Recent decades have seen a general trend toward prosperity in much of the world, but too many people are still being left behind.1 Alleviating extreme poverty remains one of the most daunting challenges of our time. But for poor families, prosperity can come in surprising ways: through the gift of a farm animal.
From 2015 to 2019, the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide was projected to drop from 744 million to 655 million.2 The downward trend was on track to continue, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In 2020, the projected number of people in extreme poverty shot back up to 732 million. For 2021, the projected number was marginally better at 711 million.
That means a population twice that of the United States still lacks even the most basic necessities of life. They can’t afford the simple improvements that would make life easier. They can’t access decent medical care. They can’t send their children to school. These are people who live on $1.90 or less per day, which is just enough to keep them alive until the next day. By contrast, many Americans spend nearly twice that much for their daily cup of coffee without giving it a second thought.
Poverty is present in all parts of the world, but is concentrated especially in Africa. Most of the 30 poorest countries in the world are in Africa, with Central African Republic, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo topping the list.3 Relentless war, political upheaval and public corruption have all contributed to the troubles in these nations, but drought, disease and poor farming methods are also to blame.
The countries of South Asia, with their huge populations, are only somewhat better off. One-third of the world’s poor live in this region, most of them in undeveloped rural areas.4 In recent years, industrial development and rising living standards in these countries inspired high hopes. But the COVID-19 epidemic hit Asian nations especially hard. The region was already afflicted with high poverty rates and inadequate infrastructure. Most people in Asia have only limited access to clean water, sanitation facilities or medical care. And the dense population has made it all but impossible for people to maintain the social distancing required to stem the effects of the pandemic. Predictably, these conditions led to a severe COVID-19 outbreak in India and other South Asian countries, necessitating lockdowns, which exacerbated the already-severe economic problems.5 As a result, the high hopes of many people were cruelly dashed.
The Limits of Education
For those who remain impoverished—the poorest of the poor—what is the best way out? One answer is education. But for many in the developing world, pursuing and completing an education can seem almost unattainable. It may also feel of secondary importance to families struggling just to meet their immediate, everyday needs for food and shelter. People living in abject poverty have one priority: survival. Their daily agenda consists of finding enough food to live another day. And for those living in remote rural areas, even traveling to a place where education is available can be impractical at best.
But there is a path to dynamic prosperity that relies on the inherent growth potential in nature. It is accessible to people even in the poorest, most remote regions. And it has been a reliable engine of wealth creation throughout human history. Instead of investing in stocks or real estate, people of any background in any locale can invest in animals.
That’s a strange notion to those of us whose only connection to the animal world is the pets on which we lavish our attention. We buy our meat, eggs and dairy products at a market, neatly dressed and packaged. We know someone somewhere is raising the cows and chickens that feed us, but we don’t give it much thought. And the fact that these people are able to earn a living from these farm animals also escapes our attention. Yet, the same growth principles that have sustained food producers in America can also lift poor families out of poverty in Asia or Africa.
The wonderful thing about animals (and all life forms) is that they grow and reproduce. With the right care and attention, they will increase and provide their owners with lasting benefits. Just as people in the developed world rely on financial investments for their security, people in less-developed regions can rely on farm animals for their security. And like a good equity fund, that investment can grow indefinitely.
Animals as a Sign of Blessing
In the ancient world, wealth was often measured in terms of livestock. The Bible notes that “Abram [later Abraham] was very rich in livestock” (Gen. 13:2). This was confirmed by his servant, who declared, “The Lord has blessed my master greatly, and he has become great; and He has given him flocks and herds” (Gen. 24:35). Abraham’s knack for prosperity was also shared by his son Isaac, who “became very prosperous; for he had possessions of flocks and possessions of herds” (Gen. 26:13b-14a).
In the Bible, the increase of one’s livestock was recognized as a blessing from God. That belief is shared by the many faith-based groups that now provide animals for people living in poverty. GFA World, World Vision, Compassion International, Lutheran World Relief, Samaritan’s Purse, and SIM are among the agencies that provide people in poor rural areas with goats, cows, chickens, pigs and other productive animals to help impoverished people succeed. They also offer guidance to help the recipients properly care for their animals. The farming innovations that have enhanced yields in the developed countries can be applied with great success in poorer ones. Most importantly, faith-based organizations help their recipients create prosperous family enterprises, often starting with a single cow or goat. The goal is not a quick fix, but a long-term program that can lift families out of poverty for good.
