Knowledge for better food systems

Livestock donations to Zambian households yield higher income, improved diet

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture (Flickr, creative commons licence, Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Poor households in developing countries are sometimes included in livestock programmes by humanitarian organisations whereby they are given a cow, a pair of oxen, or a herd of goats. This paper analyses the impacts on the food security of recipients in these kinds of programmes and finds that the effect is positive. 

It concludes that dairy cows, draft cattle and goats increase dietary diversity and consumption expenditure and that the effect of the program is substantially greater than a cash gift of equivalent value.

The study shows that livestock transfers significantly increased peoples' incomes and that there was a large, rapid, sustained increase in consumption expenditures.  In total, 300 households in five communities in the Zambian Copperbelt province were interviewed five times over a three-year period. The results also suggest that the benefits even spread to families who did not receive an animal experiences, via, for example increased access to milk.


Smallholder livestock ownership has potential to enhance food security by raising incomes of the poor and by increasing the availability of nutrient-dense foods. This paper exploits the staggered rollout of livestock distribution by Heifer International in Zambia to identify the effects of livestock using statistically similar treatment and control groups in a balanced panel of households. Results indicate that livestock ownership improves dietary diversity through both direct consumption of animal products produced on farm and through increased consumption expenditures. Further results indicate that expanded livestock ownership alters the local food economy to influence food consumption by households lacking farm animals.


Jodlowski, M., Winter-Nelson, A., Baylis, K., Goldsmith, P. D., (2016) Milk in the Data: Food Security Impacts from a Livestock Field Experiment in ZambiaWorld Development, 2016; 77: 99 DOI:10.1016/j.worlddev.2015.08.009

Read the full paper in World Development here and see coverage by Science Daily here.

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The 54 countries in Africa – from the dry northern African nations, through those in deserts and rainforests, all the way to the temperate parts of South Africa – are hugely varied in their ethnic, cultural, climatic, geographic, and economic aspects. The continent’s population of over a billion inhabitants, with a median age of 19.7 years, is the youngest in the world. Due to both its localised epidemics of hunger and its huge untapped agricultural potential, Sub-Saharan Africa specifically is a key focus area for many NGOs and development agencies interested in food production and security.

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