Heifer International has been on a 77-year journey to end hunger and poverty, not just in response to the greatest challenges of the times, but also with the goal of empowering families to create sustainable change for themselves.

Their story began in 1944, when Midwest farmer Dan West returned from volunteer service in the Spanish Civil War, where he helped feed refugees. But as a farmer, he became keenly aware that providing meals was a short-term solution. Instead, livestock could provide families a steady supply of nutritious food and even income.

Thus, Heifer International was born, and in the wake of World War II, groups of farmers began to accompany cows to devastated communities in Europe. They called themselves the “Seagoing Cowboys,” making about 360 trips on 73 ships, and also trained farmers on how to properly care for the cows to ensure optimal dairy production and breeding.

Over the decades, the geographic footprint of Heifer expanded across the globe to 21 countries, as did the variety of animals – chickens, goats, sheep, and alpaca – the organization placed with families, depending on what made the most sense in their contexts. And, according to one of the organization’s founding principles, the first offspring of an animal was always passed onto another family to spread the wealth – a practice that continues to this day.

Local farmers supported by Heifer Ecuador built a farm-to-table food delivery system when the pandemic hit, delivering healthy food to households across the country. Credit: Isadora Romero/Heifer International

Helping families achieve self-sustainable pathways out of hunger and poverty remains a central focus of Heifer. And they still do animal placement. But just over a decade ago, Heifer decided to make its goal even more ambitious: to help families reach a sustainable living income, in which all members of the household can afford a dignified standard of living, with nutritious food, safe shelter, clothing, health care, and quality education. This is a significantly higher standard than the World Bank’s extreme poverty line of $1.90 a day.

To help families reach sustainable living incomes, Heifer transitioned from hundreds of small projects in many countries around the world to investing in bigger projects that help farmers become part of a larger value chain and reach their goals. For example, in East Africa, Heifer has not only trained 230,000 dairy farmers on how to improve the health and yields of their cows, but they have also helped set up a network of milk hubs, managed by farmer cooperatives. Farmers deliver milk daily to these hubs, where the milk is tested, chilled, then stored in bulk units before being sold directly to one of the biggest milk distributors in the region.

Read the full article about Heifer International by Joanne Lu at Global Washington.