Bóthar and the MDGs

Of course, no NGO can claim to work in a way that is focused 100% on the achievement of the eight MDGs. However, if a development organisation is founded on sound principles and work practices, it will be seen that many aspects of its work contribute to the achievement of these goals.

In the case of Bóthar, it is possible to identify some such areas:

Goal 1: Poverty and hunger

The World Bank’s latest estimates show that 1.4 billion people in developing countries were living in extreme poverty in 2005.

Recent increases in the price of food have had a direct and adverse effect on the poor and are expected to push many more people – an estimated 100 million – into absolute poverty.

The proportion of children under five who are undernourished declined from 33 per cent in 1990 to 26 per cent in 2006. However, by 2006, the number of children in developing countries who were underweight still exceeded 140 million.

The MDG target of cutting in half the proportion of people in the developing world living on less than $1 a day by 2015 remains within reach for the world as a whole. However, this achievement will be largely the result of extraordinary success in Asia, mostly East Asia. In contrast, little progress has been made in reducing extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

New estimates released by the World Bank in August 2008 show that the number of people in the developing world living in extreme poverty may be higher than previously thought. Using a new threshold for extreme poverty now set at $1.25 a day (purchasing power parity) in 2005 prices, the Bank concludes that there were 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty in 2005.

Based on these data, poverty rates are estimated to have fallen from 52 per cent in 1981 to 42 per cent in 1990 and to 26 per cent in 2005. Over a 25-year period, the poverty rate in East Asia fell from nearly 80 per cent to under 20 per cent. In sub-Saharan Africa, the poverty rate remained constant at around 50 per cent.

Even though the proportion of people worldwide suffering from malnutrition and hunger has fallen since the early 1990s, the number of people lacking access to food has risen. With recent increases in food prices, it is estimated that 1 billion people will go hungry, while another 2 billion will be undernourished.

Eastern Asia, notably China, was successful in more than halving the proportion of underweight children between 1990 and 2006. In contrast, and despite improvements since 1990, almost 50 per cent of children are underweight in Southern Asia. This region alone accounts for more than half the world’s undernourished children, while the majority of countries making the least progress in reducing child malnutrition are in sub-Saharan Africa.

For millions in the world today, jobs provide little relief from poverty because pay is so low. Employed persons living in a household where earnings are less than $1 per person a day are considered the ‘working poor’. In sub-Saharan Africa, over half the workers fall into this category.

- UN

In traditional societies today, some two-thirds of the world’s population still engages in mixed farming as a means of subsistence. The benefits of livestock are manifold and encompass a lifelong output of dairy products, offspring, traction, transport and manure – often the only available source of fertiliser – with meat, hides and other by-products being taken only at the end of the animal’s life. In remote areas and in unstable economies, livestock are often the most important and most reliable form of capital storage. For many it is their only bank, providing a source of disposable income or of emergency cash in times of hardship.

Animal husbandry empowers women in particular. Women in developing countries often own livestock – particularly small stock – when they are denied ownership of land. Rural women worldwide participate directly or indirectly in some or all aspects of animal agriculture.

Manure and draught power for ploughing provided by livestock allows hundreds of millions of rural people to cultivate their staple food crops, to cook their daily meals or to heat their homes. Ruminant animals convert otherwise inedible stovers, straws, brans and other crop residues into protein-rich foodstuffs and other items for both home consumption and sale, making an important contribution to the nutritional status of people living on small-scale farms and combating the micronutrient malnutrition that is suffered by more than a billion people.

- Extracted from Animal Husbandry as a Tool for Development (Bóthar)

The aims of reducing poverty and hunger are at the core of Bóthar’s mission. Livestock and training are the means employed, and as the assistance is direct to those in need, in a transparent and accountable way, the impact is maximised. Bóthar’s model of development was first used by partner NGOs in the 1940s and has been refined over a period of 65 years to produce a cohesive and holistic programme, which includes all of the elements that are necessary for the success and ultimate self-sustainability of the project. (This assumes, of course, that preliminary studies are favourable and the proposed intervention is acceptable to the participant group.) Chief among these elements are:

