Training farmers to lift themselves out of poverty

Written by Mary Isokariari on 7 April 2016 in Features
Features

Mary Isokariari explores how the work of Send a Cow, a grassroots charity, is transforming lives in rural Africa

Poverty in Africa is predominantly rural. More than 70 per cent of the continent’s poor people depend on agriculture to feed their families and make a living.
 
In Sub-Saharan Africa, around 218 million adults and children are undernourished. It is the only region where extreme poverty and hunger continues to rise.
 
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Development assistance to agriculture is decreasing due to the many climate challenges that plague the region. Heavy rain fall means the land is less productive. While social and political issues such as disease and conflict weakens communities and affects a family’s ability to grow enough food to survive. 
 
Send a Cow, a small non-government organisation, believes that this can change. Founded by Christian farmers in the UK at the height of the milk crisis in 1988, the charity gives some of the continent’s poorest people the opportunity to make a better life for themselves.
 
Working in countries, including: Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia, communities are given practical training in farming skills, gender equality, sanitation and money management alongside livestock, seeds and tools. This enables them to have the confidence, knowledge and skills to build a sustainable business. 

 
Simon Barnes, chief executive, who joined the charity in April 2014, said: ‘‘In the nine months prior to becoming CEO, I volunteered for Send a Cow and I saw for myself the extraordinary, tangible and life changing transformation that Send a Cow achieved among the world’s poorest rural farmers. 
 
“Just as significant, I saw the piles of qualified farming group applications in each and every office awaiting the resources to move forward. I believe that as stewards of the knowledge and experience that has been built up over nearly 28 years we have a responsibility to find ways to reach as many people as we deem able to benefit from the work we do.’
 
‘‘We know we can deliver an emotional and practical solution to rural poverty that is not only value for money, but a solution that stands the test of time.’’ 
 
The programme has seen quick results and within a few months malnourished families are eating regularly and are able to pay for children to attend school. 
 
Send a Cow also teaches farmers to diversify their income streams, so they can survive the hungry months and unexpected disasters. 
 
Recently, an El Niño-driven drought in Ethiopia that began in June has left 10.1 million people, including 350,000 infants in desperate and dangerous conditions. 
 
Country director for Send a Cow Ethiopia, Aklilu Dogisso, said: “Those in the north are currently going hungry after two seasons of poor rainfall. Those in the rest of the country – including the central and southern areas where we work are struggling with unusually heavy rains.
 
“In some areas the army has been deployed and children sent home from school to harvest crops before the rains destroy them. Already, around 10 per cent of Ethiopia’s population is receiving emergency food aid, and that figure is expected to double by early 2016.
 
“The cause this time is the El Niño phenomenon. Although it occurs naturally, it seems that man-made climate change is exacerbating the situation. Of course, the problem needs political and global solutions, but the farmers we support have to feed their families now.
 
 
“Our work in the southern highlands helps them do just that. Recent independent research of a Send a Cow project showed how families are farming in a way that helps them become resilient to weather shocks such as absent rainfall, or stresses and the increasing unpredictability of the planting seasons.
 
“It’s all about better management of their existing resources. So for example, farmers learn to compost their livestock manure and use it to improve soil structure, so it can absorb rainfall and retain moisture during the dry season.
 
“They diversify their crops, so their risks are spread and biodiversity is improved. They plant trees, which provide shade for seedlings, fix nitrogen in the ground, and absorb harmful carbon dioxide from the air.”
 
The charity currently helps 300,000 people annually, 97 per cent of whom say they can provide enough food for their families after receiving training.
 
Solomon Jora, from Ethiopia, has seen his life change dramatically in just over a year. Born with one leg longer than the other and suffering from low self-esteem, Jora found working in various jobs as a labourer, fisherman and a charcoal seller, at times challenging.
 
As a result, he returned to his village and was given a small plot of land from his parents.
 
He said: “There wasn’t enough food to eat. As a family we were losing hope. With small children who needed us to fill their bellies, we were not able to taste the flavour of family life.”
 
After hearing about Send a Cow, Jora was eager to get involved: “We were trained on how to farm the land, savings and credit, working in a group, family relationships and so much more that has changed our values and attitudes for the better.”
 
Solomon has received three sheep from Send a Cow and has bought an ox. His family are now planning to build a better house. 
 
“We started to use the spring to grow vegetables and spices with high market value. From my previous harvest, I have sold vegetables and spices for more than Birr 5,000.00. I never counted one thousand Birr at a time before I joined the project. This is a miracle and the miracle will continue!”
 
The grassroots charity employs about 50 employees and is based in the Old Estate Yard in Newton St Loe, in Bath. However, the majority of its 200 staff are Africans working in Africa.
 
 
His Royal Highness has been the charity’s landlord for 27 years and its president since 2009. He warmly expressed his support and said: “I do congratulate you on all your work, it’s very important to keep smallholders going. It’s vital.”
 
So far, Send a Cow has already worked with over 1.3 million people. Its vision is to one day see a ‘‘confident and thriving rural Africa.’’
 
Florence Adoch from Uganda, a mother of seven became a widow after the Lord Resistance Army rebels killed her husband in 2001.  
 
She fled to a government-protected camp, but conditions were terrible and returned to her former village, Peeya Village, Onyona Parish in Koch Ongako sub-county, Gulu District.
 
Before joining Send a Cow, Adoch experienced many problems, partly due to being a widow head of household. The family were living on wild fruit, and their farmyard was uncleared bush. The whole family lived in one hut, they had a poor water supply and no toilet.
 
 
The charity helped Adoch transform her yard into a tidy farm, which now contains a keyhole garden and raised beds. Her family no longer live in a single hut. 
 
Through the Send a Cow training they received she was able to build a clean latrine, learn better sanitation techniques, including building a tip tap and drying rack giving the family access to better hygiene. 
 
She also learnt skills in animal management and sustainable organic agriculture such as composting and using the urine and manure of her cow for fertiliser and pesticides.
 
The family are now using an energy saving stove, which uses about a quarter of the amount of firewood that would have been needed to boil milk in the traditional way. Not only are they now able to drink milk each day, but they are also able to sell the surplus daily and eat three meals a day. 
 
Adoch said: “As a woman I thought I needed a husband to do the farming, but with Send a Cow I saw it was women who did the training and I knew I could do it too.” 
 
Photo Captions:
1st photo - Florence Adoch 
4th photo - (L-R) Front row: Chief Executive Simon Barnes, Patrick Sambaga, Manthethe Monethi, Prince Charles, Titus Sagala, Sandra Swanson)
(L- R Back row:  Director of Programmes Ian McKay, Nick Carrol, Andre Nsengiyumva, Aklilu Dogis​
5th photo - Florench Adoch with her family
 

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