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May 04, 2008

Heifer International assists rural farmers integrate livestock rearing with crop production

Dr. Jim DeVries, Heifer International's Vice President of Programs, says 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.

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. The United Nations warns that more than 100 million people could be pushed into hunger.

DeVries asks: "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'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 started in 1944, this approach has helped more than 48 million people become more self-reliant.

Scaling up Heifer's approach is the goal of a recent $42.8 million grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Heifer 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 (EADD) 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.

Heifer's mission is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the earth. For more than 60 years, Heifer International has provided livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to improve the lives of those who struggle daily for reliable sources of food and income. Heifer is currently working in more than 57 countries, including the U.S., to help families and communities become more self-reliant.

Sun Herald

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