  • Full training in all necessary elements of care and husbandry of the relevant animal species
  • Preparation of customised animal shelters
  • Planting of defined areas and species of fodder
  • Arrangements for supervision of the various stages of the project by qualified personnel
  • Equitable and transparent methods of operation within the project holder, e.g. a farmers’ cooperative, a women’s group, etc.
  • A legally binding contract which is agreed with the group and to which all parties are signatory

Typically, Bóthar is involved with any given project for five years, after which it is able to be self-sustaining and to grow further. The group has moved into a new phase of mentoring others, and more enterprising participants will have commenced local SMEs. Pass-on of offspring (a contractual obligation) ensures a supply of animals for subsequent rounds of participants and is an incentive for them to be worthy neighbours and citizens. Ultimately, the ripple effect of growing prosperity in the community benefits all, and acts as a strong anchor against phenomena such as the drift of unemployed young people to urban areas.

Goal 2: Primary education

Around the world, a total of 114 million children do not get even a basic education and 584 million women are illiterate

- UN

Even in situations where government-provided Primary Education is available, families at the level of absolute poverty often cannot spare the daily labour input of their children which is necessary simply in order to survive.

Access to education is perhaps the principal added benefit to families participating in Bóthar programmes. In many countries, the overwhelming majority of project participants are illiterate and innumerate as a result of lack of access to education. However, there is a clear understanding among all parents that education is the key to their children escaping the same fate that befell them, and of building a more hopeful future. Consequently, for families who earn income through Bóthar programmes, school attendance is usually the main priority after the basic needs of food and shelter are met.

Goal 3: Empowerment of women

Lack of equality of opportunity for women and girls continues to be an issue in all societies, but it is a particular scourge in the developing world. In many rural areas, the role of women often encompasses the overwhelming burden of manual labour, child-rearing, animal herding, firewood gathering and water-carrying, while being at the same time subservient to male authority, often subjected to violence and excluded from ownership of property, goods or land. Where there is the opportunity for families to send one child to school, boys are almost invariably given preference over girls.

It is a central principle of Bóthar and its project partners that the place of women is accorded equal standing with that of men in the planning, operation and benefits of any project. This is incorporated into the training programmes and forms part of the project contract. Women are often de facto leaders in their communities as women’s cooperative groups are common in many societies. Frequently, the evident success of a women’s group, such as a widows’ farming association, will attract interest among men in setting up a similar project.

Goal 4: Child mortality

More than 25,000 children under five years of age die every day worldwide. Millions of children continue to die each year from pre¬ventable causes such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria and measles.

A child born in a developing country is over 13 times more likely to die within the first five years of life than a child born in an industrialized country. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for about half the deaths of children under five in the developing world.

Malnutrition is estimated to be an underlying cause in more than one third of all deaths in children under five.

Between 1990 and 2006, about 27 countries – the large majority in sub-Saharan Africa – made no progress in reducing childhood deaths.

- UN

While these statistics obviously indicate the need for measures such as immunisation and the provision of neonatal and maternal care, Bóthar has an important contributory role to play from the perspective of nutrition. If nursing mothers or babies that have been weaned have access to a good source of nutrition their chances of survival beyond the critical age of five years are greatly increased. Here are some of the ways in which Bóthar’s projects provide such nutrition:

  • A Bóthar dairy cow (Holstein Friesian) will routinely give 20 litres of milk per day
  • Bóthar dairy goats and dairy camels give up to 5 litres of milk daily
  • Bóthar poultry such as chickens and guinea fowl provide essential protein through their eggs and meat
  • Bóthar pigs and rabbits are rapid breeders and their meat is highly prized for its nutritional value
  • Honey from Bóthar’s bees is rich in many nutrients
  • Fruit and vegetables grown in kitchen gardens using animal manure as rich fertiliser add vitamins and minerals
  • Sale of surplus produce produces a cash income which may be used to purchase other foods, medicines, malaria nets, etc.

Goal 5: Maternal health

Estimates for 2005 show that, every minute, a woman dies of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. This adds up to more than 500,000 women annually and 10 million over a generation. Almost all of these women – 99% – live and die in developing countries.