Breaking the Cycle of Poverty with a Cow
Taden’s story is typical of the kind of transformation a single animal can make in a family’s life.6 As a laborer in a poor Asian community, Taden had few options and little hope. He despaired to think his children would have to endure the same multi-generational poverty he had inherited.
“I couldn’t afford a very nice life for my family,” he recalls, “and I used to feel very angry at myself at times, very sad with myself because of the situation I was in.”
A local pastor saw Taden’s plight and arranged for him to receive a cow, funded by GFA World.
“We were really overjoyed,” Taden recalls, “because we did not have anything in our house to call our own. But we felt that if we got the cow, we could really improve our lives.”
Soon, the cow gave birth and began producing milk. Taden and his family began milking the cow twice daily and selling the milk. That enabled them to meet their basic needs and do something that would have been unimaginable before: send their children to school. The cycle of poverty, which seemed so unbreakable for so long, was finally ending.
Now, with two cows in his possession, Taden began to think entrepreneurially.
“I had observed others who were raising goats,” he says, “and I came to know that the goats, they bear kids once every five months.”
Seeing a potential second source of income, Taden sold one of the cows and bought a pair of goats. They soon gave birth to two kids, which Lavish sold, earning as much as he would have made in six months of working. Now, he could afford new clothes and schoolbooks for his kids. Life was looking up at last. Taden was overcome with gratitude.
“I would like to thank those who have helped me get the cow as a gift,” he says. “My life has definitely been blessed 100 percent.”
World Vision, another NGO, has refined the practice of providing microloans—funds that help aspiring farmers and entrepreneurs get started in their chosen enterprises. The amount needed to begin a thriving business in a developing country can be astonishingly small compared to Western standards. And for many, it all starts with the acquisition of a single animal.
Like World Vision, Heifer International leverages support from governments and private organizations along with individual donations to create opportunities for aspiring farmers. The organization recognizes that “ending poverty begins with agriculture” and works to build “inclusive, resilient economies” in the areas it serves.7
For over 40 years, GFA World has been serving people’s physical and spiritual needs. Now active in 18 Asian countries, GFA World has also recently begun ministering in Africa. Along with providing animals for families, GFA World missionaries serve the community through providing things like educational opportunities for children, vocational training and resources for life. In water-starved regions of Asia, GFA World installs wells using local labor, and trains the local pastor and congregation on how to maintain them for the long term.
Like other similar organizations, GFA World offers donors a range of suggested gift amounts, which can provide chickens for a needy family or improve an entire village. It describes the cows, goats, pigs and chickens as “income-producing animals,” which affirms their real purpose of providing ongoing, sustainable food or financial resources for the family. Donors can feel confident they’re providing more than a few meals for the families they help. Their gifts can actually spark a permanent change for people who just need a helping hand to get a fresh start.
Faith-based organizations help their recipients create prosperous family enterprises, often starting with a single cow or goat. The goal is not a quick fix, but a long-term program that can lift families out of poverty for good.
Relief agencies that work in the developing world recognize that providing live, useful farm animals to people in need is more effective than simply giving money. With that well-established principle in mind, they can approach potential donors with a simple, attractive proposition. “Donate a goat” is a straightforward message with immediate appeal to those who want to help the less fortunate. For a gift as small as $140, a donor can provide a family with two goats that will help lift them out of destitution. Those who give can feel confident their contributions are providing real, lasting benefits to real people.
For these nonprofits, helping people defeat poverty is a tangible expression of their faith. “God’s love must be demonstrated in more ways than just through words,” says Bishop Danny Punnose of GFA World. “It must be seen, felt and experienced! Providing these life changing gifts to these precious people who are in great need is an opportunity for us to love them practically and see their lives lifted out of their hopeless state.”
If obtaining an animal seems like an unlikely way to achieve success, it’s important to remember what the alternatives are for the poorest of the poor. They often work as day laborers, barely making a subsistence wage—when they can find work at all. Some will resort to picking through garbage for food and usable items. And for others, the sex trade is a cruel option of last resort. But with even a few animals, those same people can enjoy a wide range of new opportunities.
