A Different Kind of Livestock

Crossposted from Nourishing the Planet.

I’ve had the opportunity to try some traditional—and tasty—local foods while I’ve been traveling in Africa, including amaranth, breadfruit, matooke (mashed banana), posho (maize flour), groundnut sauce, spider weed, sukuma wiki (a leafy green), and a whole lot of other vegetables and fruits with names that I can neither remember nor pronounce.

One thing I haven’t tried yet is found all over Africa and, in addition to being a food source, it is also considered a pest—grasshoppers. As I was walking through a market in Kampala, Uganda I noticed women “shelling” what I thought were beans, but upon closer inspection the baskets sitting between their legs were full of wriggling grasshoppers. As they sat, chatting with one another and the curious American, they were de-winging the insects so that they could be either sold “raw” or fried for customers.

Despite the yuck factor many of you reading this might have for eating insects, grasshoppers, crickets, termites, and other “bugs” can be a nutritious source of protein, vitamins, minerals,and other nutrients. According to the results from a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization workshop in 2008, caterpillars are an important source of food for many people in Central Africa, providing not only protein, but also potassium and iron.

Collecting and selling insects can also be an important source of income, especially for women in Africa. And as climate change increases the prevalence of certain insects, they become an even more important source of food in the future.

For Poor Households in Rwanda, One Cow Makes A Difference

This is the final in a four-partseries on my visit to Heifer International projects in Gicumbi District in Rwanda. Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute Nourishing the Planet blog.
Leonard Birahira has been connected to Heifer International in Gicumbi District for the last seven years, but only recently as a beneficiary of their projects. He's been using his carpentry skills to help build stalls for farmers to keep their animals, a requirement for all Heifer beneficiaries, and just last month received his own dairy cow as part of Heifer's projects  in Rwanda. Dr. Dennis Karamuzi, the Director of Programs for Heifer Rwanda, told me that he's looking forward to seeing this family in two years. Right now they live in a mud house, without electricity or running water, things the other Heifer beneficiaries we visited were able to get after they began raising cows and selling milk.

And Heifer's work is now being recognized--and supported--by the Rwandan government. In 2008 the government instituted the One Cow Per Poor Household Program, which aims to give the 257,000 of the poorest households in the country training and support to raise milk for home consumption.  But Heifer, says, Dr. Karamuzi, is also building an exit strategy by connecting farmers to cooperatives, which can organize and train farmers themselves.

For more on Heifer International's work in Rwanda, please see the following links: Rwanda Sustainable Dairy Enterprise Development Project and Miracle Cows in Rwanda.

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Got Biogas?

This is the third in a four-part series on my visit to Heifer International projects in Gicumbi District in Rwanda.  Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute Nourishing the Planet blog.

In addition to milk and income, dairy farmers also get another important resource from their cows--manure. While raw manure can be composted for use on crops, cow dung can also be a source of fuel for households.

Madame Helen Bahikwe, another farmer in Gicumbi District, began working with Heifer International in 2002. She now has five cows--and an excess of manure. With a subsidy from the government as part of the National Biogas Program, Madame Helen built a biogas collection tank, which allows her to use the methane from decomposing manure to cook for her 10 person family. She no longer has to collect or buy firewood, saving both time and money and protecting the environment. The fuel is also cleaner burning, eliminating the smoke that comes from other sources of fuel.

And according to Mukerema Donatilla, another farmer we met, biogas "helps with hygiene" on the farm because they can use hot water to clean cow udders before milking and for cleaning milk containers.

Both Mukerema and Madame Helen had to contribute about $USD 700 for the materials to install their biogas units, while the government contributed about $USD 400. With funding from SNV, a Netherlands-based organization and the Rwanda Ministry of Infrastructure, the government hopes to have 15,000 households in the country collecting and using biogas by 2012.

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Teacher Turned Farmer...Turned Teacher

This is the second in the four-part series on my visit to Heifer International projects in Gicumbi District in Rwanda. Crossposted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog.

