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Land O’Lakes

By Jennifer Hyman

Communications Director, Land O’Lakes International Development

Crushing poverty used to be so immense for Workitu Tola and her husband Chala Gemechu that they did the unthinkable: they arranged for three of their children to leave their home and become daily laborers on other people’s farms.

“It was the most horrible decision we ever had to make, but we didn’t have enough food to regularly feed, let alone clothe them,” Workitu mournfully explained. “What little we earned went in full to pay for a place to stay. Outside our home, they’d at least be able to eat something, and we had a better chance of providing sustenance to our youngest.”

In fact, for many years, the family had no real place to call home. As daily laborers, the entire family constantly migrated from place to place looking for whatever work they could find – typically the most grueling and menial labor. Any limited earnings they made went back to the employer for the privilege of having somewhere to sleep.

Eventually, the desperate moment came when Workitu and Chala realized they could not continue to care for all six of their eight children who still lived at home, and they arranged for three of the eldest, who are now 11-year-old twins and an 18-year-old, to begin doing similar daily labor on properties that would guarantee them food and a place to sleep.

But, as a result of the extraordinary nutrition and livelihoods improvements the family has experienced over the past several years as clients of the USAID-funded ENGINE program, they finally have a huge home of their own, and are in the process of reuniting the entire family.

Empowering New Generations to Improve Nutrition and Economic Opportunities (ENGINE) is a five-year program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development under Feed the Future and led by Save the Children that is working to reduce maternal, newborn and child mortality by improving the nutritional status of vulnerable women of childbearing age, and children in their first thousand days of life.

Land O’Lakes International Development is leading ENGINE’s efforts to develop catalytic nutrition-sensitive livelihoods that can enrich access to nutritious foods for families like Workitu’s and lift them out of poverty, by providing resources and training to produce enough nutritious food to eat and sell for a sustainable livelihood on their own land.

The program provided her with six basic farming implements and six types of nutritious seeds – carrots, kale, Swiss chard, head cabbage, beet root and an apple seedling – and trained her on how to plant, harvest and prepare them. A year later, she received three sheep and a ram – along with training on animal husbandry – and she began selling their offspring.

After harvesting sufficient crops for the family, they sold the excess at market for 2,500 birr, (US $118) and got additional income from selling four of their lamb offspring. With that cash in hand, they bought a plot of land for 7,000 birr (US $331). In just one year, Chala built their spotless, expansive home, all by himself.

“In all my life, I never thought I’d own sheep, goats or chickens – let alone a cow! We are now on our fourth year of eating a diversified diet, and selling the extra after we ensure our family eats properly,” Workitu exclaimed.

The family is now eating at least 3 meals a day, every day, combining their injera bread with combinations of vegetables, meat and eggs. “My most recent pregnancy was different. I didn’t have a single headache, and I produced so much milk he couldn’t even finish it,” she noted, adding, “What’s more, his mental capacity is different than the others. He’s very active and bright, while the others look short for their age and are lower in energy.”

Her husband Chala’s confidence has grown, too. “Now that I can provide my family with a home, I feel like a man.

 

It broke Adegdigu Kassa’s heart when she had to pull her children out of class years back to help her with her arduous work as a daily laborer, but she simply couldn’t afford to pay for the clothes and books they’d need to attend school.

“I was considered the poorest person in my community of 30 families,” she explained. “But I promised them that as soon as I got some money, they’d go back.” At the time, she had a young baby, who she’d tie to her back as she did her work, along with 7 and 11-year-olds, who helped her with her work as much as they could.

There was rarely enough to eat. Nearly every meal would be a simple meal of the sticky Ethiopian bread known as injera, plus a dollop of shiro wat – a paste made from ground beans; animal protein and vegetables were a luxury she simply couldn’t fathom. “My children’s health wasn’t ideal, and I myself struggled to do the hard tasks required of me as a laborer. I was constantly exhausted and had no energy.”

