In recent times, we have noted that many land-based interventions take the landless, among the outermost fringes of the rural earning groups, only minimally into account. Owning little or no land or landed assets such as homestead land or agricultural fields, landless families generally have small animals like goats, chicken, or pigs to help tide over urgent monetary needs as well as ensure a certain level of nutritional adequacy.
AFPRO main thrust in livestock management has been in capacitating the poor in owning, and maintaining, their livestock assets. All the long-term watershed development projects are increasingly focusing on fulfilling the water and fodder requirements for the village livestock. In the Rayalseema Watershed Development Project, for instance, watering holes were made and earmarked specially for the use of animals belonging to landless households. Another program is the revolving fund for goats, used mainly by women. A woman takes a loan from the group and buys a certain number of goats. When their numbers double, she sells off half the number and returns the loaned amount to the group, which then loans an amount to another woman.
Another major approach in livestock development was one of training village-level animal health workers in basic veterinary skills. These ‘Barefoot Veterinary Technicians’, as we call them, act as life savers for livestock in remote villages out of reach for veterinary doctors, and in so doing, earn an extra income. Self-help groups operating in villages identify the potential trainees. The usual criterion for selection is school education up to Class X and dropouts from higher classes. The participants help to streamline the training schedule according to the specific needs of the village and an understanding of the common veterinary problems. The emphasis thus varies from state to state. In Maharashtra, the thrust is on cattle, buffaloes and goats. In Rajasthan it is on camels, sheep and goats; while in the North-East, it is on rearing pigs and broilers.
Trained technicians have reported earning Rs. 800 – Rs. 3000 per month. They often write back to our livestock section to seek advice on exceptional problems. An indicator of enhanced animal health in the villages is the fact that income from providing para-veterinary services goes down over a period of time! This was reported to us in the refresher courses we hold for the technicians every six months. Apart from allopathic vaccines and other preventive measures, safe calving techniques and cross breeding, the training programme also covered locally obtainable herbal medicines.