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Samsung tablet wielding Pashu Sakhis reflect changing face of rural India-project of AKRSP 2019-11-16

Saturday, 2019, November 16
Runa and her daughter working on a tablet.
Usha Rai

Muzaffarpur, Bihar: Runa Devi, 35, Class 8-pass of Kafen Chaudhari village of Bochaha block of Muzaffarpur, Bihar, is a Pashu Sakhi, trained to deal with simple medical ailments as well as advise goat owners on the rearing of quality ruminants to improve their market value. However, she is no ordinary “bakri ki dactar (veterinarian)” from the back of beyond. She carries a Samsung tablet and does all the data entry of goats she has vaccinated, dewormed, castrated, given injections to and sends it to the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme’s (AKRSP) MIS section for monitoring and evaluation on a daily basis.

Runa is one the 250 Pashu Sakhis of Muzaffarpur who has been trained and provided tablets to record her work on the improvement of the genetic quality of the Black Bengal variety of goats of the region for the Mesha (in Sanskrit Mesha means ram) project of AKRSP. Supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Mesha project to improve rural livelihoods, is also promoted by the Bihar Jeevika programme. The tablets are also used to research on internet on good feeds and successful breeding of goats. In case of health problems which they cannot diagnose, photos are taken on the tablets and sent to vets in the big cities for expert advice.

Runa’s husband is an agricultural labour and often has to migrate for work. Though the family has four katha of land, which is less than 0.00098 hectare and an annual income of Rs 30,000 to Rs 36,000, it was inadequate to support four growing children. Runa was desperate for work to supplement the family income when she was approached by an AKRSP worker to join as a Pashu Sakhi. After getting permission from her husband and the village elders, she did five days’ residential training in Muzaffarpur to become a Pashu Sakhi.

There were two rounds of training. While the first was on recognising the different breeds of goats, looking after them, preparing green fodder, nutritious azola, other feeds and the value of goat sheds. In the second round she learnt about vaccinations, deworming and even giving injections after recognising the goat’s ailments. “Earlier, by holding the ear of the goat we learnt if the goat had fever, now we use a thermometer,” she says. Giving injections and castrating the bucks were the other challenges to becoming a Pashu Sakhi. “One day I saw a puny woman castrating a buck and got confidence that if she could do it, so could I.”

Last November, Runa was provided the tablet and trained on its use for a day. Subsequently, she was trained at the field level by AKRSP staff. Now she carries the tablet with her when she sets out to work at 7.30 am every morning. She feeds the data as she collects it on to the tablet, as well as takes photographs and sends it off. “We were field testing plastic feeding bowls provided by AKRSP. They were mounted on a bamboo stand so that two goats can feed from them and a photograph was needed.” Today, her children also use the tablet, but largely to see films.

Runa is servicing 160 households, each of which has at least three goats. She buys medicines from Bochaha and Muzaffarpur and charges Rs 5 per visit, plus the cost of the medicine. For deworming too she charges Rs 5, for an injection Rs 8 and for castration Rs 50. She earns Rs 100 to Rs 200 a day and between Rs 1,500 to Rs 3,000 in a month. She earns almost as much as her husband and the family income has doubled. With preventive medicine available, the goat population of the village is increasing and so is business. Like her, there are four Pashu Sakhis in the panchayat. For all Bochaha block’s goats, there are 67 trained Pashu Sakhis.

“Earlier, we had to listen to the taunts of our men who accused us of not doing any work. Today we have money to show for the work we do and respect for us has gone up in the village,” she says.

Like others in the village, Runa also has her own goats and due to her skills as a Pashu Sakhi has been able to sell them at good prices. Dr Jitender, a veterinarian attached to AKRSP, points out that a pilot genetic breed improvement project on goats was started last September at Kafen Chaudhari village supported by New Zealand government and NARI, Pune. This too has helped the community improve the quality/weight of their goats.

Runa Devi sold a handsome alpha male white goat that weighed over 21 kg at Rs 8,728 to AKF for breeding purposes. Two other goats, weighing 18 kg and 19 kg, were sold by her at Rs 6,500 each. A large part of the earnings were invested in buying a cupboard for her home, but she was also able to save Rs 13,000 in her bank account. It has been a challenging but fulfilling journey for Runa. She recalls that one of her prized female goats got too close to a fire lit in winter to keep her warm and she was badly singed. Runa’s knowledge as a Pashu Sakhi and the advice of Dr Jitender helped save the goat, which is now four years old.

To improve the earnings of those rearing goats, they are advised to feed them well, look after their health, castrate them and sell them when they are six months and heavier. Earlier, the goats were sold when just three months and fetched smaller returns. A kilogram of Bengal Black mutton fetches the owner Rs 400 to Rs 450 and most of them now weigh the goats on scales before selling them.

Small, small steps were taken and there was focus on quality and use of technology in care of ruminants, says Runa. Like her, the other Pashu Sakhis too are the change makers of Muzaffarpur.

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