Everything changed when she was selected to be a client of ENGINE, a USAID-funded program led by Save the Children that is working in 100 districts in four regions in Ethiopia to improve the nutritional status of impoverished women like her of childbearing age, who were lactating or had children under two.

One of ENGINE’s key levers of change was initiating nutrition-sensitive livelihoods efforts led by Land O’Lakes International Development. Through the provision of seeds for nutritious crops, simple tools, and livestock, Adegdigu and others like her have learned how to grow, prepare and eat nutritious meals, growing enough to sell the excess for cash at local markets.

“ENGINE was like a light – it showed me the way to have a better life for myself,” Adegdigu explained with pride. With training, she established a permagarden – a small-scale, high-yield organic family garden – and began growing crops including Swiss chard, cabbage, kale, potatoes and carrots. She also learned to compost, address water management, and make fertilizer by mixing eggshells with charcoal, ash and dry compost.

Two months after getting her first seeds, she harvested some Swiss chard and kale. After ensuring the family had enough to eat, she sold the excess at the market, and immediately reenrolled her children back in school.

In the second year of the program, ENGINE provided her with 3 female goats and a ram. She learned how to care for them at one of the Ethiopian government’s Farmer Training Centers, which partnered with ENGINE to demonstrate improved farming techniques, and she learned how to milk her livestock. “Drinking goat milk isn’t common here, but I took the lead on being the first person in my group to begin drinking it and feeding it to my children.”

As more vegetables in her permagarden matured, she not only continued to diversify the family diet, but also started turning farming into a viable business. When her carrots matured, she sold the excess for 1,300 birr (US $62), and used the proceeds to buy some grain and a donkey that would help her with transporting her crops to market.

She continued to expand her garden with potatoes and other crops, and began buying her own seed. At the next harvest, thanks to her new knowledge about crop seasonality and selling when prices were high, she was able to earn a whopping 10,000 birr ($478) from selling her carrots. With that money in hand, and thanks to a loan provided by her Village Savings and Loan – community banking groups that Land O’Lakes established throughout ENGINE project areas – she was able to finally move out of the family’s rented shack and construct her own home.

Meanwhile, her new goats began reproducing. Although she kept her original goat stock, she sold 5 kids to provide the 50 percent cost-share that ENGINE required so that she could upgrade to having a cow. “I wanted to continue diversifying my livelihoods, and I wanted to get the extra milk for my family a cow would provide.”

Today, Adegdigu is no longer a domestic laborer, with her farming efforts provide enough food to feed her family nutritious meals regularly and to continue improving her life. “ENGINE forced me to change my mindset, because I always felt that farming was for other people, not for me,” she explained. “But with a beautiful farm like this, I now feel like I should have people working for me, not the other way around!”

She had another baby after becoming an ENGINE client, and she says the extra nutrition has also done wonders for her young baby, noting that she is much healthier than her other children ever were. “She looks 3-4 years old even though she’s only an infant. This makes me proud.”

Not content to rest on her laurels, Adegdigu’s next plan is to invest in getting oxen, so that she can also plant grain. “I no longer want to have to depend on anyone else for the food my family consumes.”

No longer tied to working outside the home as a daily laborer, she says she has room to breathe. “I now have time to pass on my knowledge to my neighbors, and they’re starting to buy seed and start their own gardens, too.”

Adegdigu says she often has trouble believing just how much her life has changed since the ENGINE program started, and how much hope she has for the future. “I used to be truly destitute, but now I’m moving to the middle. I’m not poor anymore, and having the access, training and capacity I received gives me confidence that I will become even stronger in the years to come.”

Story and pictures by Jennifer Hyman, Director of Communications
Land O’Lakes International Development

Until recently, eking out a living was a huge struggle for Chiweshe Chirevo, who lives in the parched Zimbabwean town of Buhera, in Manicaland Province. With little arable land to speak of and insufficient rains to nourish soil that more closely approximates sand, meeting the nutritional and household needs for his nine-member family was a significant challenge.

