Using manure as a natural fertilizer for crops is probably something many of you practice. Those of you with livestock know how valuable it is to have a readily available source – whether it’s rabbits living in a hutch or geese you let roam through your garden, eating weeds and fertilizing as they go. For the rest of us, purchasing composted manure is as easy as going to the local garden center or big-box hardware store.
Smallholder farmers around the world have practiced traditional, subsistence farming for as long as farming has been around. They rely on their own hard work to feed themselves, because there is no other option. Buying fertilizer of any kind is often out of the question, so imagine what a difference it makes for a farming family to be able to increase their yield with manure from an animal that also provides a source of nutritious food.
Ivan and Mariana Ion live in Bistrita County, Romania. They and their four children have struggled to get by for many years, with the only reliable income being $120 each month from their 10-year-old daughter’s disability pension. Where they live, there simply are not jobs to be had. They eat mainly what comes from their garden. Every year the family grows potatoes, onions, red beans, sprouts and other produce in their vegetable garden. But their yields have never been enough to feed themselves and sell the surplus for income.
In 2013 the Ion family received a pregnant Irish heifer December 6, 2013, through Heifer International Romania’s Empowering Roma Women in the Bistrita County project. Their cow delivered her calf this past February, and the family now gets 15 liters of milk each day. Where they once had to buy milk every day for their children, they are able to meet their own needs. With the extra milk they make cheese. As they grow their herd they plan to sell milk at the collection point that is part of the Heifer project, which will dramatically increase their income.
The Ions know how valuable manure is to help increase their yields. And when your children are growing, there is such a relief in being able to feed them adequate, healthy food. With the additional manure (they have a horse and a pig), the Ions have doubled the cultivated surface of their vegetable garden, to 2,000 square meters (nearly half an acre). They have focused on growing red onions for market, for which they'll get about $1.75 per pound this fall.
Ivan said, “My children are eating natural tomatoes; even if they are small and don’t look perfect. They are healthier and tastier than anything we could ever buy.”
Ivan, Mariana and their children are raising their cow’s heifer, which they will donate to another family in their community through Heifer’s Passing on the Gift® practice. In doing so, they will not only be giving away a significant portion of their potential wealth, they will be gifting another family the opportunity to go beyond subsistence farming as they have.
It is this level of autonomy and self-reliance Heifer helps our participants achieve. It is our vision for all smallholder farmers. Ivan said, “At least we no longer have to buy milk for our children. And for the future we want to start saving money to buy another cow. With the help we received from Heifer we have a chance."
Read more smallholder farmer stories on Heifer's blog.
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