Honors Student's Research Draws Miller, Others to OneEgg's Child Nutrition Initiative
Some of Jeff Miller's students wanted to help people in developing countries. As a result, the agricultural communications professor led a collaborative effort of U of A students, professors and researchers at an egg-producing farm in Haiti, and he now advises OneEgg on operations around the world.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A student research project and creation of study abroad opportunities led to collaboration on food security and nutrition and ultimately to Jeff Miller's appointment to the board of directors for OneEgg, a non-profit organization delivering eggs to children in developing countries.
Miller, professor of agricultural communications in U of A's Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, involved students and fellow U of A System Division of Agriculture experts from food science and dietetics in his research efforts. He now advises OneEgg on research and academic activities around the world.
"A poultry science honors student, Katie McGehee, wanted to examine the personal development of women employed on the Rwanda OneEgg farm," said Miller. "I'm a qualitative researcher, so she wanted me to guide her through the field interview process. Then I became involved in helping Cobb-Vantress establish a permanent summer internship in Rwanda. Soon after, I was asked to assemble a team to conduct a nutritional study on children receiving OneEgg eggs in Uganda."
The Uganda team included food science assistant professor of nutrition Jamie Baum and two graduate students who collected data and published an article on egg supplementation in Ugandan school feeding programs.
Poultry Firms Join Effort
Two years later, Tyson Foods Inc. and Cobb-Vantress partnered with OneEgg to construct an egg-producing farm in Haiti to provide animal protein to undernourished children and establish an economically sustainable business model from egg sales. The farm produces eggs for children and sold in local markets, and provides jobs for local residents. Now the farm houses 7,500 laying hens in four houses and is producing nearly 6,000 eggs per day.
"Among animal protein sources, eggs appear to lead the way in terms of adding protein and nutrients to children's diets," said Miller. "Eggs are the least expensive, most accessible form of animal protein."
In Haiti, U of A researchers, including students, conducted a nutrition and cognitive growth study based on previous research on egg nutrition. Tami Strickland, a two-time graduate with a bachelor's degree in agricultural business and a master's degree in agricultural and extension education, conducted an independent study as a graduate student, which led to the idea for the initial grant from Tyson Foods.
"She put together a draft of the grant proposal for the farm and nutrition study," said Miller. "I took it from there, and a team affiliated with OneEgg refined the proposal and plan for building the farm, which was ultimately presented to Tyson Foods. Following Tami's efforts, Monica Stewart, a nutritionist at Tyson finishing her master's degree in agricultural and extension education this summer, began working on the nutrition study for her thesis. She and Mechelle Bailey (director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics in the School of Human Environmental Sciences), led the nutrition study in Haiti."
Miller, Bailey, Strickland and Stewart traveled to Haiti five times in 12 months to plan and conduct the study. Results showed no change in growth or cognitive patterns of orphans receiving two eggs per day for six months, and a number of children lost weight and scored lower on cognitive evaluations. These results were unexpected, as previous studies had shown eggs to be beneficial to undernourished children in developing countries.
"On the final data collection visit, we realized there was a problem quickly," said Miller. "The children were sluggish and thin, and didn't have much energy. It didn't take long to recognize what happened. Monica conducted her interview with the orphanage director, part of the research protocol, and the explanation came out. It was a big disappointment. We knew our data wouldn't confirm our hypothesis that egg supplementation is beneficial for physical and cognitive growth. We decided to focus on what we learned methodologically."
The orphanage experienced inadequate food access during the testing period. The last three months of the study, the two eggs per day replaced a morning meal, sometimes the only meal for children. The two eggs were intended to supplement, not be the sole source of children's diets. During the study, the replacement of carbohydrates with egg protein, due to lack of funding for other food, likely caused children to lose weight.
Revising Methodology for Research
As a result, researchers recommended daily or every-other-day on-site supervision of feeding studies in food insecure settings to control "environmental variables."
"The Uganda study was the pilot study to help establish methodology and develop hypotheses," said Miller. "The Haiti study was our first attempt at a full-blown study with cognitive measurements along with physical measurements. We didn't get good data in Haiti, but we refined our methods. OneEgg now has human nutrition researchers from the University of Tennessee working on a plan to conduct similar research in Honduras. We will share our protocols and help them conduct their study to avoid the pitfalls we experienced in Haiti."
OneEgg's mission is to end world hunger, empower local communities and increase protein in the diets of children.
"Much of recent research on child nutrition in developing countries focuses on the first 1,000 days of life," said Miller. "Future studies are needed on the value of adding eggs to diets of pregnant women and women with breastfeeding infants, as well as on the value of feeding eggs to children as soon as they begin eating solid food."
OneEgg began in Rwanda and now has locations in Ethiopia, Haiti, Honduras, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
"While the data were not what we expected or hoped for, we learned something about conducting research in developing areas," said Miller. "Methodological findings are sometimes just as important, if not more so, than the actual data we hoped for. Conducting good research in developing countries is a process, so you are lucky if a research effort works perfectly on the first try. The key is to get better on each iteration until the methods are perfected."
Miller's efforts to involve students in his research have contributed to some long-term effects on some of his students' careers.
McGehee, who initially introduced Miller to OneEgg, recently returned to Rwanda to work for the African Sustainable Agriculture Project there, where she is starting a hatchery and a seed company to lower chick and feed costs.
Strickland, who completed her master's degree, is now pursuing a Ph.D. in the U of A public policy program. Her dissertation research will focus on describing the business model of the OneEgg Farm in Haiti and identifying policy barriers for small and mid-size poultry operations there.
"As I look back on it, I never could have imagined that I would have these kinds of experiences in my career," said Miller. "All these opportunities really came about as a result of the hard work of several of my students who have a passion for helping people in developing countries."
About the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences: Bumpers College provides life-changing opportunities to position and prepare graduates who will be leaders in the businesses associated with foods, family, the environment, agriculture, sustainability and human quality of life; and who will be first-choice candidates of employers looking for leaders, innovators, policy makers and entrepreneurs. The college is named for Dale Bumpers, former Arkansas governor and longtime U.S. senator who made the state prominent in national and international agriculture.
About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2.7 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.
Robby Edwards, director of communications
Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences
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