Travelling in Africa recently, I came across a wonderful example of how a simple idea can affect a whole ecosystem. It concerns (bear with me) chicken farmers in a rural district of Kenya called Nakuru.
Now if you are raising chickens, the most vulnerable time is apparently the first 10 weeks. There are two dangers here for the chicks. One is disease — but you can do something about this: for five Kenyan shillings, you can inject a chick, and protect it. Unfortunately, the other source of vulnerability is the aerial predators. Nakuru is famous for its eagles and hawks. What’s the point of investing five Kenyan shillings to protect a chick, if you’re just fattening it up for an eagle in six weeks’ time?
Which is where an NGO called Farm Input Promotion Africa have come along. They’ve worked out that if you paint the chicks purple, the eagles and hawks don’t realise what they are. The paint washes out after 10 weeks, by which time the chicks have enough yard-smarts to run for cover if they see a shadow overhead. So by the time they are fully grown they are back to being the colour nature intended.
Because the farmers are losing fewer chicks to birds of prey, it is now more worthwhile for them to inject the young birds against disease. Because through both of these measures they are getting a much higher survival rate, the farmers have more chicken to go round, and so are giving more to their own families — which means the quality of nutrition in their community is going up. And because it is now a better business, more people are going into chicken farming.
Oh, and the idea has created an entirely new profession: chicken painters, who charge three Kenyan shillings for each chick painted.
A fascinating example of the cumulative benefits of a simple idea across an entire ecosystem.
Adam Morgan is founding partner of eatbigfish. Follow him on Twitter @eatbigfish.
(The article first appeared on www.campaignasia.com)