Not very long ago, 45-year-old Suraj Mai Kushwaha of Jarauli village in Mahoba was no better than an unlettered homemaker, contentedly attending to her family needs. Two years on, she has become one of the most sought-after women in the village.
Her fellow villagers call her 'doctor-nee' (colloquial for female doctor) or nurse-didi. Kushwaha is not a doctor but she's not a quack either. She prescribes medicines and administers vaccines and injections to goats, a 'profession' that has earned her the title of 'Bakri Sakhi', a friend of goats.
Kushwaha along with other 250 women in 148 villages across four Bundelkhand districts and nine Rajasthan districts have been instrumental in bringing down the goat mortality rate drastically, thereby increasing goat-rearers' income substantially.
Kushwaha has been trained under a goat livelihood project in technical collaboration of the Goat Trust, Lucknow and financial collaboration of Sir Jamsed Ji Tata Trust, Mumbai.
The goat is an important animal in drought mitigation effect. The people in the project areas have now realized that the goat is most suited as a backup livelihood in the arid and drought prone zones than any other cattle. Cattle are grazing animals while goats manage well with less water and find food out of thorny shrubs even if it needs them to scale steep rocky-hilly profiles.
Mortality rate of goats had been high in absence cost-effective veterinary support to goat-rearers. "A to-and-fro travel with a goat to a nearest town area in Bundelkhand region causes an expenditure of at least Rs. 300," said Manoj Kumar of Kriti Shodha Sansthan, Mahoba. The Sansthan is one of the voluntary implementing agencies.
"Now five villages in Mahoba have their own goat health managers. Same is the case with project-linked villages in the other project districts. Each village has one or two such managers who take care of goats and earn money in return," he adds.
According to the Goat Trust study, overall goat mortality rate has plummeted to 4.4% from 23% in one-and-a-half years in the project areas.
Training & employment
"Our training is aimed at preventing diseases in goats and providing first aid at early stage of any injury in goats. The 'sakhis' do vaccinations, de-worming and first aid," said Sanjeev Kumar, the managing trustee of the Goat Trust, Lucknow. Only those women are selected for the programme who are goat-rearers. Illiterates are taught to read and write. "The initial kit is provided free but sakhis have to replenish kits from earnings. It is self-employment than charity," says Manoj Kumar.
Kushwaha says: "Each Sakhi, on an average, makes a minimum of Rs. 600 per month. But with experience and time my income has soared to Rs. 2,000 a month."
A sakhi gets Rs. 3 per goat from goat-rearer as a monthly fee, Rs. 5 for administering a vaccine (excluding vaccine cost), Rs. 5 for a treatment (excluding medicine cost) and an emergency visit cost ranges between Rs. 10 and Rs. 25.
The sakhis have a blue saree-blouse as their uniform given to them by the goat project. "We wanted them to be regimented," said Sanjeev Kumar.