It's not easy solving poverty, reducing global child mortality or achieving pretty much any of work international aid workers take on every day. Look at our lagging progress with the Millennium Development Goals for evidence of how much work lay ahead.

So what's to be done? Who's getting it right? Where's hope to be found?

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\nMost rural Bangladeshis own an incredibly valuable asset; they just need to learn how to monetize it.\n

More than 115 million Bangladeshis live in rural villages. Those villagers don’t have much, but many do own a cow. In fact, Bangladesh has the third-largest cattle population in Asia (and the 12th-largest in the world). In theory, those bovines were the most valuable and profitable asset that poor Bangladeshis owned. The problem was that some simply did not know how to generate income from their cow.

Take the case of Yusuf Mia. In the mid-1990s, the rural farmer lost his patch of land to erosion. Forced to survive without land to farm, Mia and his family owned only a milking cow. Rather than selling its milk for money, Mia chose to rent his cow to others to generate a meager income. Among the consequences, after his farm literally disappeared, he was no longer able to send his youngest daughter to school.

It’s a story repeated in various incarnations around Bangladesh. But for Farouk Jiwa, a member of the economic development team at CARE, Mia’s story also inspired a solution.

CARE knew Bangladesh’s dairy industry was a prime area where the country’s poor could find gainful income, if only they had access to it. So the staff began working in the country’s rural north to recruit people living below the poverty line (those subsisting on $2 or less per day) into dairy farming. But just pointing them in the right direction wasn’t enough. Dairy farmers didn’t always have access to proper veterinary medicine, the ideal feed for their cows, or a stable market in which to sell their milk. Often, they got wildly different prices for their product, and on occasion, they were outright cheated. To empower rural Bangladeshis through dairy farming, CARE needed to reform the entire dairy process—from cow to market.

The revamped process, says Jiwa, is called a “value chain approach” and CARE’s project in Bangladesh is called “Strengthening the Dairy Value Chain.” “We lay out the entire system where the production is taking place,” Jiwa explains, “who the primary processors might be, who the buyers are, what their challenges might be, whether it's exporting or selling locally, identify the key constraints or bottlenecks in the value chain, and design interventions.”

After recruiting participants (CARE has 17,000 so far; the goal is 35,000 in five years), the CARE team organizes these typically landless farmers—each with one to three cows—into small dairy groups of 25 to 30 individuals. CARE then trains these collectives on issues related to the nutrition and health of their animals. The organization also teaches them how to take their product to market in bulk, resulting in fairer, more consistent prices for milk.

Farmers in the collectives learn to grow better feed, and are given access to crossbred cows and improved vaccinations. So far, the program’s cows have increased their milk production, and thus the farmers’ incomes, by an average of 50 percent.

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