US foundation works to end African poverty with chickens

Can the World Poultry Foundation take a $21.4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and, in four years, improve incomes and nutrition for millions of smallholder chicken farmers in rural Africa? That’s the challenge for the team leading the World Poultry Foundation, which is working in rural Nigeria and Tanzania to empower smallholder farmers – especially women – to earn higher incomes and improve the nutrition of their families through poultry-growing enterprises.

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The team leading the World Poultry Foundation is working in rural Nigeria and Tanzania to empower smallholder farmers – especially women – to earn higher incomes and improve the nutrition of their families through poultry-growing enterprises.
The team leading the World Poultry Foundation is working in rural Nigeria and Tanzania to empower smallholder farmers – especially women – to earn higher incomes and improve the nutrition of their families through poultry-growing enterprises.

Can the World Poultry Foundation (WPF) take a $21.4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and, in four years, improve incomes and nutrition for millions of smallholder chicken farmers in rural Africa?

That’s the challenge for the team leading the World Poultry Foundation, which is working in rural Nigeria and Tanzania to empower smallholder farmers – especially women – to earn higher incomes and improve the nutrition of their families through poultry-growing enterprises.

The $21.4 million grant is to be used by the World Poultry Foundation over a four-year period (2017-20) to improve the delivery of low-input, dual-purpose poultry genetics, feeds and vaccines in the two countries.


The World Poultry Foundation was awarded $21.4 million to be used over a four-year period (2017-2020) to improve the delivery of poultry genetics, feeds and vaccines in Nigeria and Tanzania.

Randall Ennis, CEO of the World Poultry Foundation, said, “This grant provides us with an opportunity to implement a strategy that creates access of improved genetics to the rural farmers, provides technical assistance and training, and offers access to markets that may not have been possible before. Our goal is to impact 2.5 million households across Tanzania and Nigeria by the end of this four-year initiative.”


Nigeria and Tanzania have large rural populations, which include millions of smallholder farms.

These are lofty challenges for Ennis and a staff comprising only a managing director, Richard Fritz, and chief financial officer, Jeffrey Schlaman. The goals, however, are in perfect alignment with the foundation’s mission, which has been redefined in recent years following the completion of the charter to assist the Russian poultry industry with a modernization demonstration project – a processing plant investment that stretched from 1999 to 2009.

The World Poultry Foundation more recently has focused on training and educational activities, including in Myanmar (biosecurity and avian influenza prevention), Vietnam (independent smallholder hatchery training) and Ghana (training of poultry extension personnel).

Chicken production is ideal enterprise for rural Africa

Today, the World Poultry Foundation’s mission has shifted from helping a trading partner out of self-interest (keeping the Russian market open to U.S. poultry) to helping people in underdeveloped nations where no gain is expected for the U.S. poultry industry.

Ennis described the present-day mission: “The World Poultry Foundation is about poverty reduction, nutrition improvement and women empowerment in emerging markets.”

This fits the work to be done with the Gates Foundation grant to a "t." Poverty, in fact, is at the heart of Africa’s problems, with rural incomes in Sub-Saharan Africa among the lowest in the world.


Poverty is at the heart of Africa’s problems, with most of Sub-Saharan Africa in the World Bank’s lowest income category.

And as World Poultry Foundation President Jim Sumner noted, there may be no better means for helping impoverished people than poultry. “There isn’t another commodity that is more cost effective to produce than chicken. So I think it is a natural in many areas in which we are going to be working in Africa,” he said.

World Poultry Foundation’s model for Africa

The World Poultry Foundation’s approach for these underdeveloped farming sectors is reflective of the American experience of the 1930s to 1950s, when U.S. poultry industry pioneers began integrating the coordination of the relationships between the different stages of production. Like in the early U.S. poultry industry, the foundation’s approach in Africa is about creating mutually sustainable business relationships.

The foundation’s first step is helping establish over 1,500 “brooder units” that will acquire day-old chicks from low-input, dual-purpose modern poultry lines, grow the birds to four weeks of age, and sell the started chickens to smallholder farmers throughout rural Nigeria and Tanzania.

The smallholder farmers – buying 10 to 30 chickens at a time – will benefit by receiving more productive dual-purpose chickens (growing to heavier weights more quickly for meat production and laying more eggs) than the indigenous chickens found locally throughout rural Africa. The chickens,having been properly brooded, fed a nutritionally complete diet and vaccinated by the brooder units will be hardier, with less mortality.


