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New egg farm in Swaziland will provide essential protein

Swaziland, a small land-locked country between South Africa and Mozambique, has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world.

So many adults have died, it’s estimated that there are over 200,000 orphaned children in the country–many of them malnourished as the country’s economy implodes.

Ian and Janine Maxwell are working to change that, one egg at a time.

By the end of the year, the Maxwells expect to welcome their first flock to a brand-new egg farm at the orphanage they run in Swaziland.

The egg farm will be part of Heart for Africa’s development project, an initiative that includes an orphanage as well as crop production, dairy farming and a range of other food production components. The egg farm is being supported by the International Egg Foundation and the international egg industry, including Egg Farmers of Canada.

The egg farm will bring a sustainable source of high-quality protein to people who desperate need it.

The Maxwells, a Canadian couple, are the founders of Heart for Africa, a faith-based, non-profit charitable organization that provides care for vulnerable children.

Ian is from the Ottawa area, Janine from the northern Ontario town of Matheson. They met at school and eventually ran a successful Toronto-based marketing company. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks shocked them into reconsidering their lives. They closed the company, set up Heart for Africa and in 2012, they moved to Swaziland to run the project.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has wiped out so many adults that getting food in Swaziland is a huge problem. The Maxwells says 65% of the Swazi population relies on international food assistance.

But that food does not provide enough protein, particularly for children.

The egg farm will help tackle that need.

“It’s going to be life-changing!” says Ian Maxwell of the egg farm, explaining that the protein from eggs will allow the children to grow properly–right now many of them suffer from stunted growth–and it will also allow the vaccines they receive to be more effective. (The vaccines work best where there is sufficient protein in the diet.)

It isn’t hard to get the children to eat eggs, but a bigger challenge will be to get the eggs distributed to people in need.

At the start the farm will provide eggs not only for the children in the orphanage but also for the 250 Heart for Africa employees and the people those employees support. (On average, says Janine, each employee is responsible for feeding 13 people.)

As production grows, it will be able to supply a larger population.

“It isn’t enough to just grow the food, we need to distribute it as well,” says Ian, explaining they have already set up a food distribution program with more than two dozen distribution centres. The eggs will be added to the program.

An important part of the egg farm project involves the transfer of knowledge about egg production from Canadian egg farmers to Swazis who are building the operation, with a view to making the operation self-sustaining within five to seven years.

Egg Farmers of Canada is contributing on-the-ground expertise and working with the community to establish the entire laying operation from the ground up. To start, the barn will house about 5,000 laying hens and will provide the community with year-round access to fresh, local eggs. Within five years, the Maxwells hope the flock will include 30,000 hens.

“It’s producing local food for local consumption, which is why the export of knowledge is so important,” says Janine.

He says Canadian egg farmers have already been able to answer some of the critical questions about an egg operation, including how pullets and feed will be sourced and how the hens’ health will be cared for; having answers to those questions brings the egg farm one step closer to reality.

“This project is set up for success,” says Ian.

And while the road to success is not always smooth, Janine says she and Ian have a sure-fire cure for stress: They go visit the babies in the orphanage.

“If I’m having a bad day, I go down to the baby home and it all goes away.”