To get by, he did some basic subsistence farming of maize, millet and sorghum, and would earn a little money by drying and selling limestone on credit, which he would exchange for more grains. However, getting any protein in his family’s diet – particularly meat – was rare.

As beef and dairy cattle have difficulty surviving and getting adequate nourishment in such an arid environment, Chiweshe and other smallholders in the area also regularly keep goats.
However, Chiweshe found it hard to maintain his herd, as he often had no choice but to sell these few assets that he had when times got tough. “I obtained my first goats in 1989 and once had as many as 20. However, I had to sell them all off over time in order to pay the school fees for my seven children, while others died of disease.”

DSC_0276Although 97% of Zimbabwe’s national goat herd is owned by smallholders, farmers rarely work together to leverage economies of scale. As they do not treat their goats as assets that require adequate care, feeding and shelter, they are often viewed as scavengers. When farmers are forced to sell their underweight animals at the farm gate, they cannot fetch a good market price, and they typically miss out on the many benefits these animals can provide as a key source for valuable milk, meat and fertilizer.
But, through the Zimbabwe Livestock for Accelerated Recovery and Improved Resiliency (ZRR) program, made possible by the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, Chiweshe and his neighbors are learning how to manage and market their goat herds collectively to improve their livelihoods. The program provides farmers with training on goat husbandry and health management, and trains Community Livestock Workers on preventative and curative animal health techniques.

Implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, ZRR is assisting 2,000 farmers, who collaborate through 10 marketing groups of 200 farmers each. Farmers like Chiweshe receive three female goats, and are ultimately required to pass three female kids onto their neighbors, with one buck provided to service the breeding needs of each village’s goats.

To qualify for the program, ZRR requires that all the recipients already have other goats, and be willing to build a raised goat structure with one or two other families, with whom they can pen their animals together. Penning the animals in at night on a raised structure prevents them from being attacked by other wild animals, facilitates collection of their manure for fertilizer, and also helps to minimize an issue goats often face of foot rot, by providing them with a dry shelter.

“When the program started, I had 10 goats and received another three. I started taking better care of them and proactively working to breed them, which has already enabled me to pass on the three goats I was required to, sell 16 at the market, and still have 12 left over for future breeding and growth,” Chiweshe explained. Prior to ZRR, Chiweshe says he never thought about the importance of disease prevention, even though five of his animals previously died from preventable illnesses. “Through the program, I realized that buying the products required to dip and spray my animals was an important investment in my livelihood. I saw how spraying made the ticks on my animals disappear, and then I was convinced.”

Chiweshe Chirevo and his wife stand in front of the new home they’re building.

Chiweshe Chirevo and his wife stand in front of the new home they’re building.

As a result of their new shelter, disease prevention efforts, and providing them with appropriate feed, Chiweshe says his goats now appear markedly healthier, with their coats free of lice. ZRR also trained him how to keep detailed records of goat births and sales for the first time. Moreover, since he started spraying and vaccinating his animals, none of them have died.

But, most importantly, times are simply a bit easier than they once were. He says he’s now able to pay all of his children’s school fees without issue, and the family now even slaughters a goat once every two months to enjoy some meat over the course of several weeks, which they used to only eat once or twice a year on special holidays. And he’s even started building a new, sturdier home to accommodate his large family, which he’s constructing as funds permit, brick by brick.

The support he received through ZRR has also allowed him to dream about the future, and to think about how he might expand into owning some local cattle one day. “I used to think that taking care of my family, by nature, had to be a struggle. But now, the program has convinced me – made me believe – that I can be a business man. And if I want to succeed, I must invest in what I do in order to grow.”

 

Story and pictures by Jennifer Hyman, Director of Communications
Land O’Lakes International Development

While the members of Tsonzo MCC struggled along with the rest of Zimbabwe during the 2008-2009 economic crisis, their history of poor governance and financial mismanagement was among their most difficult legacies when they first tried to restart though the USAID-funded Zimbabwe Dairy and Livestock Program.

