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Strengthening Livelihoods

We are helping lead a livestock revolution. We work with a rapidly growing group of small-scale farmers, mostly women, to inspire agroecological productivity, biodiversity, financial security and health. We connect farmers to viable markets, and are ensuring they contribute to and benefit from agricultural value chains and thus creating the surplus needed to feed the world.

We strengthen livelihoods by providing:

  • The tools to provide for themselves and their families

  • The knowledge to use agriculture and livestock to benefit the land and heal the environment

  • The avenue to participate in reliable markets for their products

  • The opportunity for women and men to work together as equals

Livestock

Each of our farmers goes through extensive training in animal care, feeding and health before they receive their gift. We work with families as they learn a new way of living.
Learn more about our view on Livestock & Training

Animals are the backbone of our work. They provide life-sustaining products such as milk, eggs, cheese, honey and wool. And caring for animals is a responsibility we insist our families don’t take lightly.

Livestock also give us the “Seven Ms”:

  • Money

    Both liquid assets and “living saving banks”.

  • Milk

    For nutrition; excess sold as milk, cheese or yogurt for income.

  • Meat

    For nutrition (especially protein).

  • Manure

    For fertilizer and bio-gas.

  • Muscle

    For draft power.

  • Motivation

    For building social capital, the inspiration to create change.

  • Materials

    In the form of wool or fibers that provide clothing and other textiles that can be sold.

Building Communities

By organizing and mobilizing people, resources and talents, we leverage the power of working together toward a common goal.

We believe investing in local capacity, knowledge transfer, appropriate technology, farming capital and other agricultural resources will enable small-scale farmers to take charge of their futures.

Think of each community group as a small business, running without a strategy or common goal. Heifer advises, links and equips communities to help them achieve success and income growth.

Before communities receive assets, we help them prioritize their needs, develop a vision of success, identify existing and needed resources and build a plan of action to accomplish that vision. Every situation is unique. Just as no two people have exactly the same needs, each of our projects requires a tailored approach. We work with local resources to discover the best animals and farming methods for the area. We connect members of communities who have knowledge to share.

Values-Based Holistic Community Building

Training and knowledge are essential for sustainable change. The training that we offer takes the form of the 12 Cornerstones of Just and Sustainable Development. Using the Cornerstones as a framework, project participants develop the attitudes, behaviors and skills necessary to improve their own lives and transform their communities. These cornerstones serve to illustrate that sustainable change is holistic.

Learn More About All 12 Cornerstones

Environment

By educating small-scale farmers on improved and environmentally sound farming methods, we help farmers reap stronger yields, improve the environment and increase their incomes.

Many farmers engage in practices detrimental to the planet simply because they lack training and knowledge. We teach farmers how to work the land in a way that benefits everyone involved in the process of agriculture: the farmer, the livestock, the consumer and the land itself.

One way for small-scale farmers to maximize their plots is through zero– or managed–grazing techniques, to prevent overgrazing and to keep animals safe.

Heifer also empowers community members to become leaders and mentors. Community leaders play a key role in educating others through a model farm that Heifer helps to implement. In some areas, model farms are used to train other families on how to care for livestock and the environment.

Families are educated on how to produce a variety of crops year-round, mitigating the effects of “lean months” and helping achieve a consistent level of food security.

Value Chains

By working directly to strengthen entire value chains, we are making large-scale improvements to the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.

Relationship between social capital and market development

Graph depicting relationsip between Heifer's development philosophy and the local market


Heifer works to position small-scale farmers in the right place in the value chain, making sure they can demand as high a price for their products as possible. Cooperatives (co-ops) increase efficiency through improved technology, adding value through each stage, and granting every player a fair price.

Co-ops provide the right structure to expand group savings and access micro-lending, increase financial literacy and increase business management skills. The cooperatives help participants find success by connecting farmers to efficient infrastructure, input supply and product marketing. Together, farmers are able to demand a better price for their products based on volume and quality, and retain most of the profits.

By consulting farmers on demand-driven methodologies, we encourage the production when possible, of more than one product. This diversification increases the farmers’ resiliency and diversifies income.

Gender Equity

By increasing awareness of gender equity, we provide women access to greater opportunities.

We help women form groups and develop leadership skills, facilitating their social and economic empowerment so that they can have access to greater opportunities.

We provide access to productive resources and services, markets and marketing support, and allow them to leverage value chains for their products. We help women build assets and income, and gain the knowledge and confidence to thrive in the formal market sector.

Our work with men focuses on broadening their understanding of, and support for, women’s roles, needs and rights. More important, we promote and support building of strong partnerships between women and men. Gender equity and full participation are at the center of our work with communities.

Profile of a Participant Family

Highly Vulnerable Situation

  • Low income, unable to meet basic needs
  • Limited access to financial services
  • Food insecurity with a high level of malnutrition, due to a lack of access to healthy resources
  • Lack of effective natural resource management
  • Very low level of participation of women in decision-making
  • Women do not have access to or control over income or productive assets
  • Male family members migrate to urban areas for work, leaving women and children in a vulnerable situation

Less Vulnerable Situation

  • Medium income derived from agricultural activities
  • Access to land and some community resources
  • Encouragement of local economy through the sale of some surplus to local markets
  • Have some savings and limited access to formal financing
  • Application of sustainable agriculture practices
  • Takes part in managing the natural resources in their plots and the community
  • Women make small decisions regarding day to day living in the household, but cannot make major decisions such as investment or expenditures
  • Women have some control over the income they earn

Sustainable Livelihoods

  • Stable and diversified sources of income
  • Ownership of secure and productive land
  • Access to formal finances and savings with use of financial and extension services
  • Food and income levels are adequate enough to meet year-round food security
  • Low level of malnutrition, can afford nutritionally balanced and culturally appropriate food for all family members
  • Practices agro-ecological farming and has access to sustainable production systems and technology
  • Women are empowered to make decisions at household and community level
  • Women have access to and control over productive assets