11. Investing in Africa’s Land: Crisis and Opportunity
Okay, so we’re not doing EVERYTHING on this list. But while we may not be creating collaborations between African farmers and foreign entities, land grabbing is on our radar. And we are absolutely working to help farmers in Africa hold onto and make the most of their land.
Have I ever mentioned how much I like biogas? The connection between biogas and eliminating hunger might not be obvious, but it’s certainly there. I’ve written before about the Uganda Domestic Biogas Program, which is targeting 12,160 families over the five-year project period. Not only is the project helping farmers install biogas units on their farms, it is actually establishing a market for domestic biogas installations and accessories, which builds local economies.
Biogas (as compared to charcoal or wood) cooks faster and burns cleaner, which is important for rural women. Healthy women are more productive, for one thing. In addition to being better for the environment, no longer purchasing charcoal or wood for cooking frees up income to be spent on education and health care. And children whose families have biogas lanterns can stay at home and study for school, which could impact their overall success.
Another alternative to traditional stoves are improved cook stoves (ICS), which are smokeless and use considerably less wood. Fund a Project in India that will, in addition to livestock, distribute ICS to participating families.
13. Moving Ecoagriculture into the Mainstream
Heifer began practicing agroecology with our participants since the mid-1980s and officially established an Agroecology Initiative in 2000 to place a greater emphasis on environmental protection as part of our work. Methods used on Heifer’s project participants’ farms include planting trees, using manure and other sources of natural fertilizer, zero- or managed-grazing techniques, contour planting and terracing, and improved cooking stoves or biogas units.
In many of the places Heifer works, pastureland for livestock may either be limited or poor in quality. By helping farmers build zero-grazing pens and by helping farmers identify and improved grow fodder crops, Heifer helps farmers increase the yields of their dairy animals.
While in Uganda, I had the chance to see zero-grazing in practice. Here’s a little footage:
Read about Huruma Mhapa from Tanzania, a 2011 Women in Livestock Development Award winner, and her plans for an improved zero-grazing pen for her cows. What’s remarkable is that more than 9,000 people have visited her farm for training and to learn about zero-grazing and organic farming.
Heifer also improves food production from livestock by teaching and building capacity for crossbreeding and artificial insemination to improve the productivity of local livestock.
15. Going Beyond Production
In the interest of diversity, I’m going to take this one in a slightly different direction, because although we’ve dealt with dairy surplus with our East Africa Dairy Development Project, and we’ve connected these farmers to the dairy value chain, I think “going beyond production” can be interpreted in more than one way.
For example, Heifer Poland’s Agriculture and Tourism Development Project is helping farmers who live within the boundaries of the East Carpathian Biosphere Reserve, which protects the ecosystem but also limits certain agricultural activities. Through the project, farmers are becoming beekeepers, converting their dairy cattle herds into beef production (EU restrictions make small-scale dairy farming difficult), and learning to become hosts for tourists interested in the reserve and in other features of agrotourism.
6. Using Farmers’ Knowledge in Research and Development
Heifer Lithuania’s Cooperation and Development of Farmers for Poultry and Rabbits in Plunge Project is increasing entrepreneurship among rural people living near Zemaitija National Park by first creating sources of income for the local community and then providing the foundation for local business creation. Last April, project participants went to a hands-on training on rabbit breeding and keeping on a local, modern rabbit farm. The farmer had received his own training in Spain and was very kind to show his farm, share his experiences and answer project participants’ questions. The farmer had 500 female rabbits, some of which were pregnant, while others already had offspring. The farmer shared his expertise in making rabbit hutches. Upon returning home, project participants were inspired to make their own farms as productive as the one they had visited.
Heifer project participants around the world use a number of soil-enriching agricultural practices. Compost, animal manure and even worms (and their castings) can be used to build the soil. Some of our projects are located in valleys with rich, fertile soil. Other projects, including those in cities, must improve their soil before they can begin to grow anything.
Fund a Project in Oregon that will provide earthworms, among other things, to participants.
8. Safeguarding Local Food Biodiversity
Heifer’s Sustainable Food Systems in Copan and Lempira, Honduras Project will benefit 2,058 families in western Honduras. Families here struggle with poverty that is exacerbated by farming steeply sloping land with low fertility. This project provides cows, hens, fish, goats, sheep, rabbits, bee hives and fruit trees. In addition to promoting agroecological practices, this project is help;ing families establish food gardens with local crops to feed people and livestock, for natural medicine and to protect the environment. The project also works to recover and promote the use of local seeds.
9. Coping with Climate Change and Building Resilience
Read this post on how Heifer’s projects improve local ecosystems, help families out of poverty and cope with the changing environment.
10. Harnessing the Knowledge and Skills of Women Farmers
Much of Heifer’s work, particularly in Asia/South Pacific, is done through women’s groups. Women are severely marginalized in many countries here, but it is the women who are the communities’ best bets. Here’s the story of a project participant from Nepal:
I am Tika Mahato, a member of the Daunnedevi Women’s Group. As the eldest of three sisters in a poor family where both parents worked from morning to night, I was burdened with the responsibility of taking care of my siblings. My father was ver encouraging about my education, but he was also pressured by society’s norms about women.
I come from a marginalized ethnic group in Nepal, the tharu, in which women are considered the family’s honor and treasure. We are not allowed to tread outside of our houses, talk to strangers or voice our thoughts on family matters. Girls from the age of 10 are encouraged to find partners and get married. I was married at the age of 15 and bore two children by the time I was 19. My in-laws were not very well off. The family struggled to provide for every meal. All of us worked as laborers, but money was never enough. In 2006, an incident changed my life as I knew it; my husband passed away, leaving me with two children.
Having always been dependent on him for everything, I was in a state of shock for a long time. I stopped caring for my two children. What would I do with my life? The question and its unknown answers plagued my mind. My mother says I used to stare at nothing for hours. During that time, a group was being formed. Seeing this as an opportunity to engage me, my mother forced me to join. Reluctant to focus on anything except my misery, I did go to the meetings but never took part in any discussions. Slowly, the members started becoming my friends. I felt like I had someone to count on in the time of need.
My group then took the Cornerstones training — it was like four days of continuous awakening. I felt like all my questions after my husband’s death were being answered. I was overcome with guilt for abandoning my children. Yet instead of looking ahead in life, I was burying myself in the sorrows of my past. Though fully capable of working and providing for my family, I was becoming a burden for my parents with whom my children and I lived after the death of my husband.
I now have a renewed sense of faith and belief in myself. I have my goats that I received as gifts from Heifer, and my life has found a purpose with the goats. I plan to be independent and raise my children without the shadow of poverty.