Transferring Assets Changes Lives

A photograph of the author, Pierre Ferrari.

By Pierre Ferrari

February 22, 2016

Transferring Assets Changes Lives

Heifer International has the privilege of turning our generous donors’ financial contributions into tangible gifts of livestock, as well as training in environmentally friendly agriculture, for individuals and families living in poverty around the world. There is a technical name for this model: asset transfer. Put simply, we transfer living assets (livestock) into the possession of people who need it.

Because we have a serious responsibility to both our donor communities and the farming communities we serve, we are committed to fact-based decision making. We want to make sure we are using the best possible methods for addressing the complex problems of hunger and poverty among the rural poor. We rely on both internal and external evaluations of our own work, as well as the work of similar organizations, to guide us and help us deliver on our promises.

Recent research on livestock-based asset transfer models, including our own, are showing exciting results. One study examined how our program in Zambia affects household food security and found that dairy and draft cattle and goats increase the diversity of families’ diets, as well as the amount of money spent on other types of food. It also found that the benefits from our interventions are substantially greater than providing a cash gift of equivalent value. You can find the full study here and read a summary here.  

An asset transfer model very similar to ours (BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Programme) has also been studied, and the results are encouraging. The first study found the program led to statistically significant increases in household income, revenue and consumption. The most recent study found that:

  • Productive or in-kind asset transfers are more effective than cash-only transfers at helping ultra-poor households participate in local labor markets
  • Including trainings and savings activities along with the asset transfer may be critical for success
  • The benefits outweigh the costs, even if asset transfer programs are expensive, as compared to cash-only transfers
  • In the long-term, the benefits and achievements households see are maintained or even increased

Having scientific evidence that the model we use is successful is extremely valuable. This is particularly true as we progress toward our goal of helping 4 million families achieve living incomes by 2020, which requires significant scaling up of our programs and the impact our programs have on the communities with which we work. 

I am confident we will achieve this goal, and when we do I believe we will have demonstrated that living income is the longest-lasting target for helping families get and stay out of poverty; and that livestock, training and connections to markets are the right tools to help millions of poor rural families achieve this target.