaan led to the realization that eggs could play an important role in feeding and empowering undernourished people everywhere.

“We see on a broader basis a massive opportunity for eggs to make a difference in nutritional needs for protein in all sorts of areas of the world that are developing or underdeveloped,” he said.

“With six grams of high quality protein and 14 essential vitamins and nutrients, eggs are the perfect food to feed a hungry world.”

The new egg laying operation at Project Canaan consists of two barns that can each handle 2,500 pullets in their gravity fed system. Long-term plans include building more barns and expanding to 30,000 hens.

The first flock arrived in early January, and the second will come in June. Birds are housed in donated cages designed to keep out snakes and other local predators.

“It was an amazing time. It was work, but it was fun work,” said Kurt Siemens, an egg producer from Morris, Man., who volunteered his time and was on the ground when the first birds arrived.

“We got to put that first batch of 2,500 chickens into the actual barn and you can see, touch, feel, smell something that’s coming to fruition that you only dreamt about a year before. That’s a very good feeling.”

As a third generation chicken farmer, Siemens’ knowledge of managing a large-scale poultry production was welcomed.

“These people have seen chickens, but they have never really run a commercial size operation,” he said.

“We tried to help them out and teach them to take care of those birds and get them to produce well.”

He said the birds came into production slowly because of the change in barn lighting, but the Hy-Line Brown commercial layers are now up to 96 percent production.

One of the highlights was hard boiling and delivering the first batch of eggs to a rural family: a grandmother caring for 10 children by herself.

“To see those kids eating those eggs and the smiles on their faces, it’s hard to explain. They really enjoyed those eggs. You get lots of emotion when that happens,” he said.

“The word was definitely getting out in the countryside that Project Canaan was there to help people that were less fortunate with the perfect protein in a package, which is an egg.”

Siemens looks forward to the day when he can take his family and show them the working operation.

“If they want, they can make a change in the world, too,” he said.

“It’s not just about myself. It’s about teaching others from here and also in Swaziland.”

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