Sanjeev Kumar is socially and economically empowering women from the poorest communities in the mountain and desert regions of India through the financially viable but often overlooked practice of small livestock husbandry. Sanjeev makes women the key drivers of the entire cycle of small livestock husbandry, from rearing to medical care, to sale at market, and is creating a cadre of skilled and economically independent women respected by their communities.
The New Idea
Sanjeev is using small animal husbandry of sheep, poultry and especially goats, to improve the livelihood, health, and rights of the poorest rural women in India. He sees opportunity in the low investment costs, quick growth and high liquidity of small animals to reduce poverty levels among the country’s many sheep and goat rearers, most of whom (70 percent) are small farmers or landless laborers and are women.
Sanjeev is building the enabling ecosystem for small animal husbandry. He is spreading the knowledge on best practices in rearing goats among women-run self-help group networks, enabling access to finance to the poorest for goat rearing, training a network of pashu sakhis (livestock nurses) to provide healthcare services for the animals, as well as build the supply chain and market linkages for the sale of goats and their by-products for small animal rearing women to be able to monetize their farm animals, leading to a drastic increase in quality of life.
Livestock rearing has been a traditional practice for subsistence farmers in India and around the world to diversify farming risks relating to weather and markets. Livestock also provide gainful employment around the year to millions of people, 70 percent of whom are women. With 57 percent of the world’s buffalo, 12 percent of its cattle, 15 percent of its goats and 6 percent of its sheep, India is among the highest livestock holding countries in the world.
While landowning farmers prefer cattle and buffaloes, small and marginal farmers and landless laborers rear around 70 percent of the goat and sheep in India, according to Small Ruminant Rearing: Product Markets, Opportunities and Constraints, December 2011. This can be attributed to several reasons including the low capital and recurring costs, quick growth and high liquidity of small animals. While a cow costs Rs. 25,000 to 30,000 (US$350 to $450), a goat costs many times less, at Rs. 1800 to 2000 (US$30). This makes it much easier for the very poor to purchase and rear goats for milk or to sell in the meat market, which often nets at least five times the purchase price of the animal. Also, while a cow needs 30 kilograms of feed a day, which is difficult to obtain in monsoon and dry seasons, a goat only needs 3 kgs of feed, and is much easier for landless farmers to rear. A goat can also live in dry desert land and mountainous areas, unlike cows who can only survive in moderate plains. Such small animals also provide household food and nutritional security through available milk and meat.
India has over 190 million goats and sheep, according to the Indian Livestock Census, published by the Directorate of Economics & Statistics (2007), and on an average, 15 percent of households in rural areas reported ownership of goats and/or sheep. Livestock contributed 16 percent to the income of small farm households against an average of 14 percent for all rural households. However, in the larger policy landscape, the single-minded pursuit of crop enhancement has come at the cost of policy and infrastructure toward animal husbandry. The livestock sector receives 12 percent of total public expenditures on agriculture and allied sectors and approximately 4 to 5 percent of the total institutional credit flowing to agriculture and allied sectors. Only 6 percent of the animal stock (excluding poultry) is provided insurance. Livestock assessment also remains grossly neglected. Only about 5 percent of the farm households in India collect information on livestock. Further, there has been a rapid loss of available lands for grazing sheep and goats, primarily due to changing land use and property rights regimes. The loss of lands for grazing has resulted in reduced stock sizes and a reduced number of shepherds.
What little focus on animal husbandry has been biased toward cattle and diary production. While there are policies and efforts for dairy, including promoting research to improve milk production, education, training, grassroots support, access to finance and markets, there has been little effort to promote goat rearing. This can be reflected in the fact that unlike diary, there are no goat collectives that organize and bring attention to goat rearing. Morbidity and mortality among sheep and goat stocks also continue to be high and are a major cause of income loss to goat shepherds and breeders. On average, only one veterinarian is available for 26,000 animals.
Further, there are few financial and credit systems available to farmers to purchase goats, as amounts required are too small for banks or microfinance institutions. The production system or marketing strategies in goat farming has also not changed in the last 65 years. There is also wide price variation obtained by goat breeders in different locations and seasons, with the returns to breeders further diminished when they borrow money from traders or their agents. Finally, although the rearing of animals is often the primary responsibility of women, the markets for small breeders are almost exclusively dominated by men. Goat farming continues to be looked upon as low-status business due to the amount of tedious and manual labor.
While working in the desert state of Rajasthan, Sanjeev observed that the poorest families reared goats since they have a lower capital and maintenance cost than larger livestock, such as cattle. He also realized that goats had a high morbidity and mortality rate as there were no support services, such as veterinarians to treat them, and as a result, the poor suffered huge asset losses. Sanjeev founded The Goat Trust (2006) to train women from the community to provide goat support services, like health services and access to finance and markets.
Tapping into a partner organization, SHG network, The Goat Trust identifies women who are keen to participate in goat breeding. They are organized into goat rearing groups (GRG), and are trained in goat breeding and rearing best practices over two days. This is conducted in the same venue where the SHG meetings happen, to ensure familiarity, comfort, and participants’ attendance. The curriculum includes breeding, feeding directions, vaccination, deworming schedules, and so on. The GRG members then take loans, if required, from the rotational savings and loan schemes of the SHG they are a member of to buy goats and other support materials like pens and feeders. The loans start from Rs. 1,000 (US$16) (half the cost of a goat kid) to Rs. 7,000 (US$114) (the price of 3 to 4 goat kids, a pen and 2 feeders). The women are encouraged to purchase and rear at least three goats for milk and meat. Over time, they are encouraged to build the herd to ten animals.
