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Photo by Dave Anderson, Heifer International

Today the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations posted a warning on the Horn of Africa crisis that speaks directly to Heifer staff, supporters, donors and potential partners: "Predictable, sustained support for rural economies and livelihoods is needed to avoid future crises."

As world governments met today (Thursday) in Ethiopia for an international pledging conference aimed at winning more aid for the Horn of Africa, the FAO warned that efforts to keep farmers and pastoralists on their feet, prevent the crisis from worsening and speed progress toward recovery are not being adequately funded.

Heifer International is not an aid organization, our model to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth focuses on long-term solutions. The current drought and extreme hunger crisis in East Africa is not new. Though awareness has recently been raised through recent news coverage, including of visits from Jill Biden's visit to refugee camps of Somalians and a promise of more U.S. aid, this same drought cycle has been battering the farmers and people of the region for more than a decade.

Read this article from The Economist from 2009 that describes the cycle:

"The drought cycle in east Africa has been contracting sharply. Rains used to fail every nine or ten years. Then the cycle seemed to go down to five years. Now, it seems, the region faces drought every two or three years. The time for recovery—for rebuilding stocks of food and cattle—is ever shorter. And if the rains fail before the end of this year, an unimaginably dreadful catastrophe could ensue."

Just two years later, the catastrophe is here. Will we hand out aid again and not dig deeper to long-term solutions that help people survive despite the drought? Will the images and stories fade until two years from now, when it all happens again, we'll scramble to repeat the inadequate response?

Heifer's camel projects in Kenya and Tanzania have already helped farmers and pastoralists recover from loss of cattle and near starvation on a small scale. We're studying ways to expand our model in Kenya to Ethiopia and Somalia to address the long-term needs of the people in this area. But as the FAO warns, support, funding and dedication to long-term solutions are critical. Yes, refugees need aid now. Yes, they also need a sustainable solution to get them out of camps with no way to support themselves.

Would you be interested in supporting a long-term project using Heifer's model? Please share your ideas, concerns, hopes for how we can work together in comments here or send an email to


Donna Stokes

Donna Stokes is the managing editor of World Ark magazine. She has worked for Heifer International since September 2008 when she leaped over to the nonprofit world from a two-decade career in newspaper journalism.