One cow can make all the difference in Malawi

Government-funded global agriculture programs are making a world of difference for many small farmers in rural Africa. Don’t believe it? Read the living proof:

A challenge facing many smallholder farmers in Malawi is earning enough money to feed their families and send their kids to school. Improving the country’s dairy industry is one way to help turn things around.

Meet Donata Kuchawo, a 45-year-old married mother of five and caretaker of two orphans. Donata turned to dairy farming because growing maize and beans alone was not enough to provide for her family. After turning to the Chitsanzo Milk Bulking Group – a dairy cooperative in rural Malawi supported by Land O’Lakes, General Mills and USAID – Donata has been able to pay for her kids to go to school, supports her sister’s children and has built a home for her family.

In 2007, Land O’Lakes, one of America’s premier member-owned cooperatives, started working with farmers in Malawi, providing an initial investment of milking cows and a cooling tank. They introduced the unique concept of requiring farmers to give the first female calf born to another farmer as a form of loan repayment for the initial cow. Donata was one of those recipients. Her cow, named Zowari, produces about 30 litres of milk each day, of which 4 litres are used for home consumption and the remaining 26 litres are sold through the milk bulking group.

A single dairy cow has the potential to raise a Malawian farmer’s income six-fold per year, up from the national average of only US$250, and bring them out of extreme poverty. Collectively, a developed dairy sector also helps reduce dependency on imports, thus making buying dairy products less expensive.

Every day, members of the Chitsanzo Milk Bulking Group deliver by bicycle 30-40 litres of fresh raw milk per day, and have it tested and placed in large cooling tanks. The milk is stored in the tanks and picked up about every other day by Lilongwe Dairies Limited, which purchases the milk and processes it about 63 km away in Lilongwe, the country’s capital.

The Chitsanzo Milk Bulking Group has more than 260 members of which 150 are female. Not only does the group help farmers access improved cattle feed, veterinary care and financial services such as cattle insurance and mobile phone banking, but it donates a portion of its milk to local child care centres and orphanages. The group also provides an important nutrition support system for smallholder farmers and their families as well as serves as an entry point for HIV prevention education.

Donata is such an inspiration and proof that when you give women farmers a few tools, entire families and communities benefit. As an entrepreneur, she has invested in a new piggery business and employed five people to help run the dairy business as well as tend to crops. Donata is also saving up for another cow. Her heifer is currently pregnant and hopes it will give birth to a female calf. If it is a girl, she will be passed onto the next family on the waiting list.

To imagine that one cow could make such a transformative difference in a family’s life, might be hard, but it’s happening every day in rural Malawi.

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