Maternal mortality shows the greatest disparity among countries: in sub-Saharan Africa, a woman’s risk of dying from treatable or preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth over the course of her lifetime is 1 in 22, compared to 1 in 7,300 in developed regions. The risk of a woman dying from pregnancy-related causes during her lifetime is about 1 in 7 in Niger compared to 1 in 17,400 in Sweden.

Every year, more than 1 million children are left motherless and vulnerable because of maternal death. Children who have lost their mothers are up to 10 times more likely to die prematurely than those who have not.

- UN

The UN attributes the burden of this problem to lack of access to trained medical personnel at the time of childbirth. While this is clearly an issue that has to be tackled at government level and by NGOs and other organisations specialising in medical care, there are some aspects of Bóthar’s work that may have a tangential impact on the problem, such as the increased income and improved nutrition. It is a well-known phenomenon, moreover, that there is a correlation between a rise in education levels and a decrease in the average birthrate.

Goal 6: Major diseases

Every day, nearly 7,500 people are infected with HIV and 5,500 die from AIDS. Globally, an estimated 33 million people were living with HIV/AIDS in 2007.

The number of people living with HIV rose from an estimated 29.5 million in 2001 to 33 million in 2007. The vast majority of those living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa, where about 60 per cent of adults living with HIV in 2007 were women.

Malaria kills over 1 million people annually, 80% of whom are children under five in sub-Saharan Africa. There continue to be between 350 million and 500 million cases of malaria worldwide each year.

An estimated 250 million anti-malaria insecticide-treated bed nets are required to reach 80 per cent coverage in sub-Saharan Africa. To date, the funds committed will provide only 100 million nets – less than one half of the requirement.

In the case of HIV/AIDS, where progress had been made towards supplying affordable anti-retroviral medication to people suffering from this disease, a crucial factor in the effectiveness of the treatment is the nutritional status of the patient.

A massive effort is needed to cushion the impact of the [HIV/AIDS] epidemic, and nutritional care and support should be integral elements of any action taken.

- UN

Nutrition is a crucial component in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Like some other medications, the anti-retroviral drugs that are used to treat HIV/AIDS do not work effectively unless taken with food. Unfortunately, the side effects of these powerful drugs can be so severe that patients with empty stomachs often will simply stop taking them.

- Friends of the World Food Program

As has been written above (see Goal 4), Bóthar projects lead to a dramatic improvement in nutritional status, either directly, through consumption of the produce of the animals involved, or indirectly, through income earned from sale of surplus produce or of offspring. In Uganda, which has led the way in sub-Saharan Africa in tackling HIV/AIDS in an open and scientific manner, Bóthar supports a project where the participants are exclusively HIV/AIDS sufferers. This group, in conjunction with support received from the Ugandan Government’s TASO (The AIDS Support Organisation) is not only receiving the benefit of anti-retroviral medication, but is in a position to benefit from it through having an adequate diet. Furthermore, the animal husbandry skills and livestock received by the family will stand them in good stead and be a source of ongoing support and stability in the all-too-frequent event of the death of the AIDS patient – usually a parent.

An ancillary and very significant benefit, which also helps to combat the disease but is often overlooked, is the transformation of the mental state of the participants: from despair to hope, from shame to a sense of self-worth and from the abject plight of the utterly dependent to the dignity of people who, often against great odds, can provide for their children and assist their neighbours. The shared bond of a community uniting in mutual support and given the means to address their situation is itself a powerful weapon against any major disease.

Goal 7: Environmental sustainability

One of the main planks in all Bóthar training programmes is environmental responsibility and care of the planet. Developed countries, of course, are not in any position to lecture developing nations in this regard, as the average carbon footprint of the former – to take just one topical example – typically dwarfs that of the latter. In many cases, peoples who have lived in simple fashion for millennia tread extremely lightly on the earth, and have an ancient wisdom which places strong emphasis on preserving the natural world that sustains them, so that everything exists in harmony.

Of course, one can neither turn back the clock of history, nor stem the tide of technological advancement, but the industrialised world has incurred what may yet prove to be a catastrophic environmental cost in order to secure the benefits of “modern” living.

