Innovation of the Week: Lasting Skills for Sustainable Change

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By Mara Schechter

The Land O’ Lakes company is best known for its butter, but the company also has a nonprofit division—Land O’ Lakes International Development (IDD). Land O’ Lakes IDD is part of the U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council, a group of organizations that share the belief that “cooperative techniques, which have helped millions of American families, can be adapted to help poor and low-income people in developing countries achieve a better way of life.” The organization does this through various programs, mainly focused on dairy production, livestock farming, and enhancing local food networks.

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Smallholder farmers also tend to benefit from cooperatives, which help them to pool their resources. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

As part of its Mozambique Food for Progress program, the organization trains farmers in Mozambique to train other farmers how to use animals for transportation and plowing. In Chapter 14 of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, experts from the International Livestock Research Institute explain how raising livestock can help improve farmers’ incomes, diets, and crop productivity. For many smallholder farmers, animal-powered farming provides a much-needed source of additional muscle, because machines like tractors are often prohibitively expensive.

Smallholder farmers also tend to benefit from cooperatives, which help pool their resources. In Western Mozambique’s Gondola District, for example, Land O’ Lakes IDD has brought in cattle and helped smallholder farmers learn about raising them, as part of a project to create the Gondola Milk Collection Center.

At the Center, members of a local cooperative can sell their items in bulk and get increased access to markets and better prices. According to Roy Perkins, the director of Maforga Christian Mission, who is working in the Maforga community, “I am sure that other direct beneficiaries [of the Land O’ Lakes dairy initiative] will get out from the extreme poverty that prevents their food security.”

Residents of Mweleki, a village in Kenya’s Eastern Province, also face challenges. Frequent droughts threaten farmers’ livelihoods, and women often bear the burden of traveling long distances to collect water each day. Justine, a farmer who lives in the village of Mweleki, said, “I even threatened to divorce my husband at one point, because I felt I was spending my entire life doing nothing but gathering water. ” But now that the village has a communal water program, which Land O’ Lakes IDD helped establish, Justine is “able to spend my time feeding my two cows, caring for my two kids, and even doing a few things for myself from time to time.”

Land O’ Lakes IDD helped implement a geological survey to determine water distribution points, provided piping to link the points, and helped develop a local committee to manage the project. To cover maintenance costs and incomes for the people who work at the water kiosks, residents pay about two cents for each container they fill with water. The residents’ cattle produce more milk because they no longer walk to far-away watering points. And because they no longer have to help their mothers collect water, local children also spend more time in school.

To read more about innovations that create sustainable change, see Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture and Wildlife Conservation, Malawi’s Real Miracle, Emphasizing Malawi’s Indigenous Vegetables as Crops, Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local, Honoring the Farmers that Nourish their Communities and the Planet, and Investing in Projects that Protect Both Agriculture and Wildlife.

Mara Schechter is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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