Heifer International seeks to lessen poverty through livestock programs


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Amid calls for increased food aid due to the crisis in food prices, hunger experts at Heifer International are issuing appeals for long-term solutions that increase available food supplies through agricultural development.

Dr. Jim DeVries, Heifer’s vice president of programs, said agricultural development projects can help sustenance-level farmers increase their production and they, in turn, can bring low-cost food to market, which would help feed the urban poor who are most vulnerable to market forces.

Out of reach

In developing countries, rice and other staples are being priced out of reach for the world’s poorest people, resulting in shortage-related violence in Haiti, parts of Africa and elsewhere.

The causes of the crisis are not short-term, but rather trends in oil prices, increasing demand for food in rapidly developing countries like India and China, and diversion of land to crops for biofuel production.

DeVries asked: “In light of this new reality — the high price of energy, global warming and increased demand — what is our strategy?

“In Africa and the developing world, upgrading small rural farms through livestock used with integrated farming techniques can boost crop production while conserving and protecting the environment. That would mean a continuing source of food in the places where it is needed most,” he said.


Farmers with incomes of a few hundred dollars a year can hardly afford to buy cows or goats, but Heifer International’s projects provide the cows or goats and then ask the farmers to pay for them by “passing on the gift” of offspring of the livestock to others.

That multiplies and spreads the benefits, and it makes it possible for farmers, with training in integrated agriculture, to begin developing environmentally sound farms that can double or triple their previous output.

Since Heifer International started in 1944, this approach has helped more than 48 million people become more self-reliant.

Heifer International is not alone in pressing for greater development efforts using livestock and agriculture. Kanayo Nwanze, vice president of the U.N. International Fund for Agricultural Development, outlined recently the need for renewed interest and investments in rural agriculture and development.

“Rapid agricultural and rural development holds the key to eliminating poverty in Africa.”
Kanayo Nwanze
vice president of the U.N. International Fund for Agricultural Development


“Rapid agricultural and rural development holds the key to eliminating poverty in Africa,” Nwanze told a meeting of African Union and delegates to the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa.

“A concerted, coordinated and collective effort is the most effective way to tackle the triple scourge of poverty, climate change and high food prices and to guarantee a sustainable future for women, marginalized groups and smallholder farmers in Africa,” he continued.

Scaling up Heifer International’s approach is the goal of a recent $42.8 million grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to expand its model to produce milk for commercial dairies in parts of Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.


The goal of the East Africa Dairy Development Project is to help one million people — 179,000 families — lift themselves out of poverty by developing 30 milk collection hubs with “chilling plants” where farmers will bring raw milk for pickup by commercial dairies.

Farmer business associations will own and manage the chilling plants. The project will provide extensive training in animal agriculture, animal well-being and business practices.

Thus, farmers with only one or two cows will be able to participate in the “value chain” of profit through the commercial dairy industry, while maintaining pastoral production methods that are environmentally friendly.

For more information, visit www.heifer.org/foodcrisis.

Get our Top Stories in Your Inbox

Next step: Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.