How Heifer Projects Are Promoting a Healthy Environment: Part 3

By Brooke Edwards

April 22, 2011

Last Updated: October 3, 2019

On April 18, Worldwatch Institute's blog, Nourishing the Planet, published a list of 15 ways agriculture can "promote a healthier environment and a more food-secure future." In honor of Earth Day 2011, we would like to explore these 15 ways and how Heifer's projects around the world are addressing these issues. We are doing this in three separate posts, matching five Heifer projects with the corresponding Nourishing the Planet concepts. Read 1-5 here and 6-10 here.

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.
Fund a Project in Rwanda, where only 32.7 percent of the land is suitable for farming.
12. Charting a New Path to Eliminating Hunger
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 fact, pick any one of these projects, and you'll be helping move ecoagriculture into the mainstream.
14. Improving Food Production from Livestock
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.