In the poorest regions of Afghanistan, livestock is like a bank account: if trouble hits, you can sell a sheep, or a goat, or a cow. Not to have an animal is to be exposed, left to the mercy of fate. But families who depend on their livestock too often lose it, or fail to make money from it, because of disease and other problems.
For years, Catholic Relief Services’ livestock experts have fanned out over the countryside in an area called Herat, braving extremes of heat and dust to find impoverished farmers in far-flung villages. Made up of veterinarians and other experts, the CRS teams identify problems farmers are having and help solve them.
For Arabshah, a sheep farmer, one problem was not knowing how to help his lambs when they were sick. Before CRS came to his village, he would go to a private animal clinic. “The medicine was not of good quality and we used the same medicine for every disease,” he says.
CRS gave Arabshah a lamb to add to his flock and taught him about illnesses like anthrax. He and other farmers learned how to prevent or treat them.
In most parts of Afghanistan, women typically do not mix with men who are not relatives. So to make sure women farmers learn as well, CRS held separate trainings for women. “After the CRS training, we knew the time when we should vaccinate. We know about different medicines for different diseases now,” says Arabshah.
Not far away, dairy farmers were facing similar problems. Their cows would accidentally eat a piece of metal, or get diseases like mastitis, which affects the udders. Veterinary care was expensive, and “they were paying a high price for low-quality medicine,” says Fraidoon, animal husbandry senior project officer for CRS.
Even when their cows were healthy, “the farmers were bringing their unhygienic milk to market and spending hours hoping to sell it,” says Fraidoon. It wasn’t just wasted time — it was dangerous. Bad milk can spread tuberculosis and a disease called brucellosis; some patients in the local hospital suffer from milk-related TB.
CRS built a milk collection center and stocked it with supplies needed to store the milk safely and test its quality, like a 500-liter cooler and an analysis machine that checks the milk’s water and fat content.
Next, CRS talked to farmers about forming an association. If they all brought their milk to one center, they would have more control over the price they sold it at. Over 700 farmers now participate.
Today, the milk collective provides milk to several clients, including a grocery store and a dairy concern. “Farmers line up early, bringing the milk to the center to be tested, weighed and recorded,” says Haji Gholam Qous, who is the milk collector.
“We tell farmers, don’t mix water in the milk and don’t skim the fat.” The men get paid quickly and can go back to their farms, without losing precious hours waiting at the market in the heat. An added benefit is that, with the father back on the farm early, kids can go to school — they don’t need to take care of the farm while he is in town.
With healthy cows and a reliable source of income, farmers are less vulnerable. “This is a really good thing for them,” says Qous.
Families can rest easy knowing the cow, sheep or chickens that provide food like milk or eggs — or provide the security of a fallback in hard times — will be cared for if it grows sick.
“We’re really happy,” says Arabshah. “Thanks to the CRS animal husbandry team, our lambs are healthy.”
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