Her bright red woollen sweater, multi-coloured glass bead necklace and a pair of anklets lay in the corner of the thatch-roofed hut. There was a pall of gloom hanging heavy in the air. Seven-month-old Jhumri, around whom the entire family had rallied ever since she was born, was severely unwell - she had caught a severe cold and stomach infection. All the family members were frantic. Unfortunately, despite the tender care, Jhumri did not survive the infection.
Even today when Hakikun, 50, remembers the suffering her beloved goat went through, she has tears in her eyes. "She was the most loved of my five goats. She died because I did not have money for her treatment," she says, tears rolling down her wrinkled face.
|A Goat, A Woman's Best Friend
|- To rear goats, the initial investment requirement is low.
- Goats are prolific breeders. Their gestation period is low and so the flock builds up quickly.
- Being small in size, the goat can easily be kept in a small place and can be handled easily by women and children.
- Under proper management, goats can improve and maintain grazing land and reduce bush encroachment (biological control) without causing harm to the environment.
- In drought prone areas, the risk in goat rearing remains quite low in comparison to bigger livestock.
- When it comes to selling the animal, in the case of a goat both male and female kids have equal value unlike the case with cows and buffaloes.
- No religious taboo against goat slaughter and meat consumption is prevalent in India.
- They can be milked a number of times in the day and goat milk has therapeutic value. It has smaller fat globules, has anti-allergic value and has proved effective in curing gastrointestinal problems in children.
- The scope of cottage industries based on goat meat and milk processing (cheese) are ample.
- India ranks number one in goat rearing. In 1997, there were 120.8 million goats. The figure shot up to 124.35 million by 2003.
- Around 25 per cent of the country's goats are in Uttar Pradesh.
One may wonder why Hakikun is so emotionally attached to her goats, but her love for these hardy animals is not surprising considering that they supplement her income. Not only do they help her make ends meet, they allow her to provide better for her children – Currently, only her youngest 11-year-old son lives with her, though she has married off two daughters and her two older sons have moved away from the village. Hailing from Madanapuri, a village located 50 kilometres from Rae Bareili district in India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, Hakikun works hard the whole day as a daily wage labourer only to earn a paltry sum. But her goats chip in - she can sell their milk and earn a few extra rupees. Over the years, Hakikun has played mother to several kids and goats and that's why Jhumri's death is mourned like that of a precious family member. To Hakikun, Jhumri's loss is both an emotional and financial blow.
"Women in poor households in rural areas as well as some urban pockets of the state have been keeping goats as a supplementary livelihood source. However, goat rearing has never taken the form of an enterprise because aspects like marketing, veterinary services, feeds and breeding have never been looked into seriously," says Sanjeev Kumar, the founder secretary of Goat Trust.
Headquartered in UP's capital Lucknow, the Trust has a presence in five states, and their chief focus is in promoting goat-based livelihoods. "The Trust has been working towards organising this sector for over a decade now," informs Kumar, who has a degree in livestock product and management.
After working as a livestock researcher for several years, in 1998 Kumar decided to use his expertise to help women form Self Help Groups (SHGs) around dairy farming. That goats can provide food security, nutrition and employment, especially for women, was something he learned while working with rural women. "I have to thank Ram Dulari, an illiterate village woman from Rajasthan, for drawing my attention to the economic benefits of rearing goats instead of cows for dairy farming," says Kumar.
Over a decade ago, he had initiated a group loan for some poor women in Alwar district in Rajasthan to pursue dairy farming but the scheme unfortunately failed because there was a severe drought that year. Angry and fearful of how they would pay back the bank, Ram Dulari had lashed out at him, saying, "You have got us into this mess. You made us dream big - telling us that rearing cows would be beneficial. But our little goats are much better any day. They are easy to rear, eat so much less and still give two litres of milk every day."
This angry outburst remained with Kumar. He realised that the goat was the animal for the poor, especially for poor women. Which is why he decided to set up the Goat Trust, with the help of a few friends and an initial investment of just Rs 5,000 (US$1= Rs 45.1). The Trust was formally registered in Lucknow in 2008.
Today, it has partnered with 26 small non government organisations (NGOs) that work in UP, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Across the five states, they have partners in 145 villages, who have trained over 2,500 women as goat rearers and promoted 125 special goat nurses. Financial aid is provided with the assistance of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust.
While focusing on creating awareness about goat rearing, the Trust works towards engendering good breeds, marketing and research. Regular training workshops on goat specific livestock diseases are also organised, where women friendly techniques of training are employed. For instance, the colour coding of medicines - a mixture of allopathy and herbal medicines - helps in easy identification. Women trained as goat nurses are given a primary goat healthcare kit and the Trust regularly updates information on preventative health care and good practices. The women are also taught marketing techniques, which includes traditional selling methods so that they have the confidence to sell goats without waiting for a male member to be present.
Hakikun and others have benefited tremendously from this. Hakikun received three days goat management training and money through the revolving fund initiated by the partner NGO - Vishwas Sanstha. The revolving fund is provided through the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust to women who have been organised in Self Help Groups. Further, the Goat Trust has trained a woman from her village as a goat nurse, who provides regular appropriate healthcare service for a nominal price.
Then there’s Hayeda Begum from Khale Ka Purva hamlet in Rahi block of Rae Bareli, who in December 2010 was able to get a fair price for her male kid – her training allowed her to negotiate the price of Rs 2,550. She says, “Live body weight pricing enabled me to assess the real price and negotiate well. Assessment of price had intrigued me for years, but it turned out to be quite simple and it helped me take a stand with the local traders."
Goat rearing may still not be a full-fledged livelihood option – it is mostly for supplementing family income – but goats have definitely ensured the food security of many impoverished households. They have escaped hunger and disease just because they have a goat to take care of their dietary needs. Goats have also proven to be a ready source of cash for buying ornaments or clothes or paying the school fees. And had it not been for goat milk, children in many villages that have benefited from the Goat Trust's work, would never have known the taste of milk, since the big cooperative dairies buy up all the buffalo and cow milk available in these villages.
To women like Hakikun and Ram Dulari, these hardy creatures are indeed their reason for empowerment and well-being - they give them financial security, put food on their table and, yes, allow them to dream of a good life for their children.
By arrangement with WFS
Image (c) Gettyimages.com