Dr. Sagari Ramdas, a young veterinarian, is introducing controlled, environmentally sustainable approaches to animal husbandry, a critical dimension of the rural fabric where, until now, advances in development practice have lagged.
The New Idea
India's over 400 million cattle (not to mention goats, sheep, chickens, and other animals) are an enormously important part of the rural economy and environment. Consequently, deciding on the most beneficial numbers and mix and then managing them intelligently is one of the most important dimensions of rural development.Sagari is setting out to demonstrate how India can do a far better job at this enormous task. Many of the principles she will be applying have been proven in other aspects of community organizing and development, but the field of animal husbandry has remained stuck, seemingly in a separate time warp.She believes successful approaches must be built on a strong foundation of local knowledge. Why do people keep particular animals? In one of her two trial areas, the tribal people view cattle as, in effect, their savings account, an account they must build up in order to afford an adequate bride price as well as to handle emergencies. If, as she believes, her analysis of the balance of fodder to animals shows that the area should reduce its cattle herds in favor of smaller, fast-breeding animals such as goats and chickens, she must persuade the people that these smaller animals will provide as reliable and valued a savings account deposit as the cattle.Second, she believes successful approaches will flow only if there is a long-term, interactive exchange between local residents and science professionals and policy makers, and if this interchange is informed at each step by accurate knowledge of the facts, both local and technical. If there are too many animals, the resulting overgrazing will lead to environmental degradation. Policies and incentives must change as much as villagers' savings patterns.Certainly any significant change in local patterns will only come if the local communities participate in thinking the problems and opportunities through, and if these communities then carry out the needed change. Sagari's approach is therefore strongly community based at all four of the most crucial areas in the animal care process: health care, management, fodder generation, and breeding. At each step she intends to involve the people directly in both generating knowledge and participating in the solutions. For example, she plans quickly to create village-based animal care teams that will enable each village to achieve far more efficient health monitoring and care than currently exists. These villagers will learn such basic health care measures as giving simple preventive vaccinations which presently require expensive and often unreachable assistance from town-based veterinarians.Sagari envisions that empowering the village animal caretakers, mostly women, to take charge of the many facets of livestock management will allow a strong "feedback system" to develop between the government, scientists, and the village teams. This should encourage government policies and scientific research to respond to the specific needs of particular areas, their poor people, and their animals.
For want of the application of modern development theory and technology to animal husbandry, terrible human and environmental damage has taken place. Shifting land use and cropping patterns, excess animals, and non-sustainable grazing patterns have led to declining fodder and forest yields and soil erosion. Animal disease, death, and low productivity have also taken an enormous toll on the rural economy and the nutritional level of its people. The self-focused nature of the government's animal husbandry and veterinary bureaucracies has made them deaf to the views and knowledge of those who own and care for animals at the village level. Nor are these organizations comfortable reaching out for collaboration. In Sagari's own words, "the highly centralized animal health care system has denied the existence of a local knowledge base, has failed to meet the needs of the producers, especially the poor, landless, and marginal farmers. As a result, local people have become more dependent on external forces for the management and care of their livestock."The scientific research community and government policy makers have, at best, been able to offer only target-driven bureaucratic solutions for management problems - solutions that are insensitive to local facts and local people.
Sagari will address these problems at three levels. First, she will undertake village-level data gathering and analysis. Her teams will conduct ten-day participatory fact gathering and analysis seminars in sixty villages, gathering data on animal populations, grazing patterns, fodder requirements, and local traditional animal health care techniques. They will then analyze these data to determine the health, fodder, and management needs in each of these areas. In conjunction with data gathering, the teams will train village animal caretakers in basic veterinary skills.From here, Sagari will begin developing intervention models: seeking creative solutions to problems in the four areas of health, feeding, breeding, and management. For example, during a past village experience, when the local animal tenders of one area complained that fodder was not available during certain periods of the year, Sagari helped the community construct a fodder bank, from which grazing animals could be fed during the dry seasons.As those villagers responsible for the animals learn to analyze their needs, and as they experience the fact that they can take charge and can create solutions, Sagari feels they will naturally coalesce into a strong interest group, demanding more appropriate and locally sensitive research from the scientific community and appropriate government policies from public officials. Sagari's ultimate goal is to change the outmoded bureaucratic pattern of the animal husbandry field rationally. To speed that day she plans to demonstrate her approach in two different states, moving quickly in each by working through two well-established, quality private area development organizations. She is also positioning herself within the scientific, nonprofit, and government communities so that she will have direct and influential access to those who give input to and develop livestock policies.
Dr. Sagari Ramdas has felt drawn to animals since she was a child. She vividly remembers visiting with her grandmother in the village and interacting with the many animals for which her grandmother provided a home - including chickens, deer, cobras and pythons. While she credits her grandmother with inspiring her interest in animals, Sargari also recognizes the other women of her "matriarchal" family who provided her with the support, confidence, and example that helped her to develop her keen sense of direction and self-confidence. Sagari reflects, "The women of my family, who have always been involved in women's rights issues, always emphasized the do's, never the don'ts."This affirmative upbringing gave Sagari the courage to pursue her own star, to take and stick to a series of unconventional educational and career decisions. First, she decided to enter the male, even macho veterinarian field. In the field she rejected the doctoral academic track her success as a student opened to her. She went to live in a village "to determine what my role as a veterinarian in India should be," again hardly what convention would approve for an upper-class urban Indian woman. It is that honesty of search, clarity of vision, and concrete realism that makes it very likely that she will succeed in modernizing India's approach to animal husbandry.