Mafisa creates conditions that make it possible for farmers to succeed

Pastoralists are trapped in a cycle of low incomes, low productivity and low output. Alternative livelihoods are environmentally damaging, further reducing productivity and resilience. 

Mafisa offers the whole community a way out of the pastoralist poverty trap, boosting productivity, increasing incomes, improving nutrition, and restoring the environment. 


At present, 51% of animals in Zambia’s smallholder herds die before they are sold (IAPRI). The vast majority of these deaths would be averted with better animal health services and herd management. 

Mafisa delivers evidence-based services and training that will improve health and reproduction, reduce mortality to very low levels and doubling calving rates (World Bank). 

Herd development

The low prices on offer in remote communities deter sales, so farmers keep male animals much longer than makes sense. This raises emissions, costs and likelihood of death, and reduces income. Our baseline also shows that average herd size has 10 animals, with 52% males. These herds can’t grow, and are at high risk of breakdown.

Mafisa helps farmers build well-composed, healthy herds of 20 animals, which is enough to provide for household needs (World Bank). 

Traditional herd of 20 adult animals –
current norms

  • 10 reproducing cows / heifers
  • 35% calving rate
  • One calf dies in first year
  • Net of 2 or 3 live calves per year
  • Barely compensates for adult mortality rate - herd does not increase, sales are rare

Mafisa herd of 20 adult animals –
target performance

  • 17 reproducing cows / heifers
  • 75% calving rate
  • Greatly reduced mortality for calves and adults
  • Net of 12 live calves
  • Sales of three year old steers grow rapidly


Currently, farmers sell animals at less than half of the fair market price. Informal traders take an excessive share out of the value chain, depriving farmers of income that could be used to invest in improved productivity. Working with Zambeef PLC, we are bringing formal sector buyers closer to pastoralist communities.


Mafisa’s baseline shows that women are 40% less likely to own cattle than men, and among those that do, herds are 36% smaller. Young people are even less likely to own cattle. Our cattle loan selection process ensures that women and youth are well represented. At present, 42% of farmers enrolled for Mafisa cattle lending are women, in a region where one-third of households are female-headed.


Over 90% of households in communities we work in are poor. Our baseline shows that three-quarters of households don’t have enough to eat throughout the year. Households where milk is available do better all year round – even in the season when food is most readily available, they are 30% more likely to have adequate diet composition.

The measures being introduced by Mafisa are estimated to increase milk production by up to fivefold (World Bank), improving nutrition in the target communities.

Why does Mafisa work?

We offer farmers something they really want.

Mafisa experience shows that farmers want health services, and are willing to pay. Farmers who want to start or expand herds also want cattle loans - as local herds have depleted there are not enough animals on offer to meet demand.

We own the cattle throughout the period of the loan.

As with traditional mafisa, we own the cattle through the contract period. This means the free animal health programme can be mandatory, and enables us to access insurance.  

We create value in maintaining indigenous forest.

Traditional grazing practices use forest and seasonal wetlands in rotation. With Mafisa, forests have value as part of the grazing system. Mafisa aims to draw in other partners for carbon trading, honey and tree oils.