Reflections on my 8 years working with small-holder dairy farmers of Pakistan: a life changing experience: Part 2
By Peter Wynn
Working with youth
A single meeting with a young school student in a village in Western Punjab remains indelibly imprinted in my mind. The young man’s knowledge of English was remarkable as was his understanding of lactation and animal health. After we had departed from his village, he ran the 2 kilometres to our guest house seeking a meeting with me. He requested that I assist him in gaining opportunities for a proper college education, which under his current circumstances coming from a poverty stricken family would have been impossible. His persistency over the ensuing 2 years led eventually to a scholarship for him to attend a college. This instilled in me a sense of responsibility in providing educational opportunities for as many young people as possible. Of course our project dictated that this would focus on teaching the principles of dairy production and making more money for the family out of the milk they produced and marketed. It also fortified my belief in only hiring new veterinary graduates, untainted by the dated bureaucratic processes of government, to work within our project.
Figure 6. Student forums have proved to be an effective way of developing extension networks
Thinking outside the square for solutions to protracted problems
One of the major limitations to growing forage crops to feed livestock is the lack of quality forage seed available in the marketplace. Berseem clover is the key rabi or winter crop servicing the forage needs of small-holder livestock producers of Punjab province. And yet, high quality seed is hard to find in the marketplace in spite of the high demand. Thus farmers rely on their own self harvested seed over decades. Is it little wonder that most seed used is genetically inferior?
As a part of our program we linked with the international agency ICARDA to develop the concept of village-based forage seed enterprises. The concept involved small-holder farmers developing their own commercial seed production system based on high quality “research” standard seed obtained from government plant breeding centres.
Our PhD student Shoaib Tufail established forage and seed production sites on a number of small-holder farms, demonstrating that the use of superior quality seed yielded much higher fodder production and if managed carefully, an abundant yield of seed that could be sold throughout neighbouring communities.
The need for bees: Berseem relies on the presence of insects and most often honey bees as vector for effective cross-pollination. Given that Pakistan is reliant on cotton as a key export commodity, could it be possible that the extensive use of insecticides in the environment to protect cotton crops might impact on the local honey-bee population? In designing one of his studies Shoaib provided bee hives enclosed within a fine net to minimise loss of sunlight for the crop.
To his delight their inclusion trebled the yield of seed from his crop. Yet if you look a further afield we see that this is a worldwide problem. Recent press reports have highlighted that “ The number of “pollinators” — a group composed of roughly 20,000 flying creatures — is shrinking rapidly worldwide, putting “hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of crops each year” at risk” (http://www.grubstreet.com/2016/02/bees-and-other-pollinators-going-extinct.html).
Figure 7. The inclusion of bees in Shoaib’s berseem clover plots trebled seed production: what would happen if there were more bees to cross-pollinate the vast array of vegetable and fruit crops that Pakistan is so dependent on?
Can we now see why we need to link the departments of Livestock and Agriculture together to resolve problems with dairy and crop production existing in harmony in any village farming community?
Let’s go a step further.
The need for quality water: Fresh water makes up a very small fraction of all water on the planet. While nearly 70 percent of the world is covered by water, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh. The rest is saline and ocean-based. Even then, just 1 percent of our freshwater is easily accessible, with much of it trapped in glaciers and snowfields. In essence, only 0.007 percent of the planet’s water is available to fuel and feed its 6.8 billion people. (http://environment.nationalgeographic.com.au/environment/freshwater/freshwater-crisis/)
Irrigation water in Pakistan comes from 2 sources: canal water from the 5 rivers sourced from Kashmir or tube well water pumped from underground aquifers. Tube well water contains at least 5-fold more salt and is increasingly needed to supplement the dwindling supply of canal water. Both global warming resulting in less melting snow and the politics of ownership of water coming from the highlands of Kashmir play a role in decreasing this supply.
How often does the water supply become a political pawn in the hands of politicians? China’s damming of the Brahmaputra River just their side of the Tibetan border is depriving small-holder Bangladeshi and Indian farmers of their most precious resource. (http://www.rediff.com/news/column/china-dams-the-brahmaputra-why-india-should-worry/20151021.htm)
The politics of water supply is alive and well as Israel and Palestine compete for this important resource for the sustenance of communities and their food production in their countries.http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-11101797
An article in our NSW regional newspaper today highlighted the fact that in the nearby “paradise” of Bali, Indonesia, “over 50% of Balinese people have lost access to fresh water and now 75% of rivers run dry in the dry season.” At the same time more than 1,000 hectares of prime agricultural land is developed for tourism annually. How long can this go on? (www.townandcountrymagazine.com.au May 2 2016).
Thinking across the research activity spectrum: I see so many of these issues we have encountered in our Pakistan project repeating themselves across other projects in economics and social sciences, crops, natural resource management, livestock and fisheries. And yet, budgets from funding bodies do not provide the resources to facilitate cross-fertilization between projects and countries.
A role for RAID: There are some themes that are common to nearly all of your projects highlighted above and yet we never get to discuss these themes across the spectrum of projects in international agriculture. There are undoubtedly some interesting experiences that should be shared across projects.
The conservation and use of water is a critical subject for all communities and their food supply irrespective of whether we operate in Southern Africa, South Asia, SE Asia or the Pacific islands. RAID is an ideal forum to pull together an E-conference to share ideas on this and other subjects. Clearly the decimation of honey bees has implications for some key crops important to developing economies. Likewise the sociology of extension practices is a worthy topic for ideas sharing.
Good luck with your RAID activities over coming years. I trust your experience with international agriculture changes your life as it has mine.