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Tanzanian female farmers increase wealth with 'lease-cow' herds

By Adriana Stuijt     Mar 5, 2009 in Business
Household goods-recycling charity Estafette has donated € 4,000 to Farm Friends Netherlands. This organisation leases cows to Tanzanian women, which helps them generate income through dairy cooperatives. The scheme started in 2003.
Estafette says their donation is enough to lease out ten more cows - bringing the Tanzanian/Dutch herd of milk cows 'leased' by local women to a whopping 1,000 this month, says Farm Friends The project was launched in 2003.
The self-help project now has more than 110 participating farmers, giving Tanzania's female farmers a daily income from milk sales -- and they get to keep the calves. A booming dairy industry has already developed around the Lease-A-Cow projects: the triangle-cartons of milk can be bought in shops countrywide.
Estafette is located in three towns in Friesland province in The Netherlands. They collect and restore used household goods and -clothing for resale in three outlets - similar to such projects by the Salvation Army shops' in the United States.
The Farm Friends project also shows how much more can be done with a lot less Development Aid moneÿ: they pride themselves on close supervision of each step along the way, so that all the money ends up in the hands of those who need it the most.
Another major fundraising event for Farm Friends is also being launched on 4 April in the Dutch town of Maarssen at the local high school, organised by the foundation Sintan - the Support and Information Network Tanzania Netherlands. The local honorary consul for Tanzania, Mr F Hakkenberg, will be on hand as the guest speaker. And a photo-exhibition called "Proud Women' by local photographer Paul van Goor will also be featured.
This isn't just another of those all-too-familiar African charity-handout schemes: instead it involves providing young Tanzanian/Frisian mixed-breed milk cows on 'lease' to farmers who belong to registered Tanzanian cooperatives.
The farmers lease the cows and get to keep the calves, and pay back their lease-loans with the animal's daily production of 12 litres a day.
One of the Dutch sponsors of the project, Max Kooymans of Wommels in Friesland, tells me that this cross-breed is so hardy that it doesn't even need additional feeding as Dutch cows do - even though the Tanzanian climate is much drier and the Tanzanian grasses have much lower caloric content.
Good milk cow with resistance to African diseases:
Their livestock is a cross of the local hardy Zebu-cattle and the seed of world-famous Fresian steers such as Melchior. This mix has great advantages the Tanzanian long horned livestock owners have found: the animal combines its inherited resistance to African diseases with the high-milk production abilities of the familiar black-and-white Fresian cattle.
Such crossbreeds produce up to 12 litres of milk a day whereas the Zebu cow never produces more than 2 litres. A booming dairy industry has already developed around the Lease-A-Cow projects.
"It's not charity, says Kooymans -- it's a business deal which puts the Tanzanian women on an equal partnership basis with the donors of the lease-a-cow project."
There is donor money involved however: the Dutch donors pay for the lease-cost of 400 Euros per cow.
The advantage of this hands-on project also is that there are no middle-men which could be tempted to skim the cream off this project - the scourge of so many African charity projects.
The Dutch donors' accountants are keeping a very close eye on all the financial aspects, both in Tanzania as well as from the Netherlands. If the farmers fail to make their payments, they and their cooperatives aren't entitled to bid at the annual cattle auction.
Farm Friends each year guarantees credit for 200 young cows - each costing 400 Euros.
The animals aren't imported from The Netherlands: they are produced from local cows inseminated with the imported seed of Frisian bulls.
The offspring are auctioned off to the cooperatives once a year just as the rains start in December - but only to farmers in well-run cooperatives which have proven credit-ratings.
The farmers receive a registration certificate showing the animal's origin and pages to keep track of their production. When she reaches the end of her productive life, she gets sold and the farmer can then lease another new cow.
The crossbreed milk cow produced by this genetic mix has great advantages: the animal inherits it's mother's resistance to local diseases and the high-milk production abilities of the Frisian father.
Such crossbreeds produce up to 12 litres of milk a day says Mr Kooymans.
The project is also turning these Tanzanian women into successful livestock-owners -- which gives them considerable status inside Tanzanian society.
Cattle are economic backbone
The backbone of the African economy has always been cattle. In Tanzania, more than 80 per cent of the working population is closely involved in food-production - and especially the raising of cattle has always been a hands-on family business. Also see our previous story on the economic devastation caused by the theft of just one cow, see
Not for the Masai
There is one exception to farmers participating in this project: the Masai tribes which live along the borders of Kenya and Tanzania where only males are allowed to handle livestock and their flocks are treated like members of the family. Kooymans said it's not possible to introduce the Lease-Cow project into this very unique tribal society - this would greatly interfere with their cultural rights and way of life.
Shortly after independence, the Tanzanian government introduced a socialist-style communal farming system which quickly became a dismal failure. Now the government is actively supporting independent small businesses and commercial cooperatives such as these
So when two Dutch Frisian cattle farmers - one in Tanzania, the other in The Netherlands -- offered to start this rather unique Cow-Leasing project in 2003, the local farmers were keen to join in. see
More about Farm friends, Tanzania, Lease cows, Dairy
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