The chicken business has been very, very good to Donnie Smith, the former chief executive of Tyson Foods. Now Smith, 58, wants to share his wealth — and his fervent belief in the power of chickens — with subsistence farmers in Musanze, a poverty-stricken district of Rwanda.
With USAID and the University of Tennessee, where he is a trustee, Smith is the driving force behind a $2 million program called Feed the Future Tworore Inkoko, Twunguke, which means “Let’s raise chickens and make a profit.” Its immediate goal is to lift the incomes and improve the nutrition of about 750 rural farmers; if all goes according to plan, many thousands of farmers will follow the original cohort.
All has not gone according to plan.
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Instead, the effort is a textbook example of what can go awry when experts arrive in a distant place with good intentions and a solid understanding of what works in the U.S., but without much grounding in a local economy or culture. Rwandan farmers, for example, are more likely to own goats than poultry, so they had to be taught to raise chickens. (Many had never eaten chicken.) More important, this small, landlocked central African nation lacks the physical and economic infrastructure needed to support a modern chicken industry. So it’s hard to see how the farmers will be able to raise chickens for profit once aid money goes away.
What’s more, the entire undertaking is expensive — it will cost more than $2,300 per farmer, assuming that the target of reaching 750 farm families can be met. Nearly halfway through its three-year lifespan, the project has signed up about 170 farmers.
“At the end of the day, I don’t know if this is going to work,” says Tom Gill, who oversees the project and holds the Smith Chair for International Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Tennessee.
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