“Give not a cup (of milk) but a cow” is Heifer International’s version of “Teach a man how to fish to feed him for life.”
The organization’s vision of fighting world hunger took seed out of one man’s frustration at not having enough milk to feed the hungry refugees around him. The visionary was American farmer Dan West who in the 40s served as relief worker in Spain during the Spanish Civil War.
Back in the US, West founded Heifers for Relief which grew to become Heifer International aiming to provide sustainable livelihood to the poorest-of-the-poor communities worldwide.
HI’s basic poverty-fighting program is simple: Poor families are given livestock and training on livestock raising. When the cow, pig or goat breeds, a female offspring is passed on to another family. The act of receiving and giving forward continues. The whole community then takes a step—with that one initial animal—towards sustainable growth.
Heifer International came to the Philippines in 1954. The first stock of cattle and goats was shipped from the US and dispersed to selected beneficiaries with the help of the first program partners, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and Philippine Rural Life Center (PRLC).
In 50 years, the program has covered 17 provinces. Kalinga, Mt. Province and Western Isabela in the north. Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur in Mindanao. Northern Samar, Western Samar, Leyte, Southern Leyte, Bohol and Negros Oriental in the Visayas. Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay and Sorsogon in Luzon.
Working with 60 NGO-partners, the organization has assisted 25,000 families.
HIP program director Hercules Paradiang describes how the program begins in a community.
Working with NGOs
“We work with NGOs which are already well-known in the community and connect with barangay and municipal officials to validate that the community is truly poor but nonetheless have resources for livestock-raising. We also review the local government’s thrust.”
An ocular inspection follows, then a meeting with the members of the community.
A project proposal is then developed by the partner-NGO in consultation with the regional staff of Heifer and the community members.
Once the proposal is approved, the NGO identifies and organizes partner-households.
An intensive training follows.
“It’s not just training on how to raise livestock,” Paradiang emphasizes. “We inculcate values to change the poverty mindset—self-reliance, accountability, commitment, savings, family values, sharing.”
While training is going on, the beneficiaries get ready for the livelihood activity. They prepare pasture areas, plant forage, build animal houses.
Passing it on
All these culminate in the “passing-on-the-gift” ceremony, where each partner-family finally receives an animal or another agricultural input.
It can be a cow, carabao, horse, goat, pigs, chickens. Or crop seedlings, tilapia fingerlings. It depends on the identified need.
Each recipient commits to pass forward what he receives in exactly the same measure—the same female of the specie, of the same age, size and weight.
That its work has spanned five decades here says volumes about the program’s sustainability.
Paradiang explains how they do it:
“We have limited resources. We stay in one community for three years and move on. We can do that because we have given members ‘seed stock’ and growing capability—plus the mindset to stick to it.”
Training is continuing. Members are updated on better livestock-management and environment-friendly practices. Community facilitators strengthen the self-help groups.
Values education never stops. Farmers embark on a continuing journey of confidence-building, self-development and self-reliance.
They also learn proper nutrition, environmental protection, disaster-mitigation, and risk-reduction.
“The self-help nature of the groups helps ensure sustainability. Members attend regular meetings which reinforce their sense of accountability for themselves and their community,” Senior Field Manager Lyndell Tagle says.
“Capital build-up is important to make the self-help groups truly autonomous. There are communities which in five years increased their assets hundredfold.”
Moving up to entrepreneurship
Some members have parlayed their livelihood projects into diversified farms; others prospered enough to want to process the produce; others plan to engage in agricultural services like feed-milling.
Recently, the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation (Serdef) conducted a business-planning workshop for HIP program staff so that they may in turn mentor these potential entrepreneurs to plan their business.
This is Heifer Philippines’ way of helping growth-oriented farmer-partners raise their livelihood activities to the next level: entrepreneurship of the more formal and innovative kind.
(For more stories on entrepreneurship, visit the Serdef website at www.serdef.org. For more on Heifer Philippines, visit www.heiferphils.org.)