This profile was prepared when Sagari Ramdas was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005.
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.