Friday, March 11, 2011

The chicken or the egg?

That old and worn-out question, - Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? - got new meaning for me on Thursday when I accompanied Leslie Schuld and Iris Alas of CIS (Centro por Intercambio and Solidaridad) to meet a group of women in Guacotecti, in the Departamento of Cabañas, who are about to start their own chicken-and-egg business, with the help of a grant from the Hilton Fund for Sisters. CIS asked me if I would be involved - the presence of a Sister in the program is a requirement - and I jumped at the chance to experience the beginnings and growth of a community micro-enterprise.

I surely wasn't there as a poultry expert! I learned a lot in a few hours: the women will be buying about 1000 young hens (they cost about $9 each) and those young hens will lay like crazy - an egg a day is the expectation - for about a year. Then they start slowing down (understandably) and it begins to cost more to feed them than than be recouped in egg production: then it's time to sell the hens for the cooking pot, get new youngsters, and start the cycle again. This is NOT a romantic business!

But it seems to be a very possible good business for the eight women who are the initial group. There are no egg producers nearby, so they should have a good chance to become the main egg source for their area. According to the women, Cabañas is a fairly poor district, with little economic opportunity. They hope that their enterprise will lead to others and to more at-home possibilities for women and families. They've taken courses in poultry raising, they've found land they can lease for minimal cost, and they're ready to go.

Meanwhile, they fed us lunch: would we like an avocado and a tortilla? they said, but what came out to the table was sopa de gallina india, (country hen soup) the afterlife of one of the local chickens that pecks around the yard - not one of their special laying hens, those haven't yet been purchased. Sopa de gallina india should be the national dish of El Salvador, next to the pupusas. It's delicious, full of fresh vegetables, and always served with the grilled gallina on the side. A true gallina india doesn't have a lot of flesh, and that flesh is tough - but delicious. This sopa was a good promise of futures to come from this venture and from these women.

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