The local chicken breeds pictured in this “brooder unit” will be replaced by more productive low-input, dual purpose breeds.

The vision is for the brooder units and farm enterprises to be integral parts of a self-sustaining system that continues to benefit its rural stakeholders long after the grant money is used up. The brooder units are to provide ongoing training in poultry production management to the farmers; and the chicken farmers are to provide a market for the started chickens sold by the brooder units. The foundation also has plans to connect farmers to local markets where they can sell surplus chicken and eggs.

Not a hand out, a sustainable hand up

During one of Ennis’ early trips to Africa, a Tanzanian expressed the need there as a plea: “We don’t need another group to come in and give us free chickens. We need jobs and skills.”


This Tanzanian woman employs a curtain tent to protect her prized hen and chicks from predators.

Ennis said, “Unlike past approaches of delivering free chicks and feed to the rural farmers, this project will also focus on training and extension support to build a sustainable value chain. Another key component of the project is the establishment of over 1,500 entrepreneurial enterprises, primarily owned and managed by women, who will supply healthy brooded and vaccinated chicks to the rural smallholder farmers.”

By helping with the creation of the brooder units and improvements in the smallholder chicken and egg production farms, incomes are expected to rise and people’s nutrition improve. While current farmer incomes vary, Ennis provided an example. “Assume a local farmer is making $100 a year by selling some of her chickens and eggs. We think that by having access to these dual-purpose birds and a market, she could increase her income to $700 a year.”

Need in Africa has a human face

The significance of the project was very real to Ennis as he sat under a tree in Tanzania talking to village women about their chicken-growing enterprises. “One of the women on the front row started tearing up. The interpreter spoke with her and provided an explanation. She realized that our plans could offer her the opportunity to pay the fees to send her kids to school,” he said.


Women, who are typically in charge of poultry growing in the villages of Nigeria and Tanzania, are meeting to learn about the World Poultry Foundation’s plans for more productive chicken growing for their villages.

In another village where the World Poultry Foundation has already introduced some dual-purpose breeds, a woman so prizes her chickens that, at night, she keeps them in a room in her house.

Ennis recounts, “When asked how much money she was earning from the sale of the eggs, she looked almost embarrassed and said, ‘I’m feeding them all to my kids. In the morning I fry these eggs up with some peppers and spices, and that’s what I feed them before I send them off to school.’"


These local chickens are kept safe in a room in a villager’s home in Tanzania.

While most smallholder farmers sell their eggs for income, he believes it will become more common for them to keep a portion of the surplus eggs for consumption by their families.

The entrepreneurs operating the brooder units should similarly realize greater incomes. “These entrepreneurs could make between $6,000 and $10,000 a year, if their operations are managed right and they can sell all their birds. So it isn’t a hobby. These are business enterprises that are being created,” he said.

Keeping the value chain in balance

Success in Nigeria and Tanzania depends on the providers of feed and day-old chicks, the brooder units and the smallholder farms operating in a balanced way with one another and the local markets. Not only do the private companies selling the day-old chicks depend on there being adequate demand by the brooder units, the brooder units depend on the continuing demand of the smallholder farms for started chickens. Therefore, the World Poultry Foundation’s plan includes the following activities to support the supply chain:

  • Women’s mobilization specialists will work with the private companies to go into the villages to register the women chicken farmers who will buy the started chickens. The foundation’s goal over the next four years is to involve 2.5 million households in this way.
  • The private companies providing the day-old chicks to the brooder units will be equipped to provide education in poultry growing to the brooder units and smallholder farmers.
  • Smallholder chicken farmers will be connected to local markets (restaurants, hotels, live markets) where demand will be cultivated for “village produced” chicken and eggs. This will insure that there is adequate demand to pull these products through the supply chain.


Hawkers, selling chickens and eggs from motorbikes, will play an important role in connecting village producers and the buyers in surrounding areas.

The World Poultry Foundation’s goal is that the business enterprises and farms will be producing about 30 million day-old chicks a year in Tanzania and about 40 million chicks a year in Nigeria by the end of four years.

“Sustainability is the goal,” Ennis said. “These things have to done in a way that it all becomes self-sustaining. That’s the goal of the World Poultry Foundation’s work in Africa.”

