Fugitives from Poverty...on a Road Paved with Milk

Originally published on March 21, 2016.

Jemute Manuel Chaona (left) and Teresa Alberto João Danasio (right) with their daughter
Having insufficient money to feed and clothe her children tormented Teresa Alberto João Danasio for years. “It used to tear me up inside when my children would come back from playing, staring at me, and for me as their mother to have no food for them,” Teresa, 28, recalled. “We have a saying in Mozambique that happiness comes from the stomach. So, if the kids are hungry, it means that they are sad. As a mother, this really affected me.”

At the time, the entire family relied exclusively on the US $50 monthly income Teresa’s husband Jemute Manuel Chaona, 32, earned as a social service assistant. There were nine mouths to feed in all, including their three children and several relatives. Teresa recalled, “We experienced a lot of challenges because of insufficient income, but we had no options. It was all we could rely on. There were days when we had no food, and no ways to fill other needs.”

But despite their difficulties, and the stress he felt being the family’s sole provider, Jemute wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of acquiring a dairy cow when Teresa told him about the USDA-funded Food for Progress Program implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development. The program is linking 4,050 smallholder farmers to a commercial dairy value chain in Maputo, Sofala, and Manica provinces, and training 16,000 Animal traction farmers in new and improved agricultural techniques and management practices.

More broadly, the program is working to build an effective dairy value chain, reduce imports, rebuild the dairy herd and promote private sector investment – in the aftermath of the 16-year civil war that decimated the country’s dairy herd and infrastructure.

Overcoming Fear and Moving Forward
“I told her, how are you going to manage such a demanding animal? And how are you going to provide it with feed?” Jemute recalled asking. He had also heard about the program, and knew that free-grazing was discouraged; considering feed is the most onerous cost of caring for dairy cattle, this was a legitimate concern.

Beyond the fear of whether they could manage taking care of a dairy cow, their biggest concern was what it would mean for Teresa’s education. Teresa was busily trying to complete 10th grade and was loathe to drop out, especially considering her children, ages 8, 10 and 12 weren’t far behind her in their studies.

I wasn’t even aware that this could be my life. But now, I really feel like a new Teresa, as a proud mother able to meet my household needs.

Teresa Alberto João Danasio (Mozambique Food for Progress client)

But Teresa insisted and convinced Jemute to give it a try with her and see what might happen. And so it was that the two began tag-teaming as partners in everything to make this new opportunity work.

“When I made the decision, it was really a challenge for me, but I continued studying. My husband would wake up early morning and go to his work, while I went off to school. Then, around 9am, we’d both escape from work and school to attend our dairy trainings, and then we’d head back to work and school when we could.”

They both laughed as she relayed the story of how they managed to make things work during the 2-week training. “We were acting like fugitives, constantly sneaking out to make ends meet,” Teresa said. Jemute joked, “If I was really a fugitive, I wouldn’t have come back!”

Since successfully completing Land O’Lakes’ training and passing the course was a prerequisite to actually receiving a pure-breed in-calf Jersey heifer, Teresa was skeptical her efforts would come to fruition. “Initially, I doubted myself. I wondered, would I really be eligible to receive a dairy cow? And is this program all talk?” But within a few weeks of passing her course, she received her cow and life began to change.

The Arrival of Jemute’s ‘Second Wife’ Teresinha
Teresa with her new "cash cow", Teresinha.
When the cow arrived in July 2014, Teresa says her family exploded with emotion, and the cow quickly became a critical part of their lives. “The cow and program came at the right time. We smelled the cash as soon as we saw her!” Fittingly, their cow was given the name of Teresinha – small Teresa – and her children regularly call out if they observe that Teresina needs more food or water.  Jemute added, “I now consider Teresinha my second wife!”

After calving, Teresinha started providing the family with between 12 and 13 liters a day. After keeping about 2 liters for enriching the nourishment of the family, they sell the remainder for between US $0.40 -0.46 per liter either to Copoleite, a cooperative based in Beira, Sofala provincial capital that operates a processing plant, or to a local microprocessor. Ultimately, Teresinha’s milk provides them with about US $100 a month – almost double her husband Jemute’s salary, which triples the overall household income.

“I’m happy that Teresa is bringing in this income, and I’m not threatened that she’s now earning more than me. It means our financial burden is alleviated, and I’m not threatened by the fact that the family isn’t entirely relying on my income anymore,” Jemute explained. “In fact, it means I actually have a little more time to breathe, and to be a real father to my children.”

When Teresinha calved, her first born was a bull. She will soon pass this on to another program client. . Shortly after the bull was born, the family accessed artificial insemination services through the program to get Teresinha pregnant again, and this time she produced a female calf, who is now 5 months old. Afterwards, they used a bull stud service to impregnate her again, and she’s currently in-calf.

Looking Forward to the Future
Teresa shows off the new home she is constructing with her new income from dairy farming.
While they cannot say the income from Teresinha’s milk covers all their needs, the couple notes that it minimizes their burden significantly. “Although we still find we need more money than we have, rarely do our kids go to bed hungry anymore.”

What’s more, Teresa is not only dreaming of building a large house to fit her entire family, but she’s nearly realized her vision. Construction is ongoing, and is nearly complete, and they are easily able to pay for their children’s school uniforms, and school lunches, so that they can concentrate better while studying. They are also setting a portion of their earnings aside to pay for the feed that Teresinha needs to remain healthy and productive.

She imagines things will only get better. “Where I once doubted myself, I can now envision a future where my female calf grows up and starts milking. That means in a year or two, I will have two cows, and then three. This will really put me in a great situation.”

For Teresa, the impact of the USDA-funded Mozambique Food for Progress program has truly been profound. “I was a person who had no hope, and I wasn’t even aware that this could be my life. But now, I really feel like a new Teresa, as a proud mother able to meet my household needs."

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