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FEATURE STORY

Farmer Field Schools Help Farmers Keep Livestock Healthy and Improve Income in Nangarhar, Afghanistan

March 19, 2014

Farmer Jan Agha is able to take better care of his livestock through training at Field Schools, allowing healthier animals and increased incomes.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Livestock farmers in Nangarhar Province are learning to feed their animals properly and to give them prompt medical care as a result of participating in Farmer Field Schools (FFS).
  • The schools are a key activity of the National Horticulture and Livestock Project, a Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock initiative supported by the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF).
  • The project aim is to assist farmers in adopting better livestock practices to improve animal production and health.

MERAK BELA VILLAGE, Nangarhar Province - Livestock farmer Jan Agha says he owes his water buffalo an apology. Laughing loudly Agha explains that he is only half-joking, because until recently he hadn’t realized that his animals needed better medical care and feeding.

“It is both too funny and too sad to now think of the things that we did,” says Agha, 41. “But we didn’t know what was wrong then. Now we are learning better ways to feed, protect and clean our animals, and they are so happy. We are getting richer, too.”

After years of livestock tending, Agha says the transformation happened when he started attending a Farmer Field School in his village of Merak Bela in Behsood district of Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. The classes, offered twice a month in the village, are a key component of the National Horticulture and Livestock Project (NHLP), a Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock initiative with support from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). The project’s objective is to assist producers in adopting improved livestock practices to increase their productivity.

Agha says the project is not only helping his animals, but also putting more money in his pocket. The father of 11 children says his income has tripled now because of the project. “Before, our cows were producing maybe 3.5 liters of milk per day and now it can be 10.5 liters.”

Schools result in immediate benefits

In Agha’s village, which sprawls along the banks of the Kabul River across from Jalalabad, the NHLP project started in January 2013. NHLP officials approached Agha’s community with a plan, if farmers were interested, to host FFS classes twice a month at a time and place of their choice.

In recent months roughly 30 groups of farmers have formed (10 of men, and 20 of women who primarily manage poultry) for FFS classes to be delivered to them in Nangarhar province, says Gul Mohammad, the NHLP’s regional livestock extension officer. “To date, I would say the classes have been very, very popular,” says Mohammad. “We are only hearing good things from farmers.”

Open Quotes

Now we are learning better ways to feed, protect and keep them clean, and our animals are so happy. We are getting richer, too. Close Quotes

Jan Agha
Livestock farmer, Merak Bela village

The Farmer Field Schools cover different topics, such as medical care, hygiene for milk collectiong, proper stabling for buffalo.

At each class, a different topic is discussed. Livestock farmer Toryalay says he recently learned how to make molasses feed blocks, which were a huge success.

“The milk production increased and my buffalo and cows gained a lot of weight.”

He has also studied hygiene for milk collection, proper stabling for buffalo, and treatments for common diseases like mastitis, influenza, and bloat, a digestive disorder that can occur when animals eat too much fresh grass. Now, Toryalay says, he knows how to properly handle these issues or to seek prompt veterinary care. In the past, he recalls, home remedies like feeding sick animals cooking oil or ghee, just weakened or killed them.

Instead, healthy animals mean a healthy profit, says Toryalay.  “Alive a cow can be worth 200,000 Afghanis (about $3,500), but if it is sick and has to be butchered it may then be worth only 50,000 Afghanis (about $880).”

Another old treatment technique makes Agha laugh again. “It’s too terrible to think about it but, before, if our animals suffered a bad cut we would just put chewing tobacco, petrol or mud in the wound to stop the bleeding. But of course, it could get infected. Now we know how to use iodine, an antibiotic.”

Worse, says Agha, many farmers didn’t realize until they learnt it in class that it is dangerous to eat an animal that had died from disease. “We were probably making our families sick, too.”

Local veterinarian Dr. Amin Shafiq, who helps run the Farmers’ Field School classes, says there is already demand from other villages for the project. “People are hearing about the positive results and they can see the immediate benefits from what others are learning, so it’s been very good both for the animals and their keepers.”