The chicken comes first

Bill Gates has an idea to curb hunger in Africa and it is simpler than you think

Billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft's cofounder Bill Gates has a plan to end hunger in Africa. Mike Segar / Reuters
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Bill Gates is about to buy some chickens. A lot of chickens. The Microsoft cofounder and international philanthropist has pledged to donate 100,000 chickens to families across Africa through the charity Heifer International. While that might sound like a lot of chickens, there is a pragmatic logic in Mr Gates’s latest move to help the needy in Africa.

Chickens are an excellent source of healthy protein. Chicks are inexpensive and aren’t known for carrying as many diseases as other livestock. Moreover, chicken eggs perfectly complement rural diets heavy on carbohydrates. It is an ideal food for people in need. Mr Gates’s purchase follows his other intelligent philanthropic initiatives. Instead of reinventing the wheel when it came to curbing the spread of malaria, Mr Gates invested in mosquito nets to limit the spread of the disease. A simple measure that had a major effect.

Now, one could argue that dumping thousands of chickens on a rural population could result in a number of chicken dinners that night – but the reality is much different. Chicken farming has become a popular endeavour throughout rural Africa because initial investments are relativity low. Start with a few chicks, sell their eggs when they mature and slowly grow an entrepreneurial endeavour.

Therefore, Mr Gates’s 100,000 chickens are actually an investment in capacity building at the lowest level of the economy. Just as micro loans have proven successful for the lowest class brackets of fledging African economies, the chicken initiative is another, novel stab at addressing the problem of poverty.

In a blog post announcing the measure, Mr Gates summed up the brilliant simplicity of his chicken idea. “I’ve met many people in poor countries who raise chickens and I have learnt a lot about the ins and outs of owning these birds” Mr Gates wrote. “It’s pretty clear to me that just about anyone who’s living in extreme poverty is better off if they have chickens.” He is correct and his idea could change the lives of millions. Sometimes the most straightforward solution to a problem is the best one.