Around the world, women and young children bear the highest burden of undernutrition. The promotion of behaviors such as egg production and consumption for dietary diversification is a cost-effective and sustainable initiative to improve nutritional status in vulnerable groups. Chicken/duck-rearing and egg production can offer an additional source of household income, providing families with more resources to mitigate the effects of poverty and food insecurity.
As part of an innovative approach to substantially and sustainably improve nutritional outcomes for mothers and children, CARE implemented the Nutrition at the Center (N@C) project, a five-year global intervention aimed at reducing anemia in girls and women (ages 15-49) and stunting and anemia in infants and young children (0-23 months) by integrating maternal, infant, and young child nutrition (MIYCN); water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); food security; and women’s empowerment. Complementary programs in three of the four N@C countries – Bangladesh, Benin, and Ethiopia – focused specifically on homestead gardening, poultry-rearing, and egg production, with the goal of increasing egg consumption to improve dietary diversity and the overall nutritional status of mothers and children.
Key strategies to increase demand for eggs included: 1) utilization of improved chicken breeds and varieties that are resistant to disease and have higher egg yield, 2) utilization of low-cost, locally available chicken production systems combined with adequate disease control and health programs through supervision of agricultural extension service experts, 3) facilitation of cooking demonstrations to share new and locally acceptable recipes including eggs; and 4) advocacy for social behavior change in communities with existing taboos about egg consumption. Preliminary program end-line results indicate substantial improvements in dietary diversity among women and children in CARE’s intervention areas, as well as increased egg consumption:
In Ethiopia, N@C provided 1,000 resource-poor households with Bovans Brown layer chickens – a highly productive hardy breed – and monitored rearing practices with the help of agricultural extension service experts. Among members of 100 randomly selected households, 57% of children 6-23 months old reportedly consumed more than 4 eggs per week versus 7% at baseline, and 72% of lactating women versus 6% at baseline.
N@C: Homegrown, in Bangladesh, saw an increase in women’s egg consumption by 46 percentage points and nearly 60 percentage points (to 83.1% from 23.6%) with minimum dietary diversity; with the proportion of young children (6-23 months) having increased 51 percentage points and to 89.1% (from 32.6%) respectively. This was following the distribution of ducks to 3,000 of the poorest households in the intervention and provided trainings, through Farmers Nutrition Groups, on duck-rearing, homestead farming, maternal and child nutrition, and other pertinent topics.
In Benin, the combination of nutrition education and behavior change with the promotion of animal source food consumption produced positive results in almost all nutritional indicators among women and children with increased household dietary diversity, and the number of families feeding their children animal-sourced foods doubled. Most notably, findings showed that stunting among children increased by 5% in control sites, while program sites showed a 5% reduction in stunting rates indicating that the program activities, such as the promotion poultry raising, may be attributable to stunting prevention.
Overall, these encouraging results indicate that promoting egg consumption and building the capacity of households to rear egg-producing animals can have a significant impact on improving dietary diversity, and ultimately, the nutritional status of vulnerable women and children.