Afghanistan: healthy livestock are a farmer's fortune in the south
In rural Afghanistan, healthy livestock makes all the difference. But keeping a herd healthy requires training and a source of medicines. To help farmers look after this vital asset, the ICRC last year launched a pilot project to improve veterinary services in rural communities by supporting para-vets, organizing de-worming campaigns for livestock and training farmers.
Turbaned elders, youths in sparkly caps and men with copious grey beards. The group of twenty Afghan farmers at the Etehad Agriculture and Livestock Cooperative (EALC) in Kandahar had come to take part in an animal husbandry course.
"Why is it important to keep your animals in a clean stable with light and air?" asked Dr Zaher Allakozai. An elderly man stood up. "If the stable is dirty the animals will get ill," the farmer volunteered. "Correct," said the trainer, looking pleased.
Dr Allakozai, who is head of the Livestock Section of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) in Kandahar, continued to talk about the benefits of proper stabling, choosing his words to suit his largely illiterate audience. He pointed frequently to the pictures and charts on the classroom walls.
When the session was over, everyone trooped into the compound for some practical work. Pakistan-trained Afghan para-vet Shir Shah showed them how to de-worm a sheep. Not an easy job, as the farmers realized while struggling with a sheep determined not to be de-wormed.
In rural Afghanistan, animals are not only a source of food, but also a farmer's fortune. Often, the health of a herd is the razor's edge between riches and poverty, so the farmers were eager to be trained.
At the same time, the Afghan government has been promoting the privatization of animal health services for several years, placing more responsibility on the shoulders of para-vets in rural areas.
With this in mind, the ICRC launched a pilot project in 2010 to improve veterinary services in rural communities by supporting para-vets, organizing de-worming campaigns for livestock and training farmers.
Para-vets have to meet certain criteria to join the programme. They needed to be experienced, to be living in the districts concerned and to be providing animal health services through the central veterinary field units. A farmer who wants to undergo training must have his or her own livestock, live in the community and be willing to work with the programme.
Before beginning the pilot study, the ICRC assessed the needs among livestock breeders in Kandahar. Knowledge of animal management was one of the farmers' main concerns. At the same time, low market prices and a lack of credit facilities were making things difficult economically. To make things worse, the area is prone to drought and disease and the security situation is preventing farmers from reaching livestock markets or getting to vets in towns.
The ICRC launched the pilot programme in 2010, both around the city of Kandahar and in three districts of Kandahar province. The organization is working with MAIL, the Etehad Cooperative and various other organizations, including local NGOs.
To date, 200 farmers have trained as basic veterinary workers (BVW), 41 of them women. In addition to supporting the training, the ICRC has provided selected para-vets with medicines and equipment.
Some 65,000 animals have been treated and de-wormed. As a result, they have put on weight and are more resistant to disease.
Both authorities and communities seem to appreciate the scheme, and the ICRC hopes to implement it more widely. As Shir Shah points out, "One of the strengths of the programme is that it is neutral. No one takes sides," he says. "So the people accept it." ELAC chairman Dr Allaudin Mostamand takes the same view. "The programme addresses two of the farmers' most pressing concerns; lack of knowledge and low-quality medicine," he explains. "And this encourages strong community participation."
At the dispensary, Mohammad Sadiq Agha from Panjwai district was worried about two of his kid goats, which were suffering from diarrhoea. "I only have twelve animals and I’ve lost three already," he explained. "I don't want any more to die." Dr Allakozai gave him a bottle of pink medicine and some pills.
"I have a calf that was born blind," announced another farmer. "Can you help?" He too went away with a supply of medicine.
Before going back to their villages at the end of the ten-day course, each farmer will receive a milking bucket, a feeding trough and 100 kg of animal feed from the ICRC.
They will also take with them flip charts with simple drawings, illustrating all they learned during their training. The farmers will be expected to share their new-found knowledge with other livestock owners and will provide a link between their communities and the para-vets who run the veterinary field units.
"The needs are considerable, even amongst communities close to Kandahar," comments Mathew Kenyanjui, the ICRC veterinary surgeon in charge of the programme. "Little by little we hope to expand the scheme to include the poorest farmers in more remote areas, together with Kuchi nomads. Ultimately we want to cover all four southern provinces in Afghanistan, despite the difficult security situation and the fighting."
This year, the programme is set to train 500 farmers as basic veterinary workers, while 30 para-vets will treat 150,000 head of livestock and up to 20,000 animals will be vaccinated. "We’re planning to start in Uruzgan and Helmand this year, as well as continuing our work in Kandahar," explains Mathew. "After that, we’ll move on to Zabul. We’re taking it one step at a time."