Animals matter

  • Livestock farmers have been badly hit by the quake. They need help to bounce back
- SHUBH N MAHATO
Animals matter

Jun 7, 2015-

The role of livestock in recovering from a disaster is significant especially in a country like Nepal. According to the World Bank, prior to the earthquake, approximately 90 percent of the population in districts outside of Kathmandu were engaged in agricultural activities, including livestock farming. These smallholder farmers are highly dependent on livestock for their income, assets and savings. In addition, livestock also provides them with food and nutrition, manure, draft power and access to informal credit. Livestock forms an important coping strategy for farmers as it can be sold for cash or even consumed in times of crisis.

Preliminary estimates by the Ministry of Agricultural Development reveal deaths of around 17,000 large animals, 37,000 small ruminants, and 200,000 poultry. The economic impact of losing livestock during the earthquake has been deep and devastating to the owners. And there is a high probability that this loss will continue to increase, as livestock subsector has not received the priority it deserves in programmatic planning of relief and recovery. For Nepal to recover from this disaster, we need to understand the value of livestock and challenges in rehabilitating them.

Solutions to the problems

Preliminary findings from agricultural needs assessment carried out by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Nepal Food Security Cluster suggests that 50 percent of animal feed and 35 percent of livestock shelter were destroyed by the earthquake. Additionally, animals are also experiencing stress from the lack of nutrition, compounded by the lack of shelter in this hot and humid weather. Farmers will need to immediately start providing locally available roughage and agricultural by-products supplemented with mineral and vitamins concentrates to maintain their health and sustain productivity, while locally available materials such as bamboos and timber should be used for reconstruction of livestock shelters by mobilising local youths.  

Also, the disruption of veterinary services has increased the vulnerability of livestock to infectious diseases, many of which might be zoonosis. This means that both the people and livestock are at high risk from disease outbreaks. Therefore, future losses to livestock assets must be avoided through appropriate preventive measures, mainly through vaccinations against epidemic, deworming and by adopting good hygiene practices and biosecurity measures.

Animal vaccination and deworming in Nepal are typically done before the onset of the rainy season. So strategic vaccination programmes must begin immediately, preferably before the monsoon.

Monsoon will also bring the rice plantation season to full swing. But farmers will not be able to make full utilisation of the rain due to the loss of their draft oxen—traditionally used to plough fields. In addition, the death of breeding bulls that has occurred in the villages will deprive farmers from timely breeding services, thus adversely impacting milk production next year. The death of productive livestock assets will result in the overall reduction in productivity of crop-livestock integrated farms. Therefore, we need to ensure restocking of these essential farming assets for farm production system recovery while maintaining the production and productivity of the animals retained by farmers post-quake.

Failing our farmers

It is still not too late to bounce back and cut our losses, though. But any further delay can have a devastating impact on our country’s economy. Heifer International Nepal’s Goat Value Chain Study Report compiled goat import data available at the animal health quarantine offices, which revealed that around 475,000 live goats were imported from India in 2012/13. The data is even grimmer for dairy produce and other livestock.

Before the disaster struck, significant works were being done in line with the government’s Agriculture Development Strategy which resulted in decreasing annual import growth rate. Post-disaster, we need to protect the work that was in progress and ensure that our achievement is not pushed back.

Failing to support our farmers can mean that our dependency on neighbouring countries for food will increase, along with increase in prices. Food security in the long run will be of grave concern, more so in the remote and mountainous areas along the seismic belt, which was severely affected by the earthquake.

For the 65 percent of the population that is actively involved in agriculture and livestock farming, sale of animals make up an important portion of their income. With their livelihood buried under the rubble, the next best option for many would be leaving the country in search of employment.  For a country that already has a vast majority of its youth slaving abroad, and is currently struggling to rebuild itself, the additional loss of youth to foreign employment is a bad deal.

Rescue livelihoods

Simple interventions such as improved sheds built from locally available resources, balanced nutrition supplemented with mineral and vitamin blocks and access to veterinary services to prevent infection and treat injured livestock can help farmers avoid further losses. A study carried out by Heifer International Nepal, done between 2012 and 2014, demonstrates that simply by improving feeding practices and providing access to livestock-related health care, the productivity of milk in buffalo increased by 20 percent, while goat productivity increased by 26 percent within 24 months.

The best way to recover from this massive earthquake is to get back to our regular lives as quickly as possible. And for this we need to ensure that livelihoods are rebuilt so that people can work and earn their living, shelving aside the painful memories of loss and destruction. The Ministry of Agriculture Development and the Department of Livestock Services have been working on providing medicine and vaccines, tarps and feed for livestock in the 14 most-affected districts. But to recover from this scale of disaster, a lot more needs to be done. Donors and international agencies need to support the government’s initiatives in rebuilding the sector. If multiple stakeholders supported each other in this initiative, it would be a great opportunity for Nepal to further develop its agriculture and livestock farming.

Mahato is Country Director of Heifer International Nepal and former Director General of Department of Livestock Services

 

Published: 08-06-2015 07:15

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