Science - September 25, 2014

Free cow too hard to feed

Albert Sikkema

Give all poor families a cow – that way we will reduce the poverty in the country, thought the government of Rwanda. Nice plan, but does it work, asked Lotte Klapwijk of Plant Production Systems.

The Rwandese government launched its ‘one cow per poor family’ campaign in 2006 as a way of combatting poverty in the country. Livestock provide milk and manure, playing a crucial role on a small farm in this region of Africa. To date, about 180,000 families have benefitted from the scheme. 

Klapwijk went to the village of Umurera in southern Rwanda to see whether this project was successful. She looked at how much land families had available, what sort of feed they used and how much milk the cow produced. It turned out that the donated cows only gave between 1.3 and 4.6 litres of milk per day. The poorest of the poor farmers in particular lacked access to good feed – they gave the cows grass, banana leaves and other plant waste. Also, the feed became scarce during the dry season.


Most of the small-scale farmers were not capable of feeding a European Holstein all year round, concluded Klapwijk. The poorest group even had difficulty finding enough feed for an indigenous cow. She proposes that in future the Rwandese government should provide livestock that requires less feed, such as goats. Klapwijk published her findings in  Agricultural Systems.