Having lived part of my youth in Nairobi, Kenya, it is thrilling each time I return to see the changes taking place - always a startling mixture of progress and mayhem. In December I took my first trip to the field as CEO of Heifer International, and I’d like to be the first to tell you: even rural Africa is changing.
Yes, there is still poverty, hunger, sickness, death. But I could see, hear and feel the differences in the time I spent with Heifer project participants. Instantly striking were the advanced business vocabularies of the farmers, who knew all about balance sheets, converting equity and cash flows. Where did they learn this? From trainings with Heifer.
I traveled to Kenya and Uganda to visit Heifer’s East Africa Dairy Development Project (EADD), which is made possible through a $42.8 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The project, our largest to date, is restructuring and growing the dairy industry in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. Heifer is the lead nongovernmental organization on the project, working with 180,000-plus farmers. While Heifer provides training and facilitates connections, it is the farmers who are making this project such a success.
In Uganda, I had the pleasure of meeting Agnes Luweesi, who runs a milk collection business in Bubusi. She’s also the treasurer of the Kinyogoga Livestock Farmers’ Cooperative Society, which is a part of Heifer’s EADD project. Two times a day, farmers bring their milk to Luweesi, who checks the quality and strains the milk into aluminum cans. Her husband loads the cans onto his motorbike and delivers the raw milk to a dairy processor, who will pasteurize and package it for sale.
Petite in frame, Luweesi is both welcoming and steady. She is at the heart of the dairy business in this small corner of the world. Her bookkeeping, though done with pen and paper, rivals that of any small business in the United States.
Just down the street was Dr. Mutesasira Posious, the Kinyogoga Cooperative’s agri-vet. He sells veterinary supplies and provides artificial insemination services to members of the cooperative. If a cow is in heat but the farmer can’t pay the fee, Nsubuga provides the insemination service, and the farmer pays his debt with his cow’s milk later.
Heifer’s “Accountability” and “Sharing and Caring” Cornerstones come through strongly in this project - enormous trust is needed for these cooperatives to work. Many farmers join EADD cooperatives when they see how much belonging can benefit them in the long term. This is how an industry grows, and how Heifer’s impact spreads.
“We must not leave African farmers as peasants,” Sahr Lebbie, vice president of Heifer’s Africa program, said to me in one of our first encounters. I can assure you, we are not. Heifer is giving families the means to harness their entrepreneurial spirit, build profitable businesses and provide a secure future for the next generation.
Thank you for helping us help these agricultural entrepreneurs thrive.
CEO Pierre U. Ferrari