Many small farmers face challenges to earn enough money to feed their families and send their kids to school. A single dairy cow can raise a farmer’s annual income up to six times above the national average of only US$250, thereby lifting their families out of extreme poverty. Collectively, a developed dairy sector also helps reduce dependency on imports, thus making buying dairy products less expensive.
Donata Kuchawo is a 45 year-old married mother of five and caretaker of two orphans who 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, support her sister’s children and builda home.
In 2007, Land O’Lakes 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 these recipients. Her cow, named Zowari, produces about 30 litres of milk each day, of which four litres are used for home consumption while the remaining 26 litres are sold through the milk bulking group.
Every day, members of the Chitsanzo Milk Bulking Group deliver 30-40 litres of fresh raw milk per day by bicycle, then test and place it 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 in Lilongwe, the country’s capital.
The Chitsanzo Milk Bulking Group has more than 260 members, of which 150 are women. The group not only helps farmers to access improved cattle feed, veterinary care and financial services such as cattle insurance and mobile phone banking, but alsodonates a portion of its milk to local child care centres and orphanages. The group additionally provides an important nutrition support system for small 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. She employs 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 she 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.