Sanjeev has created a cadre of enterprising local women, pashu sakhis, to provide local services for vaccination, deworming and healthcare services for the goats. A woman from every GRG who has studied to Class 5 or has a daughter in school is encouraged to be a pashu sakhi. Sanjeev focuses on female education to create awareness among community members that girls’ education is directly linked to increased livelihood options. After a five-day residential training in treating goats for common ailments, like fever and digestive problems, the pashu sakhis are given a medicine kit and professional uniform to gain community respect. Medicines are put in bottles of different shapes and sizes to help pashu sakhis differentiate between them without having to read the labels, since some are illiterate. To create support, their families are invited for an orientation. The role of the pashu sakhis is discussed and families are made aware of issues such as the need to work late hours and that they may be called any time of the day. 24 refresher trainings are offered every fortnight by the CLMs of partner organizations, as well as quarterly evaluations, in which they are graded and promoted to senior pashu sakhis, and a coat is added to their uniform.
The Goat Trust leverages the network of pashu sakhis to ensure that the goat and their by-products can be monetized effectively by GRG members. To enable the creation of a supply chain and ensure market linkages to the GRG members, The Goat Trust sends market information about the price of goats, goat milk, goat dung (sold as fertilizer) to the pashu sakhi. She aggregates the goats, goat milk, and dung from different GRG members and sells it to wholesalers at the haat (local markets), and charges a commission of Rs. 200 (US$3) per goat for goats sold at around Rs. 5,000, and Rs. 1.5 per liter of goat milk, sold to the Amul Dairy Cooperative for Rs. 20 (US$.33) per liter. The Goat Trust is currently building a web portal, (www.pashubazar.com, animalmarket), which will enable pashu sakhis to access nationwide markets and constant real time updates to market demands and prices.
This process not only improves the social and economic status of women, but also the nutritional status of the pasu sakhi’s family. The pashu sakhi ensure that the family of a GRG woman is drinking at least 1.5 liters of the goat milk before she can sell the goat milk in the market. In response to requests from the larger village community and neighboring districts, the pashu sakhi also conducts monthly training on goat breeding and rearing for the larger community in village communal spaces in the Pashu Palak Pathshala (Animal Breeder’s School).
The Goat Trust has a network of 21,000 women in their GRG in 332 villages across six states, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, and has 455 active pashu sakhis. Sanjeev has partnered with thirty organizations across these states, including those of former Ashoka Fellow Ved Arya and Fellow Choitresh Ganguly, to train women in their SHG networks in goat rearing. Through an impact survey done of all women The Goat Trust has trained in GRGs, they found that the income of women in the GRGs, who were previously landless and subsistence farmers with nearly zero income, has increased to nearly Rs. 5,000 per month. The milk production in goats has been enhanced by 20 percent, by breeding a better quality of goats; giving them better feed and preventing and treating disease. The milk is often also consumed by breeders’ families which significantly improves their nutritional intake.
Sanjeev has recently convinced the Jharkhand state government to include goats in their dairy development agenda, and the government is working with 40,000 women over the next three years to roll out The Goat Trust’s model. With this, Sanjeev is shifting the entire country’s animal husbandry agenda to focus on smaller animals; the only practical option for the poorest farmers to increase their livelihood. By 2020 Sanjeev plans to expand The Goat Trust from a non-profit to a hybrid model that will include a Private Limited Corporation to market goats and goat products, and a Non-Banking Financial Corporation (NBFC) which will finance the poorest villagers to buy and rear goats to increase their livelihood. Currently, the pashu sakhis sell goats and goat products in an unpredictable market, but in future, when they sell to The Goat Trust’s Private Limited entity, Sanjeev will ensure fair and fixed prices to further enhance the women’s livelihood. In several states of India, like Haryana, the SHG network is not strong, so to scale his work, The Goat Trust’s NBFC will be able to finance their needs.
Sanjeev is the younger of two brothers, and remembers his father concentrating more on teaching his elder brother. Although Sanjeev was two years younger, he sat with his brother and learned what his father taught him, keeping up with the curriculum. When he was 10, Sanjeev snuck into his brother’s class, took the exam and passed with flying colors. When discovered, he was given a double promotion.
Sanjeev’s father wanted him to study medicine and become a doctor, which is the most aspirational profession for most rural Indians. However, Sanjeev wanted to study agriculture and dairy. Having grown up in the rural areas, he felt like that there was a huge gap in expertise and professional support for rural professions like agriculture and dairy. So, against his family’s wishes he studied agriculture at Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi.
During Sanjeev’s last few months in college, he was recruited by Pradan, to work in the desert state of Rajasthan on a dairy program. Two incidents from his years in Pradan deeply influenced him. One was the case of Imerti Bai, an extremely strong woman leader in the community, whom even the local bureaucrats consulted and took advice. However, one day, Sanjeev heard that Imerti Bai had been severely beaten and could not come to a community meeting. Going to her home immediately, he realized the perpetrator was her son, and she was not willing to take action against him because she was financially dependent on him. Sanjeev realized that increasing the livelihood of women and providing them with control of their own income is the first and most important step to their empowerment and decision making. He chose to work with livestock because women have culturally always managed livestock, whereas men have traditionally worked in the fields, and women have had control over the income from livestock as it is considered to be nominal to the income from field crops. The second incident was the floods that ravaged many communities in Rajasthan. Many cows died, and those that lived were so sick and underfed that they barely produced 1.5 liters to 2 liters of milk. Together, these incidents gave Sanjeev the idea that the key to addressing nutrition, poverty, and women’s empowerment, was through animal husbandry and livestock breeding.