Holindintwali Cyprien is a 40-year old farmer and livestock keeper in Gicumbi District, outside of Kigali in Rwanda. But he hasn't always been a farmer. After the genocide in the 1990s, he and his wife, Mukaremera Donatilla, 40, were school teachers, making a about $USD 50.00 monthly. Living in a small house constructed of mud, without electricity or running water, they were saving to buy a cow to help increase their income. And when Heifer International started working in Rwanda almost a decade ago, Cyprien and Donatilla were chosen as one of the first 93 farmers in the country to be Heifer beneficiaries. Along with the gift of a cow, the family also received training and support from Heifer project coordinators.

Today, they've used their gift to not only increase their monthly income--they now make anywhere from $USD 300-600 per month--but also improved the family's living conditions and nutrition. In addition to growing elephant grass and other fodder--one of Heifer's requirements for receiving animals--for the 5 cows they currently own, Cyprien and Donatilla are also growing vegetables and keeping chickens. They've built a brick house and have electricity and are earning income by renting their other house.

Although Heifer trained them how to collect water with very simple technologies using plastic bags, Cyprien took the training a few steps further and installed his own concrete tank. In addition, Cyprien has enough money to invest in terracing his garden to prevent erosion, a necessary farming practice in this very hilly area.

And today, Cyprien is going back to his roots and making plans to teach again--this time to other farmers. He wants, he says, "the wider community to benefit from his experience."

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Healing with livestock in Rwanda

This is the first in a four-part series on our visits to farmers working with Heifer International in Gicumbi District, Rwanda. Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute Nourishing the Planet blog.


Recovery is a word you hear a lot in Rwanda. From public service announcements on television to billboards--it's the motto for a place that just 15 years ago was literally torn apart by genocide. More than 1 million were murdered in 1994 as ethnic strife turned neighbor against neighbor in one of the bloodiest civil wars in African history.

Recovery--and healing--are also things I heard a lot about during my visit with Heifer International Rwanda. "Heifer is helping a recovery process," explained Dr. Dennis Karamuzi, a veterinarian and the Programs Manager for Heifer. Heifer started its projects in Rwanda in 2000 in a community in Gicumbi District, about an hour outside of Kigali, the capital. This community was especially hard hit by the genocide because it's close to the border with Uganda. Residents who weren't killed fled to Kigali for safety.

In the years following the genocide, Gicumbi District is making a comeback thanks, in part, to Heifer International. Heifer International works with farmers all over the world, helping them develop sustainable agriculture practices, including providing livestock and training farmers how raise them.

Heifer began working in Rwanda in 2000, but their start was a little rocky. At first the community was suspicious of the group--because they were giving farmers "very expensive cows," says Holimdintwoli Cyprien, one of the farmers trained by Heifer to raise dairy cows; they didn't understand how the group could just give them away. Many community members thought that it was a plot by the government to have them raise livestock and then take them away, a remnant of the ethnic rivalry between the Hutus and Tutsis that started the conflict there in the 1990s. And Heifer has certain conditions for receiving cows--including that farmers build a pen and dedicate part of their land to growing pasture--which made people skeptical, especially when they were used to letting animals roam freely to graze on grass. But as people began seeing the results of Heifer's training, they become less suspicious and more interested in working with the group.

Heifer introduced a South African dairy breed, known for its high milk production, because, according to Dr. Karamuzi, "no stock of good [dairy cow] genes" was left in the country after the genocide. And he says that these animals help prove "that even poor farmers can take care of high producing cows."

And these animals don't only provide milk--which can be an important source of protein for the hungry--and income to families. They also provide manure, which provides not only fertilizer for crops, but also is now helping provide biogas for cooking to households raising cows in the country as part of a the National Biogas Program.

Stay tuned for blogs about our visits with three farmers who received cows from Heifer International.

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Diaries

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