Chart of the week: What chicken in Liberia and heli-skiing in Austria have in common

Price of a Liberian jungle chicken and one helicopter flight as offered by Helicopter Wucher in Lech am Arlberg calculated as percentage of monthly GDP per capita in the respective country. Sources: Helicopter Wucher, World Development Indicators, own research

They both cost a little more than 10% of the average monthly income in their respective countries. But admittedly the comparison is a little bit of a cheat: The Liberian chicken comes from the forest in the South were they are particularly cheap at 5 dollar for a large one. To go from there to Monrovia where about half the population lives, it is still a 10 hour car ride. By the time it arrives, the price will have increased significantly.

Most of the effect comes down to income per capita. Austrians make on average 100x what their Liberian counterparts earn. But besides that, chicken in Liberia are comparatively pricey. The country ranks 35th in the world when it comes to most expensive poultry. Prices in the US are a third lower.

One challenge is finding cheap inputs for local production. Sourcing them from abroad is often the first answer but doesn’t always turn out efficient: The farm of Nigerian’s former President Obasanjo used to import both, feed and young chicks. 50% of them died on the way from Nigeria. Secondly, electricity prices, while expected to drop significantly, are still at 57 cents per kilowatt hour compared to 10 cents in the US. This makes poultry farming, processing and storage a costly business.

Liberians’ way of dealing with overpriced poultry is being inventive: Whenever someone goes to the countryside, they bring a chicken or two. The ones pictured above rode on top of a car otherwise filled with medical supplies and doctors looking after rural communities. The need for cold storage is circumvented by keeping them alive until they are used (in full).

And while chicken farming is not yet a huge growth industry, entrepreneurs are pushing ahead in other areas, focusing on products that are low in energy intensity, build on what is already been made in country or target the expat community, where high prices have a different meaning: A young Liberian returning from London has started a juice factory, rubber farmers are looking into producing ribbed smoked sheets and Solo Cab’s wifi equipped cars could easily compete with Uber.

As soon as basic services are restored and domestic agriculture is back in full swing, poultry farming should hopefully become a little more feasible, too. But not only will better infrastructure make chicken more affordable; once Robertsport, with its stunning beaches and lush rain forest in the background is connected to roads and the power grid, those heli-skiing in Lech might want to swap their one twenty minute ride for a month of surfing in one of the most beautiful places this planet still has to offer.

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