Return to World Ark Blog Landing

Adequate, healthful nutrition should be a guaranteed human right. Yet 3.1 million children under 5 die every year because they have poor nutrition. Knowing this should disturb each one of us.

What are the components of a nutritious diet? Safe water, dietary fats, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals are the building blocks. Variety is not only the “spice of life,” but also the backbone of a nutrient-dense diet.

At Heifer International, our mission is to end hunger and poverty. To do this, we enable communities of smallholder farmers so they can not only feed themselves and their families with the food they raise, but also so they can afford greater dietary diversity and so they can contribute, at the market level, produce for others to consume.

Our most tangible tool when working with communities to improve their livelihoods and family nutrition is livestock. Animal-sourced foods (ASFs) – eggs, meat and milk – are often viewed as dietary luxuries for the global middle class, and great concern exists over the forecasted increase in demand for ASFs as low- and middle-income countries’ economies grow.

Give a gift that nourishes and help end malnutrition now.

Research supports the inclusion of ASFs in nutritional interventions. While many interventions rely on supplements, the ability of individuals to consume and parents to provide a well-balanced diet should be the ultimate goal. Raising livestock or having the means to procure readily available foods to meet dietary needs are sustainable options for the world’s rural poor.

A special article published in Nutrition Reviews (abstract) reviewed existing literature on the eggs as a possible intervention for improving nutrition. The authors state, “Homestead chicken-and-egg production with appropriate vaccination, extension service, and other supports can simultaneously address poverty and nutrition in very poor rural households. With undernutrition remaining a significant problem in many parts of the world, eggs may be an uncracked part of the solution.” At Heifer International, we have seen over 70 years how rapidly the incorporation of well-cared-for poultry can improve the overall situation of poor rural families.

Providing poor smallholder farmers with livestock and training is a proven method for ending household-level poverty, without waiting for the so-called “trickle-down effect” to take place. Preliminary results from research on Heifer International communities conducted by the University of Illinois, in the Copperbelt Province of Zambia and with support from Elanco show: “introducing livestock has a significant positive impact on income, total consumption, and diets for the rural poor, improving welfare for both livestock recipients and other households in their communities.”

The researchers used a data set of 300 households over the course of 18 months to measure the impacts of livestock given by Heifer International. They compared outcomes among original households that received meat goats, draft cattle or a dairy cow with Pass on the Gift (POG) households, who had not yet received livestock; prospective households, who had applied for assistance from Heifer but lived in communities not yet being served; and independent households, who had chosen not to participate in Heifer’s program. 

Notable findings so far include:

  • Receipt of meat goats, draft cattle, or a dairy cow caused pronounced increases in consumption expenditures in the original households, as well as smaller increases for POG households, but no changes for prospective households.
  • Both milk consumption and dietary diversity increased in households that received livestock.
  • Milk consumption and dietary diversity also increased among POG households in livestock-receiving communities, even if those households did not receive animals.

Further research will include analysis of child growth and health data, asset growth, educational outcomes, etc. (Kafle, Kashi and Alex Winter-Nelson, 2014, “The Impact of Livestock Donation on Poverty and Food Security: Lessons from Heifer International Zambia;” Selected Paper Presented at Annual Meeting of American Agricultural Economics Association; Minneapolis, Minnesota; July 28, 2014.)

These findings are encouraging, especially as we at Heifer continue to grow our programs in depth and scale. To make a significant difference, to help put an end to the 3.1 million under-5 deaths from undernutrition, Heifer is working bigger, better, faster and with more. 


Pierre Ferrari

Pierre Ferrari is president and CEO of Heifer International. Pierre is very passionate about empowering the families and communities with whom Heifer works: “It took me decades, but I have come to know that the only way to happiness and joy is to be of service to others.” Pierre’s other joys are his wife, Kim, his two sons and two stepdaughters. In his free time he enjoys golf, squash, reading and travel.