In the village of Bandar Kharibari in northern Bangladesh, the gift of a cow is making a crucial economic difference in the lives of families.
Through a five-year grant from the Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB), MCC is working with its partner, Bangladesh Rural Improvement Foundation (BRIF), in the northwest section of Bangladesh, the poorest region in one of the poorest countries of the world.
In the villages around Dimla, including Bandar Kharibari, most families own less than half an acre of land. Families work for larger land owners during the August to November rice growing season. There is plenty of work during the planting and harvesting times, but almost no work in the months in between, known as the monga, or the famine season.
The CFGB Monga Mitigation Project has identified 1,900 families in the region to receive a gift of a cow. Before the project, almost no one owned a cow, or if they did, they were rearing it for their landlords. Project leaders determined that livestock is a good store of value for Bengali families because the cows can be sold during times of need, rather than at a specific time like at harvest. The milk and the offspring of the cow can be sold, and women can take care of the livestock at home.
We met one woman who has reared three generations of cows. The additional income from the cows and the milk has made it possible for her to replace her thatched roof with a metal one. She is now able to send her children to school and to buy the textbooks and uniforms they need.
Another family tells us they were able to buy additional land with the money they have earned from the cows and their milk. They now sell 3.5 liters of milk each day in the marketplace.
One woman tells us that because of the gift of a cow, she has more strength and more confidence in herself.
In responding to the famine season in Bangladesh, the gift of a cow is empowering families by providing them an asset for the future rather than only providing food for their immediate needs.
Ron Byler is executive director Mennonite Central Committee U.S.