Passionate about the mission to help people

The World Poultry Foundation is working in areas and markets where there is no expectation of shipping U.S. poultry or egg exports. In fact, where the foundation’s staff travels to conduct project assessments, the local indigenous chickens often are sleeping in the trees, and there is no cold chain and no capacity to handle products such as chicken leg quarters. It is such underdeveloped regions that need the most help creating sustainable poultry projects to raise incomes and improve people’s nutrition.

Foundation Chairman Eric Joiner said, “All the staff and the board of directors are very passionate about the World Poultry Foundation’s mission. I think we are doing something that is fundamentally good. It is something that will improve lives. I think it will turn out to be something of tremendous benefit to the poultry industry and the character and the caring nature of the U.S. poultry industry.

“What we are doing is not about trade. It’s not about selling more chicken leg quarters. It is about helping people,” he said.


Eric Joiner, World Poultry Foundation chairman

“We want people to say these are really credible people doing meaningful things.”  


World Poultry Foundation mission statement

The World Poultry Foundation is a self-sustaining instrument for improving lives globally through the production and consumption of poultry and eggs, while empowering smallholder farmers.


Mike Welch, WPF vice chairman, and CEO of Harrison Poultry

“We want to become known as an organization that can do sustainable projects.”


Origin of World Poultry Foundation 

The 501c3 tax-exempt non-profit organization, which was the legal entity for a U.S. poultry industry project to help modernize the Russian poultry industry, was originally named USAPEEC (USA Poultry & Egg Export Council) International Poultry Development Program (UIPDP). It was never so well known as the trade promotion organization from which it was spawned – the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council.

The UIPDP invested $5 million of industry money from 33 original sponsor chicken companies and helped arrange a U.S. government investment of $10 million to equip a Russian poultry processing facility, Elinar Broiler. The primary motivation for the project on the U.S. side was to assuage protectionist sentiment in Russia and to keep the market open to U.S. exports of chicken.

“All the U.S. poultry companies that invested in the Elinar project thought it went beyond expectations. It kept a market open for another eight or 10 years and enabled the U.S. industry to ship a total of over $10 billion of U.S. chicken into Russia,” explained Jim Sumner, president of the World Poultry Foundation.

The World Poultry Foundation’s mission no longer has any connection with trade. And as Mike Welch, CEO of Harrison Poultry, said, “The World Poultry Foundation is the best opportunity there is for the U.S. poultry industry to try and help feed a growing world population that may not otherwise be able to be fed. This work deserves our support because relations can be fostered in areas of the world that need it and where the Russia model can be applied. The chicken leg quarters that we sold to Russia went into the wet markets and did not compete with what the Russian poultry industry produced and sold in the upper end stores. It was two separate products, both of which happened to be chicken. This model can be used around the world.”


Jim Sumner, World Poultry Foundation president

“This is a model that we think will work in many countries around the world.”



World Poultry Foundation board of directors


Eric Joiner – Chairman (AJC International)

Jim Sumner – President (USAPEEC)

Mike Welch – Vice Chairman (CEO of Harrison Poultry)

Mark Hickman – Secretary/Treasurer (CEO of Peco Farms)

Adriaan Weststrate (Rabobank)

Steve Anderson (Lamex Foods)

Neil Carey (Simmons Poultry)


Richard Fritz, World Poultry Foundation managing director

Why the focus is on Nigeria and Tanzania

“The governments of Tanzania and Nigeria have both recognized the key role of the rural family poultry sector as a cornerstone for shared economic growth, poverty reduction, and nutrition security,” said World Poultry Foundation CEO Randall Ennis.

“In Tanzania and Nigeria, smallholder farmers rear poultry (80 percent of whom are women), but they lack access to improved genetics (versus the local indigenous breeds), balanced feed, technical training, access to financial services and efficient market linkages to realize a profitable poultry operation.

“It is recognized by both the private and public sectors that poultry constitutes an important economic activity for the rural poor in Tanzania, Nigeria and other African countries. However, while most governments have initially focused on commercial poultry systems, the rural poultry activities have been largely ignored or sidelined. Of course, it is these rural sidelined rural poultry operations are the ones that have benefitted the disadvantaged and vulnerable, and have supplied most of their basic nutritional needs.”


Randall Ennis, CEO, World Poultry Foundation

“We want African banks to see that the breeder units are bankable projects.”  


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