The “warm heart of Africa” has long struggled to find its rhythm due to the devastating impact that drought, floods and crop-eating pests have had on Malawi’s agriculture and land. Now vulnerable households are turning to goats, chickens and pigeons for a new path out of poverty.
“Lack of food is a story of the past for me and my family,” said Bertha Banda, a 32-year-old mother of four from the Balaka district in Malawi. “I did not know livestock would turn my life around.”
Banda is one of 53 people to become a Community Animal Health Worker (CAHW) through Njira, a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Project Concern International (PCI). Since 2014, Njira has focused on helping farmers and individuals like Banda find better ways to increase their food production, earn a steady income and improve their nutrition. Enhancing the availability of high-quality, healthy livestock is just one component of the project.
As part of a three-week CAHW training and certification program, Banda learned how to diagnose and treat common animal diseases, house and market livestock, and improve animal breeding practices. Each month, her job takes her to an average of 300 households in areas where professional veterinary care is not available. By ensuring the well-being of local livestock, Banda has found both a profitable calling and a way to safeguard the livelihoods of fellow community members.
This year, CAHWs have vaccinated a total of 142,681 chickens against Newcastle disease and dewormed 16,386 goats in the Balaka and Machinga districts of Malawi. Beneficiaries of these fee-based animal health services include participants of Njira’s livestock pass-on program, which began in 2016.
In the first year of the pass-on program, Njira supplied a total of 600 households with either 10 chickens, 6 pigeon pairs or 4 goats for food production and breeding. These recipients were then instructed to pass on some of their livestock’s offspring to other households in need. The goal of this “pay-it-forward” model, when combined with community-based animal health care, is to ensure programs initiated by Njira are able to continue long after the project ends in 2019.
“Communities are looking to CAHWs for sustainability purposes,” said Nellie Dimba, an Njira facilitator in the Machinga district.
As of February 2018, when CAHWs and farmers conducted a livestock census for Njira, results indicated a 245% increase in chickens, 78% increase in pigeons and 22% increase in goats based on initial distribution numbers. To date, Njira has provided a total of 8,058 people in the Balaka and Machinga districts with livestock to improve their food security and economic opportunity.
Patricia Grant, a widow and mother of three, is part of the team of CAHWs who were trained through Njira. In a month, she vaccinates an average of 556 chickens and deworms 130 goats for about 20,000 Malawian Kwacha (or $28 USD). She has also learned how to grow drought-resistant crops and better manage her finances—skills that ultimately enabled the 34-year-old to literally put a roof over her family’s head.
“Many women in my situation would lose hope,” said Grant, “but the Njira project gave me hope by empowering me with skills that earn me a steady income.”
Tanner Roark and Stephanie Grow contributed to this story.