Eggs provide poverty alleviation in developing countries

The easily digestible protein found in eggs, the potential egg farming offers in poverty alleviation, and egg production’s small environmental footprint make this food anything but humble.

Eggs can play a particularly important role in meeting nutritional needs where access to food and affordability are an issue. | Dr. Vincent Guyonnet
Eggs can play a particularly important role in meeting nutritional needs where access to food and affordability are an issue. | Dr. Vincent Guyonnet

On a visit to Zambia in 2011, I came upon an egg carton that summarized perfectly what eggs are -- and can be -- in terms of human nutrition. 

The carton’s very simple tag line -- "Protein for the nation" -- was spot on in a country where 54 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line (US$1.90/day) and 40 percent of children under age five have stunted growth, according to data from the World Bank Group and World Health Organization.

Simonga Farm, which produced the eggs and is located near Livingstone, Zambia, along the mighty Zambezi river, right above Victoria Falls, had identified the true potential of eggs well before some of the most promising research on egg nutrition and stunting reduction in children was even conducted. It was only in 2017 that Dr. Lora Iannotti published a study showing that the daily consumption of one egg for a six-month period by young children (6-9 months) in Ecuador significantly reduced the prevalence of stunting by 47 percent and underweight by 74 percent.  

Value of egg protein

Why are eggs such a great source of proteins?  Let’s go over a few reasons — some nutritional, some environmental and others societal. 

The quality of proteins is based on their amino acid composition and digestibility. Eggs provide the best profile for essential amino acids, small protein-building blocks which humans cannot synthesize and must find in their diets. 

Combined with a digestibility of 98 percent, eggs have the highest biological value of any single food protein, a testimony of how efficiently these egg proteins, after absorption, are able to convert into body tissues. 

One 50-gram egg (edible portion) is able to meet more than 50 percent of the recommended daily intake for protein in young infants (7-12 months) and more than 30 percent in children age 4-8. No wonder eggs can reduce stunting.

Eggs are also among the cheapest sources of protein

A study in the U.S. developed a Nutrient Rich Foods Index, designed to identify healthy and affordable foods. Eggs were ranked as the lowest-cost food to meet daily nutritional requirements in proteins, along with requirements for vitamin A, vitamin B12 and riboflavin, ahead of dry beans, legumes, meat and milk. The highest-quality protein at the cheapest price. 

Environmental impact

A 2013 review by the Food and Agriculture Organization, “Tackling climate change through livestock,” showed that, in addition to having the lowest global total emissions of any livestock species, the production of eggs has also the lowest greenhouse gas emission footprint per kilogram of protein produced (about 50 kg carbon dioxide equivalent per kg of protein). 

Over the years, the egg sector has worked diligently to improve production efficiencies, leading to some very significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, the greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of eggs were reduced in the U.S. by 71 percent between 1960 and 2010. So, eggs have the best quality proteins, at the lowest price and the least impact on the environment. Could the humble egg do any more for us?

Eggs can also have a significant effect on poverty alleviation in many developing countries. Egg production often constitutes the main source of income for smallholder farmers, especially women. And studies have demonstrated that this income, when managed by women, will more likely benefit the health and well-being of their families and the development of rural communities. 

Now you know why the eggs are the protein for the nation!  

Dr. Vicent Guyonnet is a consultant to the poultry sector with a focus on international development.

Read the full article.

Page 1 of 360
Next Page