Pashu Sakhi – An alternative livestock extension approach

With access to knowledge and inputs, the goat rearers of Gondia district in Maharashtra are able to make a decent livelihood with goat rearing. A community based alternative extension system which is women centric, has also brought out a positive change in the lives of women and in the communities.

Small livestock, like goat, sheep, pig and poultry is a critical source of livelihoods for rural poor, especially for women, in developing and underdeveloped countries, including India. Small livestock are perceived to have several benefits. According to field studies, small livestock serve as a source of income, as assets which could be encashed in times of emergency, as source of nutrition (milk and meat), as a source of medicine (milk), and as gifts during ceremonies.

One of the many problems that the livestock farmers have been facing is high mortality and morbidity of animals. High mortality and morbidity of goats leads to economic, social and mental stress, making rural households highly vulnerable. Women are the worst sufferers of such tragedies owing to their high involvement with small livestock. Also, they take care of ailing animals, which consumes significant time and energy. Families try to cope with such loss of livestock by selling food grains. In extreme cases, it may lead to even stopping child education and opting for long distance migration. Several other challenges for livestock farmers are genetic degradation of goats, feed scarcity, seasonal stress, absence of transparent system of price estimation of goats, inefficient trading, high costs of aggregation and low adoption of information technology. Besides, lack of access to timely, low cost, door step livestock health care, first aid and knowledge support has been a key constraint in livestock production.

Responding to such a situation, an alternative community led livestock extension service mechanism has been tried and promoted. Through this community based approach, women are empowered through technical training and hand holding support to take lead in generating demand for inputs and provide services to livestock farmers. By building their capacities and providing hand holding support, over 4712 Pashu Sakhis (meaning friends of livestock) have been promoted in 16 Indian states reaching to over 2.5 lakh small livestock farmers daily. The present case is about a partnership initiative between Maharashtra State Rural Livelihood Mission (MSRLM), Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal (MAVIM) and The Goat Trust, which promoted the alternative community based extension approach in Gondia, a tribal dominated district in Maharshtra.

Uniqueness of approach 

Alternative livestock extension services had been a felt need over last five decades. Many experiments around promoting and nurturing such service delivery mechanism had been tried at various points of time, with limited success. Major shortcomings of existing programs were – the trained rural youth responsible to cater to 8-15 villages often focused on treatment, mostly on large livestock, rather than preventive practices and awareness building. Conflicting interests resulted in the neglect of small livestock and the poor farmers. Secondly, high costs of travel resulted in the neglect of close monitoring and administering first aid, which was in itself not lucrative for the youth. The trained youth who were men most of the time, had a social and psychological barrier in reaching women, who are the caretakers of livestock.

Based on learning from past limited success and some failure, an alternative process was conceptualized and implemented on scale to assess feasibility and impact of Pashu Sakhi model. In this initiative, semi literate women are trained as Pashu Sakhi. Prior to training, the women are selected by the community, their roles and responsibilities are briefed by involving the family heads. The process is followed to enhance community ownership and family support for effective functioning of Pashu Sakhi. Once nominated by local goat farmers, a systematic orientation is organized, followed by 5 day residential training. A participatory training process adjusted with the pace of learner, was evolved to have multiple training methodologies around key knowledge, skills and attitudes required to function as Pashu Sakhi.

Besides treatment, Pashu Sakhi  training module focuses on management practices and sharing of best practices. Pashu Sakhis essentially are small livestock farmers and adopters of best practices, rather than just propagators. This enhances knowledge and creditability of Pashu Sakhi as a best practice propagator and local leadership.

Role of Pashu Sakhi

Pashu Sakhi performs three kind of complimentary functions –

* Extension of improved practices and knowledge sharing,

* providing door step first aid and counseling services for disease prevention and management and

* Demonstration of best practices and enterprise management in her own house.

Pashu Sakhis also work as monitoring and support service provider for the project. They visit each goat house and assess the condition. A regular monitoring on disease spread and decrease in frequency of morbidity (disease) is kept through data analysis. They provide critical feedback on adoption and suggest appropriate practice, technology or input based on the relevance and feasibility.

Pashu Sakhis through awareness and training motivate farmers to adopt good practices which boosts demand for new inputs. To meet the demand locally, Pashu Sakhis are trained to take up entrepreneurial activities too. In fact, Pashu Sakhis sustain on entrepreneurial initiatives of input supply for goat farming rather than by providing services alone (eg., providing treatment and first aid).

In a nut shell, Pashu Sakhi works more like an Anganwadi worker and ANM in human health management. The only difference is that here she becomes an input supplier, a self business promoter, and also a service provider, making the system sustainable and more effective over a period of time.

Major changes

In about twelve to eighteen months of the programme, positive impacts were observed on two fronts. There has been significant decrease in mortality of goats. Goat mortality dropped from 22% to 6%, which saved nearly 8600 goats every year, thus generating over 51 million rupees. Besides reduced morbidity, reduced kidding interval and better growth of kids have collectively contributed Rs 25 million gain in goat farming. This has been reflected in over 25% growth of goat population in last one year. Further, farmers increased confidence resulted in further investment in goat farming.

Field assessment study in Gondia has provided strong evidences on improved knowledge, services, technology propagation and adoption by goat farming families. There has been enhanced faith of the community in managing risks. This in turn has enabled goat farmers to negotiate enhanced price for their goats and bucks.

Pashu Sakhis earned Rs 800 to Rs 2000 as an additional income by improving their goat rearing practices and by providing services to others. By way of contributing to the family finances, these women gained recognition in the household as well as in the community. They were being recognized in the society as providers of critical services.  Attitude of men towards women, especially from the higher castes, has shown dramatic change for good. Pashu Sakhis are now being addressed with greater respect and affection, sometimes being referred to as “doctor didi” by villagers.

Way forward

The alternative community based extension model in Gondia district was successful and sustainable. Factors like high density of small livestock and lack of access to knowledge and basic services have played a crucial role in the success of this model. The Goat Trust is now exploring market opportunities, facilitating market linkages and building the capacities of Pashu Sakhis in estimating and assessing live body weight pricing of small livestock. The model of Pashu Sakhi is being extended to other livestock too. It has been tried for poultry, successfully. It is yet to be tested for large ruminants, on a scale.

Sanjeev Kumar
Adviser – The Goat Trust
529 KA/54 A, Pant Nagar, Khurram Nagar, Lucknow -226022


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