Helping farmers to help themselves

The organisation Volunteers in Irish Veterinary Assistance (VIVA) which was established by local vet, Brendan Mimnagh has been assisting farmers in impoverished countries for the last number of years through its various programmes aimed at helping farmers to help themselves.

The organisation Volunteers in Irish Veterinary Assistance (VIVA) which was established by local vet, Brendan Mimnagh has been assisting farmers in impoverished countries for the last number of years through its various programmes aimed at helping farmers to help themselves.

The organisation sources much of its funding from fundraising initiatives and donations, so when Granard Midlands Showjumping recently donated all its entry fees to VIVA, the effort was met with great appreciation.

VIVA is a Longford-based charity working with livestock farmers in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Haiti that trains and equips community animal health workers and supplies them with medicines where veterinary services are limited or do not exist. It also promotes food production through the provision of ploughs, seeds and draft oxen to poor and marginalised farmers in Uganda and the organisation has gone from strength to strength since its inception 10 years ago.

Brendan Mimnagh founded the organisation a decade ago, and speaking to the Leader this week, he said that Uganda was the main country in which VIVA operated and there has been much success with enabling farmers to develop new skills there, thanks to the generosity of those who financially support the organisation year-in and year-out.

“In Uganda, we have a programme whereby cattle are distributed to families,” he said. “This has been supported by the Irish Government for the last three years and we will know in June if it will be on board for another three years. We are always looking for volunteers to work on the ground with these farmers, teaching them new skills and so on.”

VIVA raises funds annually through a number of charity events including cycle runs and golf classics, and not just in Ireland but across the world including at venues in Morocco and Vietnam.

“The work that VIVA does is vital, because in many of the areas that we work in, there are no agricultural advisory boards, like Teagasc here in Ireland,” Mr Mimnagh added. “So people do need help and support to develop farming methods and skills.

“In Uganda, for example, we run programmes that are aimed at helping farmers to become more self sufficient and once they have learned a new skill, we would be hopeful that they would pass on that skill to someone else. We have a scheme where if a farmer is provided with two bullocks and a plough, he is provided with the necessary skills to produce food with what he has and then he would be expected to pass on the bullocks and the plough to someone less fortunate than himself, two years later.

“It is a system that works because it brings these communities together and encourages them to work together and at the same time people become more and more skilled and better able to provide for themselves and their families.”

VIVA also operates an AI Programme in Kosovo and Albania and in the three years that the programme has been running in Uganda, over 300 farming families lives have been transformed.

There have been increased crop yields and a rise in the status of women as well as additional use of income from the sales of surpluses by farmers to improve their situations. 276 Oxen and 64 ploughs have been distributed and the concept of “Passing on the Gift” has helped people across Uganda to help themselves.

“The input by the Granard Midlands Showjumping is very much appreciated, because we are a voluntary organisation and all the support locally means that we can continue with our work in countries that need it,” Mr Mimnagh concluded.