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. 


Be a part of the story & help change lives

Donate Now

Related posts

They’re Frustrating, They’re Funny, Who Are They? Your Children!

They’re Frustrating, They’re Funny, Who Are They? Your Children!

Friday, 08 May 2020 — Grace Stanton

Being a Mum can be stressful, challenging, and frustrating. There’s no instruction booklet, it’s learning as you go, it’s fall down and get back up again. It takes perseverance and courage. Being a Mum is a sacrifice. But with that sacrifice comes joy, happiness, laughter, hope, memories, and adventures.

Sometimes your children make you laugh until you cry, say the sweetest things, and actually teach you a lesson or two. In the lead up to Mother’s Day, we wanted to introduce you to some of the most amazing, hard-working Mum’s at Tearfund and their frustrating, funny children. We asked them three questions.


Read more

More Than Just Milk

More Than Just Milk

Wednesday, 11 March 2020 — Grace Stanton

Meet the Waikato dairy farmer that didn’t always want to be a dairy farmer but ended up helping change thousands of lives in northern Sri Lanka through dairy farming.

Read more

She has hope for the future

She has hope for the future

Friday, 06 December 2019 — Rosie Paterson-Lima

Chimini got married at the age of 17 as a second wife. Her and her husband have five kids to support. Life was incredibly hard and living was a daily worry. She heard about the opportunity to work abroad, and desperate to support her children, she made arrangements to leave Nepal. She went believing she would receive enough wages to send home to support her family, but she returned with only bitter experiences. Chimini, now 32 years old, is a survivor from exploitation and slavery in the Middle East. Read her story of hopelessness to hopefulness.

Read more

How Coffee Kick-Starts Community Change

How Coffee Kick-Starts Community Change

Thursday, 01 August 2019 — Sophie Rice

Earlier this year, I had the huge pleasure of joining Jeffrey Lahva, the Director of our local partner, Nasi Tuan, on his first visit to the Mojo Roastery in Wellington. Nasi Tuan is a co-operative made up of 600 indigenous farmers on Tanna Island, Vanuatu, who export green beans to New Zealand specialty coffee roasters, like Mojo and Supreme.

As a self-proclaimed coffee addict, I was already pretty excited about this trip! But I came away absolutely buzzing, having seen the impact that quality coffee and sustainable partnerships, like Mojo and Nasi Tuan’s, can make to kick-start communities recovering from a disaster.

Read more

Gardening below 0°C

Gardening below 0°C

Friday, 21 June 2019 — Sophie Rice

It’s officially the middle of winter! As we crank out our hot wheat bags, boil up mass supplies of soup, and clock-up on Netflix viewing time from our warm beds, I have recently come to know that it is utterly tropical here compared to winter in Mongolia, where we’re teaching nomadic herder communities to garden amidst the brutal conditions.

Read more

Show more