Kevin Riddell is a senior programme specialist for Tearfund. But he spends the majority of his time working behind the scenes in Sri Lanka’s north helping the locals run one of Tearfund’s biggest projects. Kevin has been working for Non-government organisations (NGOs) for over 30 years and has been working for Tearfund for 10 years. He has a background in engineering and had no desire to work for an NGO or to travel, but God had other plans.

"I have been blessed by God and I want to spend my whole life blessing others.” 

After the devastating Sri Lankan war ended in 2009, many farming families lost everything. Including their main source of income, rice. This was because 30 percent of households lost a man and rice-farming is traditionally a man’s job, leaving few ways for women to earn an income for their families. 

Tearfund’s post-war dairy project started shortly after the war ended and was birthed out of one woman’s dream, Selina. Selina is Sri Lankan and is the CEO and driving force behind Yugashakthi, Tearfund’s partner in the country. At the time the war ended she saw a tremendous need for displaced families and wanted to do something about it. 
 

Selina.jpgSelina is the driving force behind Sri Lanka's dairy project in Sri Lanka

“I remember after my first visit, I became so passionate about this project. I knew as a Christian I had to do something about their (post-war) situation. Families were really struggling, “Kevin says. 

Traditionally, the locals always milked their cows for personal use. They were selling milk locally, but there wasn’t any real income from dairy. Tearfund, Selina and her team saw dairy as an opportunity for farmers because it was adding to their traditional dairy farming knowledge. Tearfund could now add Kiwi expertise to it and see them linked to a supply chain where they could sell it!  


“The average production per day achieved by farmers in the beginning was less than 2L of milk a day. Now the average is getting up to 8L per day!” Kevin says. 
 

Watch this beautiful video about the project
that Kevin is involved in,


Dairy farming is better than rice farming because during the dry season they can’t grow rice as it requires more intensive monsoon rains, whereas dairying requires less water and it is about managing your well water supply. So that even in the middle of a drought, they can still sell milk. 

“The average income they were earning before this programme was NZ$50 a month. The poverty line in Sri Lanka is NZ$120 a month. By helping them to improve the way they care for their cows and getting them to think that milk income could be a better supplement to an annual seasonal income (unlike unpredictable rice), they could earn a monthly cheque for their families.” 

“We’ve managed to lift the average monthly income to about NZ$200 through dairying. They can start budgeting which they have never been able to do before.” 

“This project works by not only just making them better farmers but organising them into groups. Instead of taking a loan from a loan shark who will charge more than 50 percent interest, they just pay 6 percent back and it goes into the farmer cooperative and amongst themselves. This breaks the debt cycle which many poor farmers get caught up in,” Kevin says. 

Now the farmers are making traditional products like ghee, curd, milk candies, yoghurt and fresh milk. Not only do the farmers benefit but the communities do as well. 

“This is what we call empowering communities by empowering farmers. In the end, it builds a better future for Sri Lanka.” 

“Any farmer can join the programme in Sri Lanka. We have close to 5000 people signed up.  We hope to see 10,000 farmers signed up to the programme over the next two-three years and that’s where we now need the support of Kiwis through our current campaign, In Every Season.” 

“We are one of the only NGOs still there. If you want to see communities move on from disaster or wars and establish a new life, you have to commit to seeing them through until they’re back on their feet.” 

“The main goal for our dairy expansion programme is to reach 150 communities across nine districts in the three northern dry zone provinces. Our goal is to see all of the dry zone eventually reached.” 

“This is one of Tearfund’s most successful projects and I’m proud of it,” Kevin says. 

 


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