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Livestock program breaks the cycle of hunger in Zambia’s Copperbelt

International livestock donation is a popular way for people in prosperous countries to support families in need in developing regions. By giving farm animals, donors might provide access to foods like milk and eggs and also provide a source of regular income to reduce poverty and further improve nutrition. While recipients of donated animals often provide moving testimonials to the transformative effect of the gifts they have received, scientifically credible analysis of the impact of such gifts has been lacking, until now.

Recently, some studies [i, ii, iii] have used rigorous experimental designs to document the impact of livestock transfer on consumption expenditures and diets among households in rural Africa. These studies have shown that people in deep poverty who receive livestock donations can experience rapid and sustained increases in their livelihoods. Our research team at the University of Illinois partners with Elanco Animal Health and Heifer International to analyze a livestock development program in the Copperbelt Province of Zambia – the heart of Zambia’s mining sector – and investigate the role of livestock transfer on poverty and food security.

webCommunity facilitator check on cattle shed

Community facilitator observing dairy cow and shed constructed by the farmer. Photo: Alex Winter-Nelson

Prior to Heifer’s program, livestock ownership was rare in the Copperbelt Province. Despite the natural potential for crop and livestock production, previous reliance on mine labor for income had left little livestock development.
The Heifer International program combines livestock donation with training and social capital development through community groups and farmer cooperatives, to give project participants access to support services such as extension and finance, as well as access to markets. The participants receive seven goats, two oxen, or one dairy cow depending on agro-ecological conditions of their village.

All recipients were poor farmers who demonstrated interest in maintaining animals and agreed not to sell or slaughter the animals as long as they were productive and to donate the first female offspring of donated animals to another community member. Baseline data showed that the recipients had daily consumption valued at about US$1.00 per day before receiving the animals.

web7 goats multiplied to 55 in 2 yrs

They received 7 goats in 2012 and now have 55. Photo: Kashi Kafle

We assess the impact of the intervention on poverty (consumption expenditures) and food security (dietary diversity) outcomes by comparing changes in outcomes for households that received animals with changes in outcomes for eligible households in communities that Heifer is not yet able to serve.

We find that the intervention increased household consumption expenditure by more than 25 percent, food expenditures by more than 30 percent, household livestock revenue by 200 percent or more, and dietary diversity by adding at least one additional food group to the household’s daily diet. In absolute terms, the growth in expenditures amount to be about 25 cents per person per day but the small absolute change is having impressive effects on consumption as the recipients are eating more nutritious foods such as milk and meat and items like rice that are considered luxury foods in these communities and which are not produced locally. The food security impacts were also felt by community members who did not receive animals but now have greater access to milk and meat.

impact on milk and meat cons freq

Fig 1. Increase in milk and meat products consumption among program participants.


The effects of livestock donation on recipients’ livelihoods began to appear within a year of receiving the animals. Three years later, the recipients continued to show higher levels of consumption and improved diets. Moreover, they had passed on the female offspring of the donated animals to others in their communities and had reinvested in their own livestock operations. The quantitative evidence confirms the anecdotal testimonies: Livestock donations can generate food security and economic security for families in need.





[i] Jodlowski, M., A. Winter-Nelson, K. Baylis, and P.D. Goldsmith. 2016. “Milk in the Data: Food Security Impacts from a Livestock Field Experiment in Zambia.” World Development 77:99–114.

[ii] Banerjee, A., E. Duflo, N. Goldberg, D. Karlan, R. Osei, W. Parienté, J. Shapiro, B. Thuysbaert, and C. Udry. 2015. “A multifaceted program causes lasting progress for the very poor: Evidence from six countries.” Science 348(6236):1260799.

[iii] Kafle, K. 2014. “Is There More than Milk? The Impact of Heifer International’s Livestock Donation Program on Rural Livelihoods: Preliminary Findings from a Field Experiment in Zambia”, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association Annual Meeting, No. 170629.

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