By Rustom Masalawala, Senior VP, International Markets

Part of Jaguar’s staff contribution series

In 2013, the World Bank estimated that there were 1.35 billion people living in extreme poverty (living on less than $1.25/day). Most of this extreme poverty is concentrated in the developing world, primarily in the countries of S.E Asia and Africa. And a significant portion of that population lives in rural areas, where agriculture and livestock (cows, goats, poultry and swine are the primary species) are the main sources of their income. In addition to providing income, livestock plays a critical role in providing much needed protein to the poor. Other benefits that accrue from keeping these animals include their ability to facilitate transportation, and their waste streams—which can be used for fertilizer.

Recognizing how integrally woven livestock is to the lives of these populations, many organizations, like Heifer International, have developed creative models to try and increase ownership of these animals. Heifer’s model, which was developed some seventy years ago, gifts families an animal, and, in addition, it trains families and provides other support services, all with the understanding that the animal’s first born female offspring must be passed on to another family (“Passing on the Gift“), along with the knowledge and training. This simple concept has now grown into an enormous operation that works towards the goal of eliminating poverty in Asia, Africa and the Americas.

But the challenges facing the poor are many. A lack of infrastructure, the lack of formal markets, poor price discovery, and challenges in transportation all contribute to the perpetuation of extreme poverty. Climate change is now intensifying this problem in a very significant way. Sub-Saharan Africa has been very badly affected, with the ongoing encroachment of the desert continuing to increase the size of the Sahel region—the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition in Africa between the Sahara to the north and the Sudanian Savanna to the south. This desertification has profound implications on the lifestyles of the people living there, including their ability to support livestock. With lower acquisition costs, and limited grazing areas, goats are becoming increasingly popular in these regions. Poultry is similarly gaining in popularity.

Management of livestock in most of these environments is either very poor or simply non-existent. As an example, dairy cows in the developed world, on well-managed farms, can yield anywhere between 30-40 liters milk/day. In the environments we have been discussing, the trend is more like 2-3 liters/day, at the most. Part of this is due to genetics, because cows in the developed world are specially bred to produce high volumes of milk, with very carefully monitored intake levels. In the developed world, such pure breeds would quickly succumb to the disease burden in most rural environments. Therefore, the production animals in these regions are typically either local breeds or some form of a cross-breed.

Livestock will continue to play a critical role in helping people in developing countries escape the poverty trap. The need for quality livestock remains acute, and therefore new breeds may need to be developed that are best suited to these demanding environments. There is also a tremendous need for organizations to provide training on livestock management, for companies to make and sell affordable new medications, and for efficient markets to develop. The challenges to achieve all of this remain profound, and this is where organizations like Heifer are trying their best to address the gap.

Heifer International has not endorsed, approved, or sponsored this blog post nor is Heifer International affiliated with Jaguar Health’s products or website.