I am in Zambia this week, in part to attend the official hand-over ceremonies of livestock to recipients involved in our Copperbelt Rural Livelihood and Enhancement Support Project (CRLESP). A few days ago, I witnessed the hand-over of goats. Today, I write about the hand-over of draft cattle to 20 excited families, all members from the Kaunga Cooperative in the Masaiti district. This has been an inspiring and emotional visit, and I know we’re making a lasting impact on lives.

James Kasongo, Heifer Zambia Country Director, summed it up well as he reflected on Elanco’s partnership in this project, stating “the seed that you (Elanco) have planted in this partnership will mature and truly change the lives of our countrymen, pulling them out of poverty and bringing them to a life of hope. We will fly high, like the eagle on our national flag."

The recipient families were so proud to welcome us to their homes. Over the last five months, the families have worked hard to prepare for the precious gift they will receive. The families were trained in animal husbandry, record keeping, draft cattle training, manure handling and utilization and are well prepared to receive the animals. In addition, they received training to improve health, hygiene and sanitation. As we visit, they show us first hand all the preparations they have made on their farms in order to prepare for today. Twenty families, couples ranging in ages from 35-68, are receiving two draft heifers each and will pass on the first female offspring of each animal received.

Communal bulls and draft cattle farming equipment will be shared amongst the cooperative members. On average, about half of the group members own up to 10 hectares. This area has great potential for growing a variety of foods and livestock. But income sources have been limited to subsistence farming. They have been using hand hoes to plow their fields and burning wood to create charcoal, which is sold. With the addition of draft cattle, this scenario will change greatly, allowing members to cultivate more ground, and sell some of the crop for income.

Of interest to me was the contract each family must sign, confirming their commitment to the animals.

Although individuals receive the animals, the whole group is held accountable for any negligence or lack of care to the animals. Both the husband and wife must sign the agreement, while the group witnesses the event. From discussions and the obvious enthusiasm with the home visits prior to the official ceremony, it is evident these people will treat their livestock as if they were their children. One couple indicated that despite their ages of 58 and 65, they are willing to work very hard in order to make a new and improved life for their family. With time, they will farm more land and hope to benefit from the ability to sell crops, grow a garden and sell produce.

Attending the official ceremony was overwhelming. I find myself still reflecting on the event and digesting the impact Elanco is having on the lives of so many people. Despite the fact only 20 couples were receiving cattle, over 200 people attended the celebrations. And it was a celebration. Members from the other communities within the project traveled far – most by foot, or crammed into the back of a flatbed. Future families who are now in training and hoping to be the recipients of the pass-on gifts eagerly watched. Representatives from the various government departments were on hand, including: Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, National Food and Nutrition Commission, Ministry of Livestock, representatives from the Chief’s office, Village Water Zambia, Heifer International (USA) and Heifer International Zambia.

Dawie Pretorius (Director, Elanco South Africa) and I represented Elanco, and we were recognized and thanked numerous times throughout the various speeches and from individuals in the audience. We were even presented with a chicken as a gift of thanks!

As the celebrations ended, the women from the Kamisenga community danced and sang a verse created for Elanco: “Elanco is the walking stick, I will be able to stand taller and move forward with this stick. Even if I am a widow, I can stand with this stick.”

Indeed, I think those words reflect a life of hope ahead.