Gates Foundation gives Heifer Intl $42.8M for Africa project

Monday, January 28, 2008

By Chuck Bartels

A $42.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that was announced Friday will enable Heifer International to expand a program designed to reduce poverty among 1 million people living on rural dairy farms in three East African countries.

An important focus of the effort will be bringing more women into positions of responsibility, both on family farms and at regional milk chilling plants.

The grant is for parts of Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, where 179,000 families are to receive assistance.

Heifer intends to provide 169,000 head of cattle – better livestock than the cows now on the small family farms – and get another 10,000 families able to provide forage for the animals, said Sahr Lebbie, Heifer vice president for its Africa Program.

Lebbie said that the program has already succeeded on a smaller scale, and that women are a key part of managing the farms.

“The cow goes to the family unit. The man and the woman sign the contract,” Lebbie said. “We have found out women-led cooperatives are led better than the men.”

The quantity of milk that farmers in the region can now sell is small because of spoilage, Lebbie said.

Heifer will develop 30 collection points where farmers will be able to bring their milk, where it can be chilled before being sold. Farmer associations will own the chilling plants, as organized by Heifer. The project will be carried out with two other organizations: U.S.-based TechnoServe, which encourages business development as a way out of poverty, and the International Livestock Research Institute, an animal research group based in Nairobi, Kenya.

The project will help the farmers produce and sell their milk in a manner that is more profitable.

“It could be the beginning of something much bigger,” Heifer president and chief executive Jo Luck said. “All of sub-Saharan Africa has similar needs.”

Quality of local cows will be improved through better animal nutrition and artificial insemination. The grant will provide training in areas that include business practices and animal agriculture.

Included in the grant is $2.5 million that is to be matched 1-to-1 through Heifer fundraising. Heifer is to use the projected $5 million to create an investment fund to support the East Africa project. Heifer spokesman Ray White said the organization will put together a special fundraising appeal.

Lebbie said that if the four-year program is a success, it would likely be expanded to Burundi, Ethiopia and Tanzania. He said the tentative plan is to expand to a six-year program.

Kristin Grote, an associate program officer with the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said improved nutrition and overall well-being of people in the program will be tracked for improvement in addition to success of the dairies as businesses. She said one of Heifer’s strong points is its relationships with governments in the areas in which it operates.

Dairy farming offers a better chance for overcoming poverty because it provides a steady income, unlike row crops that pay off at harvest time, Lebbie said. A goat will regularly produce milk, but a lot less than a cow.

“It’s an economy of scale,” he said.

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Source: Associated Press (link opens in a new window)