Egg production in Papua New Guinea
In August of 1988, a newly married Peace Corps couple just out of college, Kathleen and Jeff Marcove, were assigned to Papua New Guinea to work in Rural Community Development. They were sent to the Gumine District Station, in the rugged highland interior of the country, to be part of the South Simbu Rural Development Project. Funded by the World Bank, the project focused on agriculture, health, and women's affairs. Jeff did agriculture extension work, while Kathy served as a health and nutrition educator at a local health center. The village of Kaukau where they were living had about 20 families, most of whom were related to each other.
The Marcoves felt that the main contribution they could make was to find a few key people in the village who wanted to improve their lives and work with them to bring about change. "Our main goal was to transfer skills to people who had the ability and interest to share those skills with other community members; this way we could continue to help people long after we returned home."
In keeping with this philosophy, Kathy worked with other members of the health center staff to organize a health conference for women from the Gumine district. They urged the participants to share the information they learned with people in their communities. At least one woman, Angelina Mal from the village of Kaukau, took the suggestion seriously.
Mal began a series of mini-conferences in her village and brought up health issues at every possible opportunity - with women visiting the maternal and child health clinic, with her women's literacy class, even with people at the market. Kathy gave her resource materials, and Mal adapted the information so that her villagers could understand it. Mal was dedicated to helping her community, and Kathy became dedicated to supporting Mal's efforts.
A few months later, Kathy was invited to attend a health education conference sponsored by Save the Children, and she decided to take Mal with her. Although the conference was all in English and attended mostly by nurses, Mal understood enough of what was going on to take notes and discuss the information with Kathy, who helped to interpret it for her. They talked about how this information could be applied to their own village; they talked about Mal's dreams for her people, and how these dreams could be realized, brainstorming ideas for possible projects. Of all the ideas discussed, Mal was most excited about the prospect of starting an egg farm.
She had learned at the conference that her people were suffering from protein energy malnutrition, and that eggs could provide them with an easy, affordable source of the protein they needed. Although people in her district loved eggs, no one was raising hens to produce them, and buying eggs required an hour-and-a-half bus ride to the nearest town where they were sold. As Kaukau was situated at the beginning of the only road leading into the district, an egg farm located there would be able to corner the market.
Fortuitously, at the same time that Mal was considering starting an egg farm, the Peace Corps office in Papua New Guinea was organizing a workshop to introduce Small Project Assistance (SPA) to Volunteers. Kathy decided that Mal's egg farm would make a perfect SPA project. She discussed the subject with her husband, and the two of them agreed to support the project jointly. Negotiating with the Associate Peace Corps Director (APCD), they arranged to have Angelina Mal, her husband Bii, and Martius Weke (another leading Kaukau villager) attend the workshop with them.
The SPA workshop proved to be a turning point. It was the perfect place to begin organizing the egg production project because it took the group away from the village for a while to concentrate on what needed to be done. At the workshop, the Marcoves and their three Kaukau associates engaged in a series of exercises that forced them to focus on the project from all angles. They learned how to plan and implement the project, including how to do a needs assessment, brainstorm ideas, assign roles and responsibilities, determine who makes decisions, identify problems and solutions, and evaluate their efforts.
Later, they tried these same exercises in a mini-workshop in Kaukau, which they arranged for their fellow villagers. They also invited the leader of another village, and his people, to attend, because he had political influence in the District and even more important, a car!
Out of this mini-workshop came the decision to spend one morning a week planning the project. They used the SPA manual, Small Projects Design and Management, as Kathy said, "like a bible." They did all the exercises, followed all the directions, and defined the limits of responsibility. The Marcoves were the facilitators:
We developed the 'seed theory of development.' In the course of a conversation we casually dropped ideas, and never mentioned them again. If people came back to us with questions elaborating on the 'seed,' we 'fertilized' those ideas with further suggestions and ideas of where they could go for more information. We tried never to rally people behind us; instead we let them take the lead and we supported their efforts in any way we could, being especially careful not to make promises or commitments we could not keep. If what we were a part of was to last, it had to be born and bred within the people of the community it benefited.
Jeff helped on transportation and technical knowledge, while Kathy interpreted Peace Corps requirements and kept discussions on track. The villagers did the rest.
