Tharis learning to save livestock from emerging challenges of climate change

HYDERABAD: Thar and Kohistan, the main arid regions of Sindh, are witnessing devastating impacts of climate change in terms of depleted underground water and shrinking vegetation cover, the main natural resources for the local communities.

Reports revealed that a cycle of severe droughts followed by heavy rain floods continued to erode livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of rural people in Thar Desert, comprising Tharparkar and parts of Umerkot districts. These communities depend solely on seasonal rain-fed agriculture and livestock rearing.

Farmers in the region remain uncertain about the situation. They hope that the rains recharge groundwater. But they were afraid that the green grasses would finish within the next two-three months.

Khamiso Samejo, a farmer and owner of eight cows in village Thane jo Tarr in Umerkot district, said the existing vegetation in the fields might be enough to feed the animals till February and March. The farmers following old practices have preserved crop residuals, which they would feed animals later, depending on the weather situation.

He calculated that due to recent rainfalls there was enough stock of food and fodder and many farmers might not move to canal areas for grazing their animals and work that they usually do for survival every year.

“Natural fodder enables a cow to produce three-four litres of milk twice a day – morning and evening,” he said, while rejecting the perception about Thari cows producing a higher quantity of milk.

“Farmers get organic milk, which has higher nutrient value with natural elements and qualities to cure many diseases.” Cow’s milk is considered a good source of protein and calcium and nutrients, including vitamins and iodine. It also contains magnesium, which is important for bone development and muscle function.

Chaman Bheel, residing in union council Kaplore in Umerkot district, said the greedy have cut precious trees and shrubs, some of which were 100 years old. These trees including Kandi (Prosopis cineraria), Kirar (Capparis decidua), rohiro, phog and gugral helped animals maintain health and improve milk productivity. About toxic plants, Bheel calls it a challenge, which causes health issues in animals, when they graze in pastures.

A brief interaction with the 65 community livestock extension workers (clews) — 11 female and 54 males indicated that they have qualified 22-day training arranged by Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP) in Umerkot city. The trainings include learning about nutrition, healthcare management, breeding management, and extension services in farm animals.

Anjeela Bheel, a woman worker said previously they did not know how to diagnose any problem, but now they were able to save animals. Now, they feed and water the animals as per their requirement.

Dr Allahnawaz Samo, head of TRDP said his organisation has initiated a ‘climate -smart agriculture’ initiative to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change on livelihood of poor farmers, residing in the arid regions.

They use expert services of renowned institutions like Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) and Sindh Agriculture University (SAU) Tandojam to transfer learning to farmers and advise them on how to reduce risks of loss that happens in the wake of natural calamities.

Agriculture experts have trained local farmers and introduced the methods and practices that may safeguard agricultural assets and livestock in the times of extreme weather conditions. A brief interaction with farmers showed that the new generation of livestock farmers also followed indigenous practices of treating animals in case of viral infections and common diseases. But in some cases they faced difficulties in identifying the problems, mainly pregnancy or post breeding status of animals.

Faisal Awan, an expert in livestock resource management said these farmers were capable of identifying some diseases through particular symptoms and start treatments accordingly. But, if a strange disease struck an animal, they failed to diagnose, as it needed scientific knowledge.

The purpose of imparting learning among community farmers was to bridge the gap between livestock farmers and the public advisory centres. Because of long distances, poor infrastructure and limited resources of the Livestock Advisory Centres, community members needed awareness to save their animals on their own.

Awan said proper care was needed to save an animal after snakebite or when it consumed a toxic plant. He also said that vaccination drives contributed greatly to saving the rural economy.

Once the farmers learn the skills being imparted to them, they would be formally included in the livestock department’s services plan in the Umerkot district. The livestock department would include the community livestock extension workers as their “formal volunteers” through written notification.

The department would also provide them with vaccinations for livestock, and they would charge nominal fees for administering the vaccines to their animals. They would provide advisory services along with vaccination/treatment to the communities.

The livestock workers, mostly young herders said they have developed skills about vaccination, de-worming, feeding, and providing access to water and hygiene, which they could now provide to their community people.

They’ve also learned how to manage makeshift farms and basic treatments to save animals. Contributions of these formal volunteers would be really important for small-scale farmers, who were unable to afford costly feed and other medicines to improve breeds or to keep their existing herds safe from diseases.

Mostly leading commercial farmers in the province prefer to keep non-indigenous breeds from Punjab and other parts of the country and abroad, especially for cross-breeding at their farms. These breeds can produce 10 to 30 litres of milk, twice in the day. These commercial farmers spend a huge amount on maintaining milk productivity and animal health. Compared to that small scale farmers, having the capacity to keep a small number of animals could not afford to hire costly feed for increasing productivity.

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