The contribution of a small NGO such as Bóthar is important insofar as the model of development practised for many years by Bóthar and its partners such as Heifer International promotes animal husbandry projects in a way that is both sustainable and likely to have a beneficial effect on the local environment. There are several factors that ensure this:

  • Quality of livestock
  • Regime of husbandry
  • Soil conservation
  • Soil enrichment
  • Tree cover and propagation
  • Alternative energy

Quality of livestock

In East Africa, where there are thousands of Bóthar cows, a single Holstein Friesian will produce twenty times the milk of a local breed, such as a Zebu or Ankole. Bóthar dairy goats yield a similar multiple than their native counterparts – some 5 litres daily.

In many traditional African societies there is a premium on the ownership of livestock, particularly cattle. There are many historical, practical and cultural reasons for this. Unfortunately the impact of large herds of animals grazing freely and herded by nomadic tribesmen is damaging in the extreme: soil is trampled and compacted, making it much harder for vegetation to gain a foothold; the earth is stripped of its small shading plants, leading to rapid desertification under the constant heat of the sun; with nothing to anchor the highly fertile soil, bi-annual rains wash away up to 10 tonnes per acre, opening up huge gullies in the process; dust storms are frequent in windy weather, blowing away yet more soil. Bóthar never purchases or distributes native or other animals to be kept in the traditional way – although vastly cheaper, the result would do more harm than good. Instead, Bóthar operates the zero-grazing system with high-quality animals suited to the purpose – see below.

Regime of husbandry – Zero-grazing

Bóthar animals are kept next to the homestead in a zero-grazing system. They do not roam the land freely but instead are fed and exercised within a compound built to particular specifications. This zero-grazing unit has separate areas for feeding, milking and for any offspring, as well as an exercise area. It is shaded to protect the animals from excess sunlight. An area of pasture is established next to the family home, again to a specific plan and with plants that fulfil the animals’ nutritional requirements. This is cut and chopped several times a day. Plentiful supplies of water must be to hand.

Such a system maximises the benefits both from and to the animal. In the case of both dairy cows and dairy goats the zero-grazing unit provides a comfortable and safe environment; Bóthar animals live longer and are more productive in this regime than in the intensive dairy operations practised in the first world. A major factor is the lack of stress. Animals grazing or browsing freely on the land in sub-Saharan Africa would also be easy prey to tick-borne diseases such as East Coast Fever, often fatal, whereas zero-grazed animals are protected from the ticks both by avoiding their habitat and by the regular application of pour-on acaracides.

Soil conservation

Huge areas of East Africa possess wonderful soils, of a depth and fertility we can only dream of in the developed world. Tragically, all too often this soil is being lost to desertification resulting from deforestation, overgrazing, climate change and erosion by water and wind. The scale of the problem is such that it would take concerted international action on an unprecedented scale to begin to reverse it.

On a community and domestic level, however, much can be done and is done routinely as part of projects underwritten by Bóthar. Establishing soil security is one of the principal preparatory works undertaken in the long period before animals are placed with participating families and, along with other works such as the building of zero-grazing units and training of families, must be completed before any animals will be transferred.

In hilly or sloping areas, common practice is the construction of contour belts or terracing. These are low banks, perhaps a foot in height, that follow the contours of the land around a hillside. Farmers dig them easily with a broad-bladed hoe. These low ridges can be several metres apart and they act as barriers to prevent soil being removed by rainwater run-off. The shallow drains or gullies left below each ridge also act as drainage channels, sometimes feeding a water pond on the property, or leading to an irrigation system to water nearby flat land.

The contour belts are often then planted with small trees and shrubs along their length. These can be fodder plants for livestock, or trees for fruit or medicinal purposes. Leguminous plants also add to the nitrogen in the soil.

Soil enrichment

Soil fertility is something we tend to take for granted in the developed world where artificial fertilisers are so much a part of modern agriculture – although restrictions and changes of practice are altering the picture somewhat. However, for many millions of subsistence farmers in the third world the reality is utterly different. There are no surplus funds to purchase fertiliser, particularly when family incomes, already minimal, may have been depleted by crop failure. This leads to a situation where repeated crops of staples such as maize are sown on the same plot of land year after year. Such high demand from the soil without any replenishment is unsustainable, and quickly leads to soil exhaustion and stunted plants which cannot ripen adequately.