Kathy remembers the process this way:
I would arrive with my portable typewriter and sit, sometimes for hours, on the ground, in the middle of the village waiting for someone to tell me what to write. It is funny when I think back on it, they must have thought I was crazy. But one day, Joseph, a village member who had been very quiet up until now, handed me a piece of paper. Written in almost perfect English was the completed proposal. I was floored. It proved to me again that you get what you expect from people. I expected them to write the proposal, and they did.
As a requirement for receiving SPA funds, the villagers had to supply at least 25 percent of the project's costs, either in money, labor, or materials. The Marcoves estimated that because of the work the community put into the project, it was well over 50 percent. As a result, they felt "personally in vested" in its success. The Mals showed their commitment to the project by building a huge shed with a fence around it to house the chickens. Nearby, they planted a garden of greens to feed the chickens.
To teach the villagers about raising laying hens, the two PCVs arranged a field trip to a town nearby to visit the chicken farm of Steven and Jenny Pupune, who had been the Marcoves' hosts during their training. The Pupunes' business was so big that their eggs were being sold throughout the Highlands.
In a day spent with the Pupunes, the villagers learned how to raise chicks, what diseases to watch out for, the kinds of birds to buy, when to feed them, how much to feed them, the number of eggs they can produce, and the cost of doing business.
The Pupunes also helped the villagers prepare a list of ongoing responsibilities and a schedule of duties to be performed on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. As a parting gesture, the Pupunes presented the would-be farmers with five chickens to get them started.
Other people were contacted to help with the project. The prospective farmers spoke with the government's extension officer who specialized in poultry raising and who offered excellent advice on where to buy the least expensive feed and what to do when disease breaks out.
Most important, they met with all the key local leaders - the district manager, missionaries, school headmasters - to gain their support. This type of networking with the community played a crucial role in establishing a market for the eggs and interest among people who could help if help were needed. Once the farm was operating and eggs were available, for example, one of the people they contacted initially put in a standing order for six dozen eggs a week. The headmaster of the neighboring school advertised the business among his teachers and made a point of stopping the school truck by the egg stand whenever he brought the teachers to town for their shopping trip.
A major part of the planning process involved determining how to manage the finances. The villagers knew that as a first step they would need to open a bank account, but they had no experience, and it took considerable negotiation and almost six months before they decided on the particular bank and savings account. As Kathy said, "This was one of those instances when Jeff and I wanted so much to intervene and say just open an account at this bank. But we refrained knowing that it was much more important for the group to learn to come to agreement and to cooperate with each other than for us to make decisions for the sake of saving time. We believed that the process was much more important than the product."
Another major financial issue was the establishment of a savings strategy. After learning from the Pupunes the price they could charge per egg and per dozen, the villagers thought they would be making a fortune, but the PCVs helped them to think realistically about the continuing expenses - the cost of the chicks, feed, vaccinations, medicines, buckets, rope, nails, and all the other supplies for raising the chickens and marketing the eggs - that their earnings would need to cover. The Marcoves designed a simple bookkeeping system to foster a savings schedule that would make sure funds were available to purchase a new batch of chickens when the time came to do so. In the end, the decision was to keep 50 percent of the earnings in the bank to be used for expenses; the remaining 50 percent would be divided among the villagers as income.
The SPA application for the egg production farm was submitted three months after the SPA workshop. Once the funds were provided and the planning stage was over, the Marcoves became less involved. As the villagers were forced to act on their own, they began to realize that they could handle the project themselves. When they first bought the chicks, for example, Bii Mal slept in the shed with them. Still they got sick, but only one died because Bii Mal immediately got in touch with the extension officer and applied the medicine she prescribed.
As the chickens began producing eggs, Kathy taught the women various ways to prepare them. The women started selling cooked eggs in the market, and before they knew it, they had more orders for eggs than they could fill.
Since returning to the U.S., the Marcoves have continued receiving letters from the Mals about the egg farm and its continued success. They feel good about what happened in the Kaukau village, not so much because of what they did, but because of what the villagers did while the Marcoves were there. The villagers learned some valuable skills - how to handle money, how to work together, and how to plan for the future - skills that will be a permanent legacy, regardless of whether or not the egg farm survives.
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