A Win-Win Investment For Ending Malnutrition

“A henhouse is a win-win investment: It gives back much more than you put into it,” says Aissatou Ba. “The chickens lay the eggs that I use to make breakfast for my family. And with the money I save from not having to buy food, I buy chicken feed or vaccines.”

Aissatou lives in Guédiawaye, a crowded urban neighborhood in Senegal’s capital city of Dakar. Until recently, she struggled to earn enough income to feed her young children the diverse, nutritious food they needed to keep them healthy. That changed when she began participating in Helen Keller International’s CHANGE project.

In Senegal, HKI is working to prevent malnutrition among the most vulnerable children. Malnutrition is the single greatest threat to child survival worldwide, especially in the poorest communities. Without adequate nutrition and micronutrients, particularly in the first 1,000 days of life, children can suffer irreversible stunting, which limits their physical growth and cognitive development.

The CHANGE project, part of HKI’s larger nutrition program in Senegal, empowers mothers like Aissatou to improve their family’s nutrition by starting small gardens, raising chickens, and earning income through the sales of eggs and surplus produce.

Chicken eggs are rich in protein and micronutrients, but most families in Guédiawaye cannot afford to buy them in the markets or raise chickens themselves. In Guédiawaye and many communities across Senegal, women are largely responsible for caring for and feeding their children. In poor urban and rural communities, however, women have very limited options for earning income.

HKI gave 1,300 women henhouses built especially for use in urban settings—along with three laying hens, one rooster, personalized training and veterinary support. The project’s interactive curriculum also trained the women and their husbands to improve their communication and cooperation and to share more of the day-to-day household work. This helped ensure that the women could retain control over raising the chickens—and the resulting revenue.

Nourishing Families and Dreams

Before CHANGE, very few women in Guédiawaye owned chickens. Two years after the project was launched in 2013, 20 percent of the program’s participants owned ten or more chickens, and the average household was producing about four dozen eggs per month for personal consumption and for sale.

The project has had long-lasting results. In 2017, 75 percent of the women involved in the early stage of the project were still raising chickens, and their income has grown. Over three years, Aissatou Ba has increased her flock from three chickens to seven, and she has added a third level to her henhouse. She also expands her flock in advance of holidays so that she has more chickens to sell when the demand is higher.

HKI has delivered additional “chicken husbandry” training to a team of women who have become local experts, including Aissatou. “Many people still ask me if I can advise them about raising chickens—some of them from far outside my neighborhood,” she says.

Aissatou has a vision for her future. She sees plenty of potential both within and beyond her neighborhood, and she now has plans to partner with restaurants that will buy her chickens. She says, “I have a great passion for raising chickens. I dream of having a huge henhouse and of producing even more.”