Established almost 40 years ago, Project Mercy’s dairy farm spreads across 40 hectares of land in Chacha, Amhara. The owners of Project Mercy – Marta Gabre-Tsaddik, the first woman Senator of Ethiopia under the late Emperor Haile Selassie and her husband Deme- have made it their life mission to improve the nutritional status of those in their surrounding communities.
“Those that we are serving in Chacha are people whose income is so very low that they cannot afford milk for their children,” expresses Marta. “So what we are doing is to give them pregnant heifers and train them on how to take care of them. But this is not a handout. They’re going to have to pay something for it.”
These are not ordinary heifers. These heifers are a result of a cattle project led by the USAID Agricultural Growth Program-Livestock Market Development (AGP-LMD). Because the local Ethiopian breed have low milk yields, the Project Mercy-distributed heifers are crossbred with the Jersey breed using artificial insemination.
When Project Mercy first began the insemination process in 2011, it did not have the necessary equipment and proper training to meet its potential. In 2013, AGP-LMD initiated its competitive grant program, Project Mercy applied and became an official grantee.
Throughout the past three years, AGP-LMD has significantly improved Project Mercy’s operations by building its capacity. AGP-LMD facilitated the sourcing of the Jersey semen through a privately owned Ethiopian company called ALPPIS (Addis Livestock Production and Productivity Improvement Service). Additionally, AGPLMD provided critical trainings and tools to better equip the Project Mercy staff. “One of the main problems we had was the detection of the heat period,” explained Project Mercy’s farm manager Tadele Habtu (pictured left). “Now that problem is solved because of USAID.” Conducting trainings and sourcing Jersey semen may not seem like it could make a big impact, but it is considerably changing the lives of those in Amhara. Currently, Project Mercy owns 280 cattle and employs 23 workers from the local community- jobs that would not be available if their operations continued at its 2011 pace. Insemination success rate stands at 70%, a number that Tadele proudly shares. And as a result of AGP-LMD technical workshops, Project Mercy’s staff has better knowledge of barn management and feeding. This information is relayed to each family that buys a heifer – helping to ensure the sustainability of their purchase. But the number that speaks to the heart of Marta and Deme is that the crossbreed provides up to 14 liters of milk per day.
“My vision for Chacha is to have a lot milk giving cows, so that children in this area will grow healthy having plenty of milk,” remarks Marta. Because of AGP-LMD, her vision is becoming a reality.