Dignity through self-sufficiency

for the people of Rwanda


What a difference a cow makes

Msaada began sending exotic dairy cows (as high-yielding Friesians are known in Africa) to Rwanda in 2013.

The total number of cows sent to date is 150 and these have resulted in about 200 families being lifted out of poverty. This is because the first female calf is passed on to a neighbour to spread the benefit.

It is difficult to overstate the profound impact that an exotic dairy cow can have on an impoverished Rwandan family:

Milk provides protein for the family's diet immediately improving the family's health.

Surplus milk can be sold for up to £3.00 per day, lifting the family well above the UN defined poverty line of about £1.20.

Manure from the cow is used to increase crop production and this in turn adds an additional 50p to £1 to the family's income.

Biogas from the manure is used for cooking and lighting in the home, which means no more cooking on open fires. This significantly reduces respiratory diseases caused by inhaling the fumes from an open fire, which are a major killer in the developing world.

No more trees are cut down thereby protecting the country's dwindling tree resources.

The income enables a family to pay for their own children's school fees, removing the need to rely on charity to fund education.

The family becomes self-sufficient. Independence and dignity are restored.

The first female calf is passed to a neighbour, and this passing on of the gift continues with each pass-on ensuring that the project continues to grow indefinitely.


Flavia lives with her two children. Before she got her Msaada cow, they lived in abject poverty.

She now considers herself to be well-off. Her children are no longer malnourished and the sale of milk allows her to send the children to school.

She has installed biogas to replace the relatively expensive and health-damaging charcoal and firewood.

Selling milk has helped her to refurbish her house and buy clothing.

The manure fertilises her vegetable garden.

Flavia told Msaada:

"I used to be very small and unhealthy, but now I am strong and healthy. I used to have severe trauma but I no longer have trauma because I am no longer poverty-stricken.

"I live happily with the families of the genocide perpetrators. They help me to look after my cow."

    Dairy Cow Project

Msaada's dairy cow project aims to enable genocide survivors of the Rwamagana district in eastern Rwanda, and their families, to become self-sufficient.

Then, once that is achieved, to move on to open a dairy co-operative creamery which will create off-farm jobs and contribute to the country generally through the generation of tax revenues. This will allow the co-op members to add value to their milk, bringing in additional income for the family.

The cow project involves sending in-calf dairy heifers from Europe to Rwandan families, enabling them to earn their own living through the sale of surplus milk and extra crops grown as a result of using the cow's manure as a fertilizer.

European cows have around 10 times greater milk productivity than African breeds and can thrive in Rwanda's climate when looked after properly.

Whenever possible, Msaada seeks to provide cows to females, and the women are given a cow only after receiving extensive training in its care, including learning how to grow and harvest the crops needed for feed. They also have to build a zero-graze unit for the cow using locally sourced materials with the help of other community members. The cows are presented on condition that the owners will donate the first female calf to the next family in the scheme. This pass-on process is continued repeatedly. In this way the initial investment in a single heifer can go on to aid many families.

The cost of getting the cow to the Rwandan family is £2,500, which includes the air transport costs, training and monitoring. The cows are generally donated by Irish dairy farmers and are sourced through Msaada's Irish partner, Bóthar, who have been involved in dairy projects in the developing world for over 20 years.

While the initial cost of £2,500 seems relatively high, it is diluted significantly over time as calves from the cow are passed on to other families, and the original recipients start milking additional cows born through an artificial insemination scheme. This scheme uses AI straws, from high quality Irish bulls, which are provided by Msaada to the Rwanda Agriculture Board.

In this way a single heifer can result in 10 high-yielding dairy cows being on the ground in Rwanda within 10 years, all for the initial cost.