Dairy Farming Sparks a New Dawn for a Poor Zambian Family

Originally published on September 8, 2014.

It is often said to be darkest before dawn. This certainly rings true for a seven-member household in Zambia’s Pemba area. In two years, this household transformed itself from a state of hunger and despair into one of growing prosperity and hope.

Mrs. Savior Mahonko, a widow, is the head of this household in Chindolo village. She lost her husband to illness, leaving her to fend for her mother, children and a grandchild. Her children dropped out of school due to lack of school fees. Indeed, in these hard financial times, this family was not assured of even one meal a day.

“I used to work odd jobs and sell thatching grass in exchange for maize to feed my family,” explained Mrs. Mahonko. She added, “When I would fall sick, we would go without food for days.”

A new day came in 2011 when Land O’ Lakes International Development recruited Savior to participate in the C-FAARM (Consortium for Food Security, Agriculture and Nutrition, HIV/AIDS, Resiliency and Markets) program. The program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and led by Catholic Relief Services and a consortium of groups including Land O'Lakes, enabled her to access an in-calf dairy heifer. Life for this struggling family changed dramatically when the heifer calved and started producing milk. Savior began selling the milk and used the earnings to buy food and clothes for her family. The rest of the income went towards buying supplementary feeds for the cow and its two young ones.

With this kind of income, I would never stop growing fodder. My family is happy and healthy, and we now enjoy a better standard of living.

Mrs. Savior Mahanko (ZFP Client)

But, that was just the beginning of the transformation. In 2012, Land O’Lakes launched a two-year Zambia Fodder Pilot (ZFP) project, which was designed to develop, test and document best practices in fodder production and storage, and train over 830 farmers like Savior on how to develop a viable business. Through the ZFP program, which is funded by USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), Savior accessed the seeds she needed to produce fodder for her cow. She used the money saved from buying feed to put her children back in school and buy books for them. On top of this, she plans to contribute 500 Zambian Kwacha (ZMW) (or US $90) of her savings towards the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock’s Farmer Input Support Program (FISP), so that she can receive farming inputs in the form of hybrid maize seed and fertilizer. This will help ensure food security for her family, and possibly provide an additional source of income.

Thanks to the nourishing fodder Savior now produces, her cow yields 10 liters of milk a day – the most it ever has. At 2.50 ZMW ($0.45) a liter, this farmer boasts earnings of 750 ZMW (US$150) a month from dairy. On average, without supplementation, a small-scale dairy farmer’s cow produces approximately 6 liters of milk per day in the rainy season, when pasture is in abundance. In the dry season, milk production is drastically reduced to less than 2 liters of milk a day, which adversely affects the incomes of small-scale dairy farmers. Meanwhile, for commercial dairy cows, a well-fed animal should produce 16 -20 liters per day on average throughout the year. Consequently, the project’s interventions have enabled Mrs. Mahonko’s daily dairy income to rise from 5 ZMW ($0.90) to 25 ZMW ($4.46) each day as a result of the project’s intervention.

“With this kind of income, I would never stop growing fodder,” she said. “My family is happy and healthy, and we now enjoy a better standard of living,” she stated. “My cows are well-fed and robust, and because I practice semi-zero grazing, dairy farming is easy for me, unlike for some of my neighbors who still have to go in search of pasture for their livestock.”

As for her future plans, this member of the Kanchomba Dairy Cooperative intends to grow more fodder to ensure that her cow produces even more milk. In time, she also plans to build a better house, expand her savings so that she can buy more farming inputs to boost productivity, and even purchase another dairy cow. For now, this growing entrepreneur’s stores of 300kg of legume fodder hay, loose grass hay, and fodder seed form part of the foundation for her ever-brighter future. In true spirit, Savior is optimistic that her newly-gained knowledge of conservation farming has more than equipped her to overcome the many challenges of dairy farming.

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