The importance of manure, particularly from cattle, can often be overlooked, but in Bóthar’s dairy cow projects it is of inestimable value. The manure from a single cow has the capability to restore a large area of ground to high productivity, giving smallholders a valuable alternative source of nutrition through household fruit and vegetable plots. Training in these aspects of horticulture is also an integral part of the Bóthar system. Further income is earned from the sale of surplus vegetables, and the unused parts of plants are composted for addition to the soil again. An abundant variety of fruit, vegetables and herbs will thrive in the temperate climates of these dairy cow projects in countries such as Uganda, Zambia and Rwanda.

Tree cover and propagation

The topic of trees has already been touched upon in the context of anchoring soils on contour belts, and for their value in producing fruit. Trees, however, have an extraordinary range of valuable uses and properties, and tree-planting has always been an integral, if not much publicised, aspect of the Bóthar development model:

  • In addition to securing the soil with their roots below the ground, the trunks, branches and leaves of trees offer both shade from the sun and shelter from the wind
  • Many hundreds of indigenous African trees and shrubs have well-documented medicinal and curative properties, long known of by native peoples, and only now being discovered by the developed world, as richer countries seek alternative cures to many conditions.
  • Many species of trees may be used as part of the fodder diet of Bóthar animals, providing variety and helping to guard against disease
  • Leaf litter helps to replenish the soil and may be used as a mulch for vegetables
  • Leguminous shrubs add nitrogen to the soil
  • By drawing up minerals from deep below the ground, trees help to combat the micronutrient malnutrition which affects much of the world
  • Trees are also a source of building materials for houses, furniture, implements, fencing and stock shelters.
  • They enhance and protect biodiversity by providing habitats for thousands of species of creatures – animals, birds and insects.
  • All plants absorb carbon dioxide (CO2), storing the carbon (C) and releasing pure oxygen (O2) into the atmosphere
  • They provide most of the world’s rural poor (however much we might wish it were otherwise) with their only source of fuel for cooking, either directly as felled timber or indirectly as charcoal, which is also a commodity that can be sold as an alternative income when harvests have failed.
  • Trees have much cultural significance and aesthetic value; as a feature of any environment, urban or rural, they are known to be beneficial to mental health

One of the most vital of trees’ properties, of course, is the pivotal role they play in the rain cycle and in the stability of global weather patterns. In recent times we have begun to learn, at the eleventh hour, of the likely cataclysmic consequences for both the planet and the entire human race that will result from the frightening level of rainforest destruction in the tropics and the obliteration of green belts combined with the ever-growing percentage of paved surface in the richer world. These practices are shown to have contributed greatly to the abnormal rainfall patterns being experienced, as well as to freak occurrences such as widespread severe flooding in some areas and worsening drought in others; they also accelerate the rate of global warming by destroying a major means of carbon capture.

Alternative energy

Fears surrounding peak oil, energy security, global warming and sustainable industry have led to a renewed urgency in the search for new and viable forms of energy to replace traditional fossil fuel-based means of power generation. While this is clearly an issue that must be tackled at government level on a global scale by bringing large investment capital and scientific expertise to bear on research and development, smaller organisations have an important role to play on a number of fronts. Furthermore, the consciousness of the impact on the present and future generations of the choices we all make with regard to use of energy has now moved from being a peripheral concern to being a major preoccupation of all sectors of society – albeit, as many would feel, very late in the day.

Any organisation claiming to work in development must be seen to engage with these issues in the running of its own affairs, both as an example and from conviction. Bóthar endeavours to conduct its administration in a lean and efficient manner, with due regard to topics such as waste management and energy efficiency and regular reviews to see how improvements may be made.

Biogas: Just as Uganda has led the way in the tackling of HIV/AIDS in an open and scientific manner, so too have East African countries been proactive for some years in promoting the development of biogas among smallholder farmers. Many households involved with one or more dairy cows, through Bóthar, have been able to invest in the relatively simple technology that extracts methane (CH4), produced by enteric fermentation of the contents of the animals’ digestive tract. Manure is fed into a biomass digester, and the methane which is given off is piped to the dwelling house where it provides more than adequate fuel for cooking and lighting. The finished manure, when taken from the digester, is all the more efficient as a fertiliser without the methane. Furthermore, the only by-products of methane when burned are carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O). Methane can trap about 20 times the heat of carbon dioxide, in terms of global warming, so converting it in this manner is an added environmental benefit.

