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FAO interventions help raise women’s status and up poultry rearing in India

by ruchita last modified Sep 09, 2015 01:59 PM

Sep 08, 2015

FAO interventions help raise women’s status and up poultry rearing in India

Murgi Sakhis Ramilaben and Dittu Bai (from left to right) participating in a community meeting

Keyfacts - Through the South Asia Pro-Poor Livestock Policy Programme (SAPPLPP) FAO helped strengthen the capacities and knowledge on implementing sustainable small ruminant and smallholder poultry rearing interventions in two selected districts of India. Through the execution of field projects that demonstrate how major constraints faced by smallholder livestock keepers could be overcome, and institutional systems established (including community institutions), the two-year, US$385 000 project has enabled smallholder livestock keepers to collectively access required inputs and benefit from the expanding market for small ruminant products. A joint initiative between FAO and the National Dairy Development Board of India (NDDB), the field projects in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are designed as ‘integrated’ interventions linking each stage of the small ruminant/ smallholder poultry value chain from improving productivity and facilitating access to inputs, to supporting institutions of smallholder rearers to collectively access markets.

By supporting grassroots initiatives to strengthen small-holder livestock rearing, and by providing strategic and evidence based advice to governments (at both the national and the state levels), the project, implemented on the ground by several NGOs, has improved food security and increased income levels in the two states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

From struggling to break even, to village expert vet – the story of Dittu Bai
The village of Sad, in a remote and hilly area of India’s central Madhya Pradesh State, has some 350 homes with backyard poultry as a mainstay of livelihood. Selling chickens in the local market fetches good money. But waves of poultry deaths caused by viral infections have often left villagers struggling to make ends meet.

Most often New Castle disease has been the culprit, wiping away entire flocks. “Chicken mortality was as high as 75 percent and our “murgi sakhis”, which is a Hindi word that translates as ‘chicken’s friend’ – local women trained in basic veterinarian skills for poultry - have brought it down to around 40 percent,” says Prem Thakur of Sampark, one of the Indian NGO implementing the FAO-supported project. Things have indeed changed since the murgi sakhis started vaccination and deworming work in 2014.

Dittu Bai Parmar, of the Patelia tribe, is a much sought after murgi sakhi in Sad and neighbouring areas. A secondary school graduate, she underwent a five-day residential training along with 16 other sakhis. Dittu Bai attributes the fall in poultry mortality mainly to the vaccination and deworming work carried out by the murgi sakhis, and following a few good management protocols. According to her, “Ranikhet”, the local name for Newcastle disease, was the most common cause of bird mortality. Now if anyone in Sad or neighbouring areas has a sick fowl Dittu Bai is readily available on a mobile phone. The vaccines and medicines generally come from the government’s veterinary hospital. “When I visit a village for deworming or other treatment I also tell them about the next vaccination dates.” Her rates for vaccination and deworming services are as low as two rupees, a little over US$0.03 per bird.

At the beginning of the project, Dittu Bai was making 1 000 rupees (US$16). Now, she earns between 1 500 to 2 000 rupees (roughly US$25-35) a month. Not a large sum by city standards but, as she says, “I don’t have to ask the moneylender when it’s time to buy books or school uniforms for the children or for treatment of small ailments.”

Another community ‘vet’, Surti Bai’s work as a “murgi sakhi” made her so popular with fellow villagers in Sad that she successfully ran for the local elections, and now leads the village council. Taking advantage of her poultry rearing technology, her husband bought some 400 chicks of Kadaknath, a rare indigenous breed, and the family made a fortune selling the matured birds in the market.

Basic veterinary training helps raise women’s profiles and reduces animal mortality
In Jhirniya, some 200 km from Indore city, the goat rearing project is in full swing. This sub-district ranks among the poorest in the country. Here, the “pashu sakhis” - ‘animal’s friend’ – local women trained in basic livestock health care –are rewriting the rules of the village economy. Like for poultry, the trick is the same, vaccination and deworming of goats.

These activities have led to a sharp decline in goat mortality. “Before our intervention, mortality used to be as high as 35 percent. It’s now down to four percent,” says Bharat Mogare, who heads the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in Madhya Pradesh.

At Saka village’s primary school, a meeting with a group of pashu sakhis has just started. Neema Bai, of the indigenous Bhil community, explains how she goes about her work in the village and neighbouring areas. “When a goat is sick in the village they inform me and I tend to the animal. People from neighbouring villages often bring their sick animals here where I can apply treatment,” she says.

The “pashu sakhis” meeting is interrupted by a group of goats being herded back home by local man Jaswant who peeps in. Does he find the pashu sakhis helpful? With a toothy smile he says: “They help us tremendously with vaccines and medicine.”

As a result of the “pashu sakhi” intervention, the goat population has shot up in Jhirniya, where a healthy goat can fetch around 7 000 rupees (US$110). This comes in handy for meeting critical regular family expenses as well as any other contingencies. Moreover, feeding children on goat milk ensures better nutrition.

As for the sakhi women, they have become more economically independent and self sufficient.

Contributed  by - Ashim Choudhury ( and Allan Dow (  

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