You have nine mouths to feed and an income of only $50 a month. There are days without food. Days spent worrying if basic living expenses will be covered. This was the reality for Teresa Alberto João Danasio and her husband, Jemute Manuel Chaona. With three children and several relatives to care for, this family in Mozambique was severely limited by insufficient income.
“It used to tear me up inside when my children would come back from playing, staring at me, and for me as their mother to have no food for them,” Teresa recalls. “We have a saying in Mozambique that happiness comes from the stomach. So, if the kids are hungry, it means that they are sad. As a mother, this really affected me.”
A dairy cow named Teresinha changed all of that. Yes, a single cow.
Through a USDA-funded Food for Progress program implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, the couple received a Jersey heifer. With the profit made from selling milk, they’ve since tripled their income. But before they saw results, there was training, a learning curve, laughter and even some initial skepticism.
The big decision
Teresa had the idea of reaching out to Food for Progress. With projects taking place in developing countries around the world, the program has two principal objectives: to improve agricultural productivity and to expand trade of agricultural products.
In Mozambique, 4,050 smallholder farmers, those who typically farm on less than an acre of land and live in geographically dispersed area, have received training on animal and plant health, improved farming methods and more. With these new skills in place, the program has then linked farmers to a commercial dairy industry in Maputo, Sofala and Manica provinces.
Jemute, however, wasn’t immediately sold on the idea. He’d heard of the program, but knew letting cows graze freely was discouraged. And feed for even one cow is a significant financial commitment.
But the couple’s biggest concern was what it would mean for Teresa’s education. At the time, Teresa was busily trying to complete 10th grade and did not want to drop out, especially considering her children weren’t far behind her in their studies.
After a little convincing from Teresa, the couple decided to give it a try and see what might happen. And so, the two of them began tag-teaming to make this new opportunity work.
“When I made the decision, it was really a challenge for me, but I continued studying,” Teresa says. “My husband would wake up early morning and go to his work, while I went off to school. Then, around 9 a.m., we’d both escape from work and school to attend our dairy trainings, and then we’d head back to work and school when we could.”
Since successfully completing Land O’Lakes’ training was a prerequisite to actually receiving a cow, Teresa was skeptical her efforts would come to fruition. But within a few weeks of passing her course, life began to change.
When the cow arrived in July 2014, Teresa says her family exploded with emotion, and the cow quickly became a critical part of their lives. Fittingly, their cow was given the name of Teresinha— or “small Teresa.”
“I’m happy that Teresa is bringing in this income, and I’m not threatened that she’s earning more than me. It means our financial burden is alleviated, and I’m not threatened by the fact that the family isn’t entirely relying on my income anymore,” Jemute explains. “In fact, it means I actually have a little more time to breathe, and to be a real father to my children.”
While they cannot say the income from Teresinha’s milk covers all their needs, the couple says it has significantly minimized their financial burden. They are easily able to pay for their children’s school uniforms, and school lunches, so that they can concentrate better while studying. They are also setting a portion of their earnings aside to pay for the feed that Teresinha needs to remain healthy and productive. And Teresa imagines things will only get better.
“Where I once doubted myself, I can now envision a future where my female calf grows up and starts milking. That means in a year or two, I will have two cows, and then three. This will really put me in a great situation,” she says. “I was a person who had no hope, and I wasn’t even aware that this could be my life. But now, I really feel like a new Teresa—a proud mother able to meet my household needs.”