Supporting local dairy farmers in Malawi

Wondering how great an impact agricultural programs can have on the world’s poorest people? Take a look at Donata Kuchawo’s story to find out more, and make sure there are many more stories like hers by urging Congress to fully fund Feed the Future.

Another report from Malawi. On Sunday, we had an amazing visit to the Chitsanzo Milk Bulking Group (MBG), a USAID-funded, public-private partnership project with Land O’Lakes and General Mills that supports local dairy farmers in the rural area of Dedze.

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In 2007, Land O’Lakes started working with the farmers to provide an initial investment of milking cows and a cooling tank. Their pass-on process requires farmers to give the first female calf born to another farmer (on a lengthy waiting list) as a form of loan repayment for the initial cow. Every day, members of the MBG deliver by bicycle 30 to 40 liters of fresh raw milk per day, and have it tested and placed in large cooling tanks where it is stored and picked up about every other day by Lilongwe Dairies Limited, which purchases the milk and processes it about 63 km away in Lilongwe.

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We were greeted by more than a 100 MBG farmers, who shared their stories about the how the group has enabled them to send their kids to school, save and invest in their homes and farms, and even donate milk to a local orphanage. Since the program began, MBG has used membership fees to start a loan program for farmers to access credit and secured a bank loan to purchase a second cooling tank to store more milk. With five- and 10-year plans, the group is committed to being sustainable after assistance and has plans to start purchasing cows to expand the program to more farmers.

A really memorable success story came from Donata Kuchawo, a 45-year-old married mother of five and caretaker of two orphans. Donning a brightly colored dress, Donata told us that she turned to dairy farming in 2003 to secure enough income and food for her family. Her cow, named Zowari, produces about 30 liters of milk each day, of which 4 liters are used for home consumption and the remaining 26 liters are sold through Chitsanzo.

As a result of her income, Donata has put three kids through secondary school and also supports her sister’s two children, who attend primary school. An entrepreneur, she has constructed a small rental house, invested in a new piggery business and employed five people to help run the dairy business and tend to crops. Looking ahead, she is already saving for another cow as the other produces less milk with age. She is such an inspiration and proof that when you give women farmers a few tools, the entire community benefits.

Chitsanzo Milking Group is one project of the U.S. Feed the Future initiative and a great example of USAID’s Global Development Alliance program, which leverages private sector support like Land O’Lakes and General Mills to create programs that provide the world’s poorest with a sustainable path out of poverty.

At the end of our visit, the chairwoman and president of the MBG presented our team with a beautifully carved wooden cow to show their appreciation for our visit. With tears welling in my eyes and those of others, we humbly accepted the gift and left more determined to advocate for smart, innovative agricultural policies so that there are more success stories like Donata’s throughout the developing world.