Washington — Productive cows, goats and chickens need four things: adequate feed and water, clean living conditions with room to walk around, and medicines to prevent and treat diseases. That is the guidance Pierre Ferrari gives to farmers who receive gifts of livestock from Heifer International.
The organization, based in Little Rock, Arkansas, for more than 65 years has given livestock to families with limited resources in more than 50 countries. The goal is to help families improve their nutrition and their incomes. The organization’s recipients learn that “people gathering together with a common goal can be substantially more effective that individual farmers selling vegetables, milk or eggs,” said Ferrari, Heifer’s chief executive officer.
Heifer’s goals, or cornerstones, include “passing on the gift.” After a family receives an animal from Heifer and raises it, the family gives to another family or a community member the animal’s first offspring, and a new cycle of improving livelihoods begins.
Other Heifer cornerstones highlight holding recipients accountable to community goals, sharing resources with others and promoting self-reliance. They also stress that community decisions should have input from women and men, that proper animal care requires training, and that producers should follow sustainable farming techniques.
The basics of animal care used for cows, goats and chickens are the same for any animal, Ferrari said. “Healthy animals will be happier and a good asset for the household.”
Ferrari will lead a session about Heifer at the Borlaug Symposium October 17–19 in Des Moines, Iowa, an event timed to highlight the themes of World Food Day on October 16.
EAST AFRICA DAIRY DEVELOPMENT
One of Heifer’s most successful livestock projects is in East Africa.
In 2008, with a $42.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Heifer and a consortium of four partners experienced in supporting dairy production and marketing in Africa joined to form the East Africa Dairy Development (EADD) project.
The idea was to add value to farmers’ milk production through producer-driven collective marketing and by using efficient, farmer-friendly technology. About 200,000 farmers in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda are involved, Ferrari said.
Heifer meets with community members and assesses their interest in collaborating to improve their livelihoods. If the interest is there, Heifer offers training in livestock and forage management, animal hygiene, establishment of animal shelter and plant fodder, and proper collection of milk. The training, which can take up to nine months, must be completed before individuals receive an animal.
Since 2008, farmer beneficiaries working through about 70 producer enterprises had invested $3 million and received some $24 million a year in profit. As a result, rural families in central Uganda, eastern Rwanda and parts of Kenya now can afford to educate their children, enjoy basic banking services, and buy farm inputs and services with credit or cash. EADD has built 22 new milk-chilling plants, revitalized 13 existing ones and created 12 milk-collection centers where farmers can deliver their surplus, usually 8 to 10 liters.
Chilling plants often serve as hubs of business activity for farmers, providing training and services like veterinary care and artificial insemination aimed at breeding cows that will produce a higher volume of milk in hot climates, according to the Gates Foundation.
Microfinance associations, village banks, commercial banks and the chilling plants’ system of credit against milk deliveries has given farmers, young entrepreneurs and businesspeople the opportunity to engage in a range of enterprises that has stimulated local economies, Gates reports.
Heifer urges farming communities to coordinate with processors and transporters to most effectively get their products to market, Ferrari said.
During the next phase of the program, through 2017, EADD will expand to cover more families in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, and in Tanzania and Ethiopia.