The first benefit is having enough food to eat—which is always an urgent priority for the desperately poor. Besides the meat they provide, cows and goats supply nutrient-rich milk that can sustain an entire family and more. And when animals begin to reproduce, things change dramatically. Families can sell their animals or the meat. Then, with a surplus of funds, they can begin to consider things that would have been out of reach before, such as health care and medicine. Family members who were incapacitated by disease can become productive again. The children can go to school instead of being condemned to a lifetime of manual labor. Families can improve their dwellings and acquire amenities that make life tolerable—even enjoyable—instead of miserable. In other words, they can begin to experience the enhanced quality of life that people in the developed world routinely expect. With their basic needs met, they can start to focus time and attention on more rewarding pursuits. Instead of a cycle of poverty, they can enter a cycle of prosperity. And, perhaps for the first time, life can seem worthwhile.
Creating a Manageable Menagerie
Cursed No More
Raylea’s plight was, if anything, even more dire than Taden’s.12 She was a widow in an Asian society where widows are not highly esteemed. They are commonly considered cursed and are even blamed for their husbands’ deaths. Raylea was the mother of two young children. From her humble position, she struggled to provide for them every day. But her outlook was bleak indeed.
Things changed for Raylea when she received two income-producing goats through a GFA World Christmas gift distribution. The goats’ milk provided her children with much-needed protein and calcium for their growing bones. Importantly, the goats also enabled Raylea to earn money that would change her family’s circumstances for good. At last, she was able to provide her children with new clothing, more food and even school uniforms. Raylea expressed her gratitude by donating a goat to her local church, so another needy family could enjoy the same blessing she had received.
Love that Makes a Difference
Some people are so impoverished that affording even a chicken seems out of reach. That was the case with Mayra, another widow in Asia who was struggling to survive.20
“I actually wanted to have chickens for a long time,” she said, “but I did not get the chance to buy them because I do not have any source of income now.”
Mayra had lived with her son since the death of her husband and daughter. Her son had a paying job, but it couldn’t come close to meeting their needs.
Mayra was one of 10 widows who caught the attention of the Sisters of Compassion, a GFA World group of specially trained women missionaries. They had determined to give a pair of chickens to each of these widows with the hope of providing them with some income for the long term.
“These widows are extremely poor,” observed Anhithi, one of the Sisters of Compassion involved with the project. “Some of them don’t even have proper utensils or basic household things in their house. I believe giving this small gift will really mean a lot to them. They can earn something for their family.”
Mayra was especially grateful to receive her unexpected gift.
“I am really happy to receive this pair of chickens,” she said. “But I am so happy because of your love and concern for me. … I believe this chicken will help me to raise at least some amount of income in the days to come.”
“I have never received any gift before …”
Neha was another of the widows who received a gift of chickens from the Sisters of Compassion.21 It changed her circumstances for good. She had spent much of her life struggling to provide for her four children, raising pigs and working as a day laborer.
“I really did not expect anything like this,” she said after receiving her birds, “and I have never received any gift before.”
Years of struggling on her own, expecting no help from anyone, were now in the past. At last, Neha’s dream of a better life for her children seemed within reach.
“I am so thankful to you for giving [me] this pair of chickens,” she said. “I believe they will be a great help in raising some amount of money and will help with my children’s schooling. I will take care of them safely so that they will produce many chickens.”
A Cruel Challenge—and an Inspired Solution
One of the most dramatic illustrations of how raising animals can benefit the disadvantaged comes from a sequestered leprosy community in South Asia. For many leprosy victims in these regions, the stigma associated with this condition often pushes those afflicted with it to the margins of society. Their physical handicaps and separation from society make it difficult for them to earn a living outside of begging. But in one community, the residents have discovered an ingenious way to overcome their challenges: raising goats.
Because leprosy often results in nerve damage, leaving fingers disfigured, leprosy patients can’t perform many of the strenuous tasks that would be required for rearing large animals or shear sheep. But they can raise goats, which require little hands-on care—an answer to their dilemma. With their goat herds, they can earn what they need to survive each month—and live with dignity instead of begging in the streets.
These stories reveal the life-changing benefits that can come from raising farm animals. And they show the profound impact compassionate gifts can have on those who are struggling in life.
Even a Small Gift Can Make a Big Impact
Alleviating extreme poverty around the world remains one of the most daunting challenges of our time. But there are effective ways to help poor families overcome impoverishment, like the gifting of income-producing farm animals.
It’s easy to change a life by donating a goat, cow, pig or even a chicken to a deserving family in the developing world. There are many organizations that facilitate this, and many opportunities to do so. A gift that entails only a small sacrifice can bring a lifelong change for people struggling to survive. And for those who give, the blessings far outweigh the sacrifices.