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Helping Africans Farm Eggs

Egg Farmers of Canada is helping make a successful multi-faceted facility in Swaziland become self-sufficient


June 10, 2016
By Treena Hein

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It’s an amazing thing to be a part of an initiative that’s already making a significant difference, to be able to help take it to the next level and make further progress. That’s what Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) is achieving, having spearheaded and funded the addition of an egg farm to “Project Canaan,” a sustainable farming and economic development initiative in Swaziland, Africa. Project Canaan was started by an Ontario couple in 2009 under their charity “Heart for Africa.” Although Janine and Ian Maxwell had no farming background, they enlisted the help of  experienced folks and turned 2,500 acres of empty land into a thriving mixed farm and rural community.

The site boasts dairy cow and goat operations, along with cultivation of fruit, vegetables and cash crops and creation of hand-made items. The farm feeds the 86 orphans who make a home there, the 220 local employees and thousands of people through local church-sponsored food programs. The egg farm is the next step in making the charity’s farm, orphanage, schools, women’s shelter and medical clinic self-sustaining by 2020.

EFC’s involvement
EFC has long been involved in food assistance programs around the world, for example, sending over 16 metric tonnes of egg powder per year to feed children in developing countries over the last 20+ years. In 2014, the International Egg Commission (IEC) brought various independent charitable actions being taken by IEC members (such as EFC) into a cohesive strategy, forming the International Egg Foundation. It now works with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization and other groups. For the Project Canaan egg farm, the fundraising, expertise and training is being provided by EFC, and the IEC is providing supports such as the technical services of Ontario poultry vet (and IEC scientific advisor) Dr. Vincent Guyonnet.  

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EFC chair Peter Clarke has visited Project Canaan several times, most recently in December 2015. He’s been involved from the start, ever since Janine presented the project to the IEC many years ago. He and others looked into the initiative in detail, were satisfied with its legitimacy, and presented it to the EFC board. There was unanimous support, and a project team then was formed to make egg production on the farm a reality.

“We put the call out to our industry last year, and our partners and Canadians responded with compassion and generosity,” says EFC CEO Tim Lambert. “Much of the funding for the project was the result of donations and in-kind contributions. The outcome of this collective effort yielded truly amazing results – more than $700,000 has been raised to date to support the construction of the operation and help with operating costs. We remain committed to fundraising to support the ongoing costs of operating the farm until it reaches self-sufficiency.”

The layer operation at Project Canaan welcomed its first flock of 2,500 hens in January and a second flock of 2,500 will arrive in July. The design of the two barns had to account for the extreme heat the country is exposed to. “The buildings are higher than normal,” Clarke explains, “so that the heat rises and goes out the vents, and there are also fans that help with that. The buildings are also open-sided, with curtains that can be opened or closed to let the breeze blow through. The birds are doing extremely well.” The two-tier Big Dutchman cage system that was chosen is made for remote areas and has a simple design so it can be operated with little or no electricity, Lambert explains. “Feeding, egg collection and manure removal is carried out manually,” he says. “More staff will be hired to manage and operate the farm over time. This fits Heart for Africa’s philosophy that providing employment creates a ripple effect within the community.”

In addition to EFC board members, several other Canadian egg farmers have volunteered to work hand-in-hand with local Swazis to share knowledge and build an understanding of best practices. “This has become a unique opportunity for some of the young leaders in our industry,” Lambert notes. “New Brunswick egg farmer Aaron Law spent much of January in Swaziland, followed by Ontarians Isaac Pelissero in February, and Megan Veldman and Lydia DeWeerd in March. All of these young people have shown a tremendous amount of leadership and compassion, and we are very proud that they stepped up to share their expertise.”

EFC intends to implement the Project Canaan model in other areas of Swaziland as well as other African countries. “It is part of our belief that the egg can and will play a major role in the world’s approach to hunger and malnutrition, helping children and families in developing countries where diets are deficient in protein,” Lambert says.

What stood out for Clarke on his visit was the impressive agricultural expertise that exists in Swaziland. He notes the team made a connection with a large poultry operation nearby to deliver both pullets and feed. They are currently working with a local nutritionist and veterinarian as well. For Clarke, motivation to be involved in Project Canaan is all about the huge difference it is making. “From hearing Janine’s presentation to our board, getting support from producers coast-to-coast and then going there and seeing what they’re doing with orphans, seeing the connection with 30 churches in the outlying areas and knowing just how fantastic a source of protein is an egg to a child or to any individual, it makes you want to buy in and be a part of something that can make that much of a difference,” he says. “You see the results.”

Roger Pelissero, EFC director from Ontario and father to Isaac, is another Project Canaan team member. When he visited in fall of 2014, he and others also went to Mozambique to visit the “Eggs for Africa” project there, where he says they gathered a lot of valuable information. What impresses Pelissero most about the whole project is the dedication of Janine and Ian Maxwell, whom Pelissero says started this humanitarian work in a search for meaning after 9/11 happened. “They’ve made a total change in their lives and it’s quite a commitment,” he says. “They know they can’t change the whole world, but they can made a difference in some children’s lives and they are
doing that.”