Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Giving Smallholder Farmers the Keys to Changing Food Industries

February 18, 2014

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”™ – Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist; used with permission.  

Throughout our 70 years, Mead’s message has certainly been Heifer International’s experience. As we celebrate the International Year of Family Farming in 2014, I would like to highlight how, when encouraged and supported, smallholder farmers are capable of shaping an entire industry.

In East Africa, the traditional dairy market once consisted primarily of farmers with low-producing cows. At best, farmers operated in disorganized groups, pooling their milk to sell in informal markets. The East Africa Dairy Development (EADD) project, operated in partnership between Heifer International, World Agroforestry Centre, Technoserve, International Livestock Research Institute and African Breeders Services, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has helped farmers in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda fundamentally change the dairy industry since 2008.

In its first five years, EADD provided extensive training to thousands of farming families. EADD partnered with 82 dairy producer organizations built around milk bulking and chilling for their members. Through these community-based hubs, farmers collectively access improved animal health and breeding services, affordable feed, milk chilling plants, and marketing and financial services.

By the end of 2013, EADD farmers had sold 356 million liters (94 million gallons) of milk, for cumulative sales of $131 million. The farmers have put $11 million into savings for the future. In a country like Kenya, where 40 percent of adults are unemployed and 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, it is clear these farmers are doing more than providing milk for their own families.

Building on the success and lessons learned in Phase I, the vision for EADD II is to provide an additional 136,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda with the opportunities to create financial independence and social equality. In this video, Elizabeth Bintliff, Heifer International Vice President of Africa programs, describes how EADD will end hunger and poverty for smallholder farmers while meeting the dairy demands of the region. 

What we’ve been doing with dairy cows through EADD, we are adapting to goats in Nepal, one of the least developed countries in the world. For years Nepal has largely imported both live goats and milk to meet the country’s protein demands. Considering 75 percent of Nepal’s population works in agriculture, however, there is a lot of potential for the country’s smallholder farmers to put production and income back into their hands, which Heifer is helping them do through our Strengthening Livestock Value Chain (SLVC) project.

Heifer and local partners are training participants in improved animal management techniques and helping farmers form trade alliances. By working in community groups and cooperatives, farmers can better connect with the formal goat and milk markets.

By 2016, SLVC will:

  • Work with 138,000 smallholder farmers
  • Reduce goat imports by 30 percent
  • Reduce milk imports by 10 percent

By 2023, SLVC will:

  • Work with 500,000 smallholder farmers
  • Increase family income to $2,500-$4,000 per year
  • Supply 900,000 meat goats per year to markets, reducing imports by 50 percent
  • Supply 100,000 liters of milk per day to markets, reducing imports by 25 percent

In this video, Heifer International Vice President of Asia/South Pacific program explains how new rapid expansion methods and connecting smallholder farmers to markets will make significant strides in ending hunger and poverty in Nepal and enabling smallholder farmers to meet the country’s needs for milk and meat. 

Historically Heifer International has focused on empowering smallholder farmers to feed their own families and, in times of surplus, their villages and communities. By expanding on our successful model and connecting farmers to formal markets, we now empower them to meet the demands of their country and region, shaping entire industries to benefit, rather than exploit, them along the way.

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