An issue that is often voiced by the general public with regard to charitable organisations is the scale of advertising involved, especially that conducted through paper-based publications. All charities and NGOs are acutely conscious of this, both for the aforementioned reasons and also due to the high associated costs of production, printing, distribution, postage, etc. It must be borne in mind, however, that such organisations exist primarily due to a desire on the part of a large number of people to change for the better what are viewed as serious and intractable global problems. In order to do that in a meaningful manner, any NGO must be in a position to have significant impact, both in terms of the quality of the outcomes of its interventions and of the numbers of beneficiaries of its programmes.

Unless the organisation can grow to this point, its long-term effectiveness may be in doubt, and its works, while doubtless well-intentioned and driven by conviction, can do little to ameliorate the problem. In order to achieve that growth in a time when the senses are relentlessly bombarded with high-impact commercialized imagery in all the media, NGOs have little choice but to maintain a certain level of visibility in those same areas. The alternative is an inability ever to achieve the aforementioned growth in capacity and consequent impact, or any realistic level of achievement of their goals.

A more overarching and equally important reason for investing in advertising is the urgency of keeping the issues surrounding development before the populace. The cumulative effect of this is what, ultimately, changes the tide of public opinion and brings pressure to bear on the political institutions where power for change of policy resides.

Goal 8: Global partnership

Official development assistance (ODA) continued to drop from an all-time high of $107.1 billion in 2005, to $103.7 billion in 2007.

Aid flows need to increase by $18 billion per year to meet the promise made by the G8 in 2005 of doubling aid by 2010 – an additional $50 billion annually in global aid, of which $25 billion would be for Africa.

For the average developing country, the burden of servicing external debt fell from almost 13 per cent of export earnings in 2000 to 7 per cent in 2006, creating a more favourable environment for investment and allowing them to allocate more resources to reducing poverty.

In developed countries, 58 per cent of people used the Internet in 2006, compared to 11 per cent in developing countries and 1 per cent in the least developed countries.

There is a large delivery gap in meeting commitments towards the MDG target of addressing the special needs of least developed countries (LDCs), and to provide more generous official development assistance for countries committed to poverty reduction. Efforts to step up ODA have been set back. In 2007, the only countries to reach or exceed the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income (GNI) were Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Total net aid flows from members of OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) fell to $103.7 billion in 2007, representing 0.28 per cent of the combined national income of the developed countries. Assistance to the LDCs also falls short of the commitments made. In addition to the aforementioned countries, only Belgium, Ireland and the United Kingdom have met the target of providing at least 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of their GNI in aid to the LDCs.

- UN

Through its membership of Dóchas, Bóthar is party to the efforts made in this area, and particularly in keeping to the fore the Irish government’s commitment to honour the UN target of 0.7 % of GNI to ODA by 2012, all the more important, paradoxically, in recessionary times.

In smaller ways, too, Bóthar is making a contribution, not least by its policy of cooperation with international development partners so as to avoid duplication of resources in the field. This coalition of several NGOs includes Bóthar, Heifer International (US), Heifer Nederland, Elevages Sans Frontières (France), Send a Cow (UK) and VIVA (Volunteers in Veterinary Assistance – Ireland). In the majority of its project countries, Bóthar, for example, will work in cooperation with Heifer International, underwriting financially elements of the programme which Heifer is best placed to provide, such as training and supervision, while providing other inputs, such as livestock and materials, directly.

The most significant partnership in the area of development, however, is that which comes about as a result of a rise in consciousness and awareness on the part of the citizens of developed countries as to the situation of the rest of the world. This is a partnership for engagement and for action and change; it is a dialectic which must be self-directed, as well as national and international. Bóthar’s contribution to that has always been one of empowerment, of building of bridges, of freeing people from dependency and giving them the means for self-determination. The fast-approaching target date of 2015 is a constant catalyst to maintain the work and mission of Bóthar, with the support of the Irish public, with ever-increasing commitment and vigour.

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