But, as they proudly take turns posing for pictures with their recently-awarded prize of Most Improved MCC, which was given to them by Land O’Lakes and the Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers (ZADF) at the East and Southern Africa Dairy Association (ESADA) conference in Harare, the MCC’s new volunteer leadership believes they’ve finally turned a corner and have created a viable, sustainable business.

Having initially started in 1986 with over 100 members, their 350 indigenous cows were producing about 2,000 liters a day, which they delivered to Dairibord. As a result of the hyperinflation crisis in 2008, farmers struggled to find food for their animals, and many of their cows died from malnourishment. They had no money to cover operating expenses, and the MCC was running at a loss. A few of the farmers continued to sell milk from local breeds at their farm gate, but membership dropped to 64 members.

“It was a very tough time, and the members who lost everything had no sources of livelihoods left. Some turned to growing staple crops like maize, or were looking for something they could sell,” remembered Justice Maluzika, secretary of Tsonzo MCC. Some of their farmers were able to access stock feed, revolving funds and an in-calf dairy cow though the EU-funded Stabex program administered by ZADF, and the program also helped them clear their debt and establish a processing room. But, despite the Stabex support, their membership continued to erode.

DSC_0741

Tsonzo members proudly stand in front of their cooperative while their daily milk is being collected.

When Land O’Lakes came to Tsonzo MCC in August 2010, the MCC was on the verge of collapse, collecting 20 liters of milk a day. Member Augustin Marenji explained, “There had been poor management of revolving funds from the old committee, and many farmers feared they might be treated unfairly again.”

Land O’Lakes encouraged the group to start accounting, and trained administrators on how to handle financial statements and recordkeeping, along with three Community Livestock Workers in animal health. They held new elections to elect the leadership, who are all volunteering their time out of dedication.

The association is still small, and only includes 28 members, 19 of whom are delivering milk. However, they recently added 4 new members who were attracted by Tsonzo’s transparent posting of finances, and promise of a regular market. They are currently producing between 200-300 liters every other day, which the processor Dairibord picks up directly from the MCC.

“Some farmers were used to donors giving cows away, and so didn’t look after their animals well, because they always considered it the donor’s animal. But knowing it was theirs through a loan made them care more about their investment,” explained Justice, adding, “Only those who learned to farm as a business understood the significance of it all. Especially compared to previous assistance, where there was no real agreement for farmers to pay for their cattle.”

Among the most important things the members of Tsonzo learned was about fodder management; ensuring they had a budget for silage and haymaking; and preparing silage before the rains.

“In the past, we only did maize silage. But we learned about sugar graze, sun hemp, velvet beans and cowpeas from Land O’Lakes, which really helped us to improve our production,” explained 27-year-old Washington Sagonda, Tsonzo’s Vice Chair. “And this really worked to improve production. The farmers who ensiled saw great results, getting about 15 liters per day per cow even during the dry season, almost doubling their typical yields for that time of year.”

One thing they’re very proud of is the fact that they’re producing Grade A milk, which translates to 46 cents per farmer. Dairibord pays 56 cents, but the rest is deduced for the cooperative’s operating expenses, and ZADF also charges $25 a month for its services. Members like Augustin Marenji say they appreciate how transparent the finances are now.

“The quality bonuses are motivating us and morale is high. We are so proud to have been named the most improved center!” beamed Augustin, who says his monthly dairy income has risen from $100 to $400 a month, by milking 3 cows that produce a total of 30 liters a day. “My family is really enjoying the extra money, because we’re easily paying for school fees, I have more food for the family, and more money for maintaining my herd. But I also want to invest in building better shelters for my cows and saving money for a milking machine.”

Now that MCC is linked to Dairibord, Tsonzo’s members say they are pleased to have a reliable market for their milk, which they are confident will last beyond the ZDL program. They are also working to build their relationship with the processor independently, and are in discussions with them to provide inputs on credit after the program ends.

Justice concluded, “For those of us who embraced the idea of being a business partner, this program has made a world of difference in how we see ourselves and our futures. Things were really rough before, but we feel we’re well equipped to go on independently at this point.”