In 2003, the National Demographic and Health Survey in Nigeria reported that 38 percent of children under 5 in the country had stunted growth, 29 percent were underweight and 9 percent were wasted. In the survey, many of the malnourished children were much more in rural Nigeria than urban. In the same year, an indigenous Nigerian farm, Amo Farm Sieberer Hatchery (AFSH), conducted research that would take it 11 years to complete, and change the face of rural poverty reduction in the country. Though Nigeria’s indices for malnutrition and poverty has become worse since 2003, the farm has created a solution through its dual purpose chicken breed.

Known as Noiler birds, a word formed from the amalgamation of two words, “Nigeria” and “Broiler,” they are bred for two purposes; their eggs and meat. The Noiler birds are affordable, enduring, easy to handle and produce eggs 4 times more than chickens that are native to most of rural Nigeria. Female Noiler birds produce 160 eggs in their lifetime, after which they are sold for their meat. The male birds mature to table weight quicker than their native counterparts which take longer. The male matures to table weight of between 2.0 to 2.5 kg at 14 weeks, while the native chicken takes 10 months to gain 1.5kg body weight, under similar conditions.

                                                Noiler’s Free-range Chickens

Perhaps, what makes these specially bred chickens exceptional is that they can live on scavenging off the environment by feeding on kitchen waste, grains e.t.c like free-range chickens, making them suitable to be bred in rural communities in Nigeria. This was the motivation for the development of Noiler birds for rural communities in Nigeria. Poverty in Nigeria is prevalent in its rural regions, with almost 60 percent of the rural population living below the poverty line. Studies have shown that if Nigeria tackles malnutrition successfully, it would reduce extreme poverty by 33 percent.  According to UNICEF, for every dollar spent in reducing stunting and malnutrition in children in Africa, there’s an ROI of $16 per child, while also preventing child mortality.

In Ecuador, research showed that giving children an egg a day in any diet form for 6 months reduced stunting by 46 percent. And this has been a rallying point for the farm that developed the Noiler bird. According to the Group Managing Director of AFSH, Dr Ayoola Oduntan, while speaking at a media event held on Tuesday at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos for the Noiler Initiative, mentioned that there’s a method for reducing poverty through ending malnutrition, by providing simple solutions to complex problems.

“The majority of poor households cannot afford to buy chicken and eggs. Estimates of per capita egg consumption are just 60 eggs/person/year while poultry meat consumption is about 2.3 kg/person/year. That is a meagre amount when reviewing the recommended daily protein intake requirement per person which is 20grm/person/day.” he told Journalists at the press event. “Having observed that malnutrition, maternal and child mortality and issues around gender inequality are challenges being faced essentially by women in the rural areas, the depth of this issue cannot be described on the surface level,” he concluded.

 “A chicken at a time” for female empowerment

The Noiler Birds community is in all the rural regions of the 36 states in Nigeria, with field representatives for each state. Each representative controls a Mother Unit close to the rural villages. The purpose of the Mother Units is to reach smallholder farmers of the Noiler birds easily.

 Noiler’s Mother Units where Smallholder rural women farmers purchase week-old chicks. The Mother Units are close to the rural villages for accessibility

Most of the smallholder farmers are women, who have found a new lease of life. To eradicate poverty, efforts for empowerment need to begin from the lower rungs of society. Rural women are perhaps the most neglected demographic for developmental efforts, yet they are the most important. Women in rural Africa perform more than 50 percent of agricultural activity while producing 60-70 percent of agricultural food production on the continent.

Empowering rural women means that there’s an active policy to grow the country’s agricultural sector, and hence its GDP. Presently, nearly 400,000 rural women are part of the Noiler Birds initiative.

                  Rural women have been empowered by the Noiler Initiative

The women buy the 5-week old Noiler birds and breed them for food consumption, and for sale through their eggs and meat. Since Noiler birds produce more eggs than the native chicken, there is an excess number of eggs available for both sale and consumption. For many of these women, the Noiler birds represent financial freedom; Mrs. Adepoju from Osun state, who is a retiree and one of the beneficiaries of the Noiler Initiative extolled it, saying she makes more from the initiative than what she made as a salaried worker. “As a retiree, Noiler chicken farming pays me more than putting my money in investment houses. I make more in 5 weeks than I made while still working,” she said at the event organized by Noiler to brief the press. Mrs Ejigbo from Kogi state, who sells Noiller chicks to other women in her community mentioned that the chickens have been a life-saver to some of the women. “Many women rear Noiler chickens only to pay their children’s school fees,” she said.  Mrs. Comfort has been selling Noiler chicks to Almajiri boys in Taraba state “in order to empower them” while the internally-displaced women in Borno state are also being trained on poultry farming in a bid to restart business activities.

(L-R) Mrs. Adepoju is one of the beneficiaries of the Noiler Initiative; Mrs. Ejigbo sells Noiler chicks to members of her community in Kogi state

For AFSH’s Group Managing Director, the objectives of the Noiler Initiative are clear: “…to curb hunger, give back impactfully and practically to the society at large; reduce maternal mortality; create additional income opportunity for women and youth in the rural area, contribute to global food security, and encourage Gender Equality.”

To achieve its objectives in full, the initiative would need the collaboration of the government, the body responsible for driving policy implementation in the country, corporate organizations, with corporate social responsibilities, and individuals that are committed to ending poverty and malnutrition in Nigeria. With more than 400, 000 rural households directly impacted by the initiative, and thousands more indirectly, and 12 million birds distributed between 2014 and 2019, it’s only a matter of time before poverty and malnutrition become relics of the past.

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