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Independent.ie

Monday 5 December 2016

A helping hand in the hard times

Bóthar battles to maintain aid operations despite cutbacks

John Rainsford

Published 31/08/2010 | 05:00

The ongoing flood disaster in Pakistan has affected the lives of over 12m people. The United Nations estimates that at least 1,600 have died and 1.4m acres of crop land remain flooded. More than 10,000 cows have perished as a result.

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Despite these depressing statistics, disasters such as that in Pakistan underline the important work being done by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in less-developed countries (LDCs).

Typical of these would be Bóthar, whose field partners will work together to rebuild the lives of those suffering when the aid work in Pakistan shifts from emergency to rehabilitation. Already there is a growing realisation within Pakistan that feeding the embattled nation's livestock herd is a key element of the aid effort, with agencies recognising that maintaining this vital food and wealth- creating resource is vital in helping to rebuild the country's economy.

Their goat, cattle and buffalo projects, for example, will become the basis for recovery in Pakistan in future years.

While we praise these efforts at times of crisis, during times of recession they can be quickly forgotten in a frenzy of cost cutting. Indeed, Bóthar has lost some 30pc of its fundraising revenue over the past two years and some projects in LDCs have had to be suspended for the time being.

Peter Ireton, chief executive officer of Bóthar, who is from a farming background, explains: "We continue to get support from the Department of Foreign Affairs through their Irish Aid section and through 'Heifer International', a partner organisation based in the USA. Recently we jointly helped two new farm aid agencies to set up in France and Holland."

While Bóthar relied on farming organisations for 100pc of its funding in 1991, that figure has dropped to 25pc and most of the organisation's support now comes from the non-farming public.

This situation reflects fundamental changes in Irish society as much as anything else, with farmer numbers having fallen significantly over the past two decades.

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As part of their own survival strategy Bóthar has strengthened its contacts with partners in the USA and also in Britain (Send A Cow).

'Heifer International' has its headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas, home to former governor of Arkansas and later US president Bill Clinton. He remains a great supporter today.

"We are decreasing the number of projects we run currently due to the fall-off in funding and in some cases suspending projects in certain countries. We have more on our plate than we can handle currently," Mr Ireton explains.

Seed

"We continue to put the emphasis on training, infrastructure and livestock, however. We see ourselves as planting a seed while spreading our aid around. We are looking at new countries all the time. We do not stay in countries forever -- we plant the seed and leave it to native people to take on our role."

Their main objectives remain unchanged, though -- namely to raise funding, apply programmes and report to donors.

Members continue to fundraise at fairs, marts and dances, as well as using direct marketing via newspapers, TV and mail shots.

Their overall strategy revolves around raising the profile of the organisation and educating the public about what they do. Currently the agency has a number of new ideas for fundraising including running Golfwithstars.com, an online raffle, set up last year, to allow winners an opportunity to play with celebrity golfers. This year's event will take place at the K-Club on October 22.

An annual fashion show called 'Rugby Rocks Fashion' was held at Thomond Park in Limerick in April. There will be another event on October 14 at the new Aviva Stadium in Dublin in association with Dundrum Town Centre.

Limerick-based modelling agency founder Celia Holman Lee has been co-opted to organise these shows.

"We have learned a lot from the recession and we would do things differently in future, I would hope," Mr Ireton explains.

The current bout of 'crisis management' is a long way from the euphoria that greeted the agency's inception. Officially launched on June 29 1991, it was showcased to the public in August of that year at the Limerick Agricultural show.

The first airlift of 20 in-calf dairy heifers took place on December 10 1991. Further deliveries, including goats, followed to Uganda.

The organisation is now 19 years old but moving livestock from Ireland is only 15pc of their workload today.

"Today we are moving more towards purchasing indigenous animals from the region we are working in, which is more economical. Water buffalo, for example, are now our biggest livestock species but we also cater for camels, fish, and even bees. We source them often in neighbouring countries so we are a bit like Robin Hood in that way.

"Every poor man wants a cow. Exotic stock, however, requires a higher level of management than indigenous stock but they are also more productive. Our cows produce 20 times the milk of an African cow. This is due to genetics, as in the West we breed livestock to be productive, but you need to train the family receiving the cow. This ensures that the animal remains healthy and thrives for years."

As a result they are now seeing huge progress in countries like Uganda, where hundreds of families are better off as a result of their efforts.

"We are trying to bring communities to the next level beyond mere subsistence farming. For example, one of our projects is trying to establish local creameries in Africa using an Irish model invented by Horace Plunkett over 100 years ago.

Shortages

In Africa the issues involved in a typical creamery start-up are very different from those experienced in a livestock start-up, due primarily to shortages of electricity, water supply and other basic requirements.

The agency, therefore, always seeks the support of governments first before starting up, even though acquiring the relevant documentation can be a time-consuming process.

"Co-operatives are wealth-generating devices. We would normally require 200 cows in a community to establish a creamery, although each farmer may have as little as one or two cows.

"Currently we have democratically elected boards running creameries in countries like Malawi and Uganda. Each board is made up of local farmers."

Although the dairy sector is small in a region noted for its mineral wealth, the knock-on effects can be enormous. As soon as a creamery opens in a town, new shops begin to grow up around it. Farmers come into town to get paid once a week when they deliver milk to the creamery, often by bicycle. They then have money to spend on household goods and materials for the farm.

"If a man has three cows he can afford an employee in Africa," says Mr Ireton. "We consider that we get more bang for the Irish buck today and we use the infrastructure of sister organisations to channel funds cheaply to our target market."

Bóthar has come a long way since its foundation but as recent events in Pakistan have shown, the world is still very much in need of its services.

Irish Independent