Rural Malkangiri rears livestock while the sun shines

Malkangiri (Odisha), Oct 12 (IANS/ 101Reporters) “Fearing an outbreak of infectious diseases, we used to sell off our desi (country) chicken before the rains. Traders made the most of it, paying less than usual. However, this year was different. Thanks to the solar-powered cold storage facility, I could vaccinate all my fowls before the monsoon. Only five or six birds in my flock of 50 died,” Anil Kirsani from Pulapally Colony in Mathili block told 101Reporters.

Over the years, livestock rearing has served as a backup to meet financial emergencies in the tribal belt of Malkangiri. “However, high mortality rates always posed a problem for small farmers,” said Ranjita Pujari, the sarpanch of Mecca panchayat in Mathili.

Narsingh Pula of Siripeta village said his fowls started sneezing and coughing last monsoon, besides twisting their necks. They became paralysed and died in a few days. Veterinary officials said it was a case of Ranikhet (New Castle Disease).

In fact, Ranikhet and Fowlpox wiped out the entire flock in Siripeta, Panighata and Banktiguda villages in Khairput block last year. According to Binayak Mishra, district livestock coordinator for Somks, a regional NGO that promoted better animal husbandry practices, goats and cattle succumbed to Peste des Petits, Goat Pox, Haemorrhagic Septicaemia and Black Quarter diseases.

The tribal income thus suffered a massive setback in the district, where over 58 per cent of the population struggled with poverty, according to Niti Aayog’s National Multidimensional Poverty Index for 2021. Though vaccines were the only way to save their poultry, farmers had to travel 80 km to the district headquarters to buy them from unregistered agents for Rs 50 to 60 per bird and Rs 100 to 120 per goat.

A shot in the arm

Mathili and Khairput blocks got their solar-powered vaccine coolers in January 2022 under the Odisha government’s two-year pilot project to assist local farmers in tackling livestock mortality. Costing Rs 1,06,000, it comprises solar panels, a refrigerator, a small cold storage box to take vaccines to the customers, and other essential inputs/supplies.

Each refrigerator can store up to 100 litres of various vaccines. In the event of a power outage, they can maintain cooling for 24 to 30 hours. These functions are of utmost importance as erratic power supply and absence of cold storage facilities impair vaccine efficiency in remote settlements, said Khairput Block Veterinary Officer Tushar Mishra.

Vaccine availability and its decentralisation have come as a boon to farmers in the area, where income from rainfed agriculture has come down drastically due to climate change. “The cold storage facility has encouraged farmers to scale up their livestock,” noted Malkangiri Chief District Agriculture Officer Nandagiri Ramakrishna Hayagreeva. It has also reined in distress sale of livestock.

The Department of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Services initially trained two farmers running large-scale livestock enterprises on how to keep farm animals in good health. The solar panels and fridge were installed at their houses, from where vaccine vials were supplied to other 40 tribal youth, who were trained by the department in January. These para-veterinarians earn a living by selling vaccines, but they have to bear their travel expenses themselves to reach remote villages.

As per the agreement, the department purchases cold storage units and hands them over permanently to selected farmers, who have to give an undertaking that they would use it only for supply of vaccines to local farmers and paravets. A local NGO will also regularly monitor the smooth run of the system. The recipient farmer is responsible for the device’s safety. The equipment comes with a one-year warranty, after which the farmers need to pay Rs 2,000 annually to get the manufacturer’s services.

In Khairput block, the cold storage facility is placed at the house of Madhu Bhumia of Pushpali Colony. “Agriculture is steadily becoming unprofitable. I supplement my family’s income by selling vaccines that the department provides. In the last three months, I have saved around Rs 8,000,” Bhumia beamed.

Farmers in 10 neighbouring villages rely on Bhumia for vaccines. He earns Rs 1,400 to 2,000 per month by supplying vaccines for 700 to 1,000 poultry birds at a subsidised rate of Rs 2 per bird. Similarly, he supplies vaccines for 250 to 300 goats at Rs 5 per animal, adding Rs 1,250 to 1,500 to his earnings every month.

He also sells 150 to 200 vaccine vials to other para-veterinarians at Rs 10 each to earn Rs 1,500 to 2,000. In turn, the paravets provide vaccines in other rural areas. Each of them earns a monthly income of Rs 3,000 to 5,000 by serving 100 to 120 farmers.

“Access to vaccines is now easier. The demand is also rising,” shared Lachuram Chalan, at whose house in Mecca village the cold storage facility for Mathili block is installed.

“We intend to establish a cadre of paravets at the community level,” Uday Kumar Kalyanapu, Livestock and Fishery Officer, Watershed Support Services and Activities Network (WASSAN), told 101Reporters.

Meanwhile, Malkangiri District Collector Vishal Singh said routine vaccinations would not be enough in the long run to sustain the benefits of small-scale livestock rearing. “It is important to support community-led disease management,” he advised.

A mix of everything

Dr Bikash Chandra Sardar, Malkangiri district nodal officer and master trainer on better livestock management at the animal husbandry department, said farmers received financial assistance for raising exotic and mixed-breed animals, but such assistance was less common for native ones.

“Selecting the right breed that can adapt to the local agroecosystem is critical. Local breeds have high procreation rates and are resilient. They require little investment, but provide excellent returns,” Sardar told 101Reporters. He added that improved feed quality and selective breeding would maximise the genetic potential of various indigenous breeds.

“Farmers are eager to engage in free-range backyard poultry, but the shortage of indigenous chicks poses a challenge. The government should help establish breeding farms in remote areas to ensure supply at reasonable rates,” appealed Balaram Kansari from Mathili’s Ambaguda village.

Beyond vaccinations, experts suggest use of tried-and-tested local concoctions to keep poultry in good health. “These practices should be documented and widely disseminated. The local paravets can be taught traditional herbal techniques to boost antibody production,” suggested Dr Sunil Kumar Dash, a livestock expert at WASSAN.

Balaram Sahu, a veterinarian and a recipient of the National Award from the Department of Science and Technology for promoting organic and cost-effective methods for sustainable agriculture and livestock management, said local communities have been using a variety of herbs, roots, leaves and oils to improve the health and immunity of their cattle. “We should not dismiss such low-cost herbal healing practices.”

In summers, poultry farmer Budra Dumali of Khatiguda adds turmeric powder and aloe vera juice to the water bowls of birds to protect them from heat stroke. “Aloe vera juice lowers their body temperature and turmeric promotes growth,” Dumali explained.

Kamala Beta of Mecca said she applied a paste of neem and turmeric on the skin of fowls that suffered from Fowlpox. Her other tip was to add lemon and amla juice to the water in summers, which she said worked as an anti-stress agent.

“We add dried Chiretta leaves to the chicken feed once a month. It works as a dewormer and improves the digestive system,” shared Ghanshyam Samarath of Temurupali.

(The author is a freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)

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