TCi Scholar Maureen Valentine, a graduate student in animal science at Cornell University, is studying goat nutrition and feeding practices in the Udaipur District of Rajasthan. Here, she shares some of her experiences in the field.
Mahatma Gandhi referred to goats as the “poor man’s cow”, and this description certainly holds true in much of India today. India is home to about 126 million goats, about 14.6 percent of the world’s goat population (Aziz, 2010). The country is the second largest producer of goat meat, and the largest producer of goat milk. An estimated 20 million small farmers and landless laborers in India depend on goats either partially or entirely for their livelihood (Vision 2030, CIRG, 2011). These crucial assets not only provide a source of income through goat sales, but also provide vital animal source foods to poor families, and a means to mitigate risk as a mode of informal banking.
Since goats are known to play such a vital function for poor people, many goat development initiatives targeting the ultra-poor have been spearheaded. In the Udaipur District of Rajasthan, the imGoats Project has been locally managed by the BAIF Development Research Foundation (BAIF), targeting nearly 3,000 participants. The project is similarly underway in Jharkhand, India, and in Mozambique, with the International Livestock Research Institute acting as the main implementing organization for all three projects. Building on the nutrition recommendations already asserted by the project in the Udaipur District, my project is to further explore the nutrition and feeding management of goats in four area clusters. Through a better understanding of the feeding and nutrition of the local goats, we will be able to make more location-specific recommendations to improve goat health, and thereby improve productivity and profits for goat owners.
To gain a deeper understanding of the goats’ diets, surveys and observations were utilized. A total of 64 participants were randomly selected from 10 villages across four clusters (Ogna, Jhadol, Khantharyia, Bagpura). In addition to the survey, 16 individual goats from households already interviewed were selected for observations to see exactly what each goat consumed during one full day. The goats were timed as they ate, the local names for plants were noted, and plant samples were taken for plants that had unknown botanical names. The overall goal is to form example diets for this particular season for the goats in the selected villages. Afterwards, a software simulation tool called the Small Ruminant Nutrient System will be used to approximate the nutrition demands or deficiencies for goats in this region. This process will allow for more location specific recommendations to be created with the imGoats project. This methodology could also be used for other livestock development projects in similarly extensive systems as a way to assess animals’ diets and nutrient demands.
In total, I spent four months (June through September) in India to conduct this study. One month was spent in Pune working at the BAIF headquarters, one month at the BAIF office in Udaipur to develop the methodology and plan the project, and two months in the village of Jhadol where fieldwork was based. The project area is a tribal region of India, and is one of the poorer and more conservative areas in the country.
It was truly fascinating to spend 50 days straight with people living in these rural villages. During the days of goat observations, I would arrive around 7a.m. and spend a full day with a family until the sun went down. At first, everyone was excited to have a foreigner in the house with countless offers of chai and fresh corn (I was there during the harvest). But, after an hour or two, people settled into their daily routines and let me blend into the background. I not only learned about how the goats fit into their schedules and priorities, but about their general way of life. These people were more than willing to share local knowledge of their environment, language and personal lives with me, a complete stranger. It was an extremely humbling experience to be offered such hospitality from people who would be considered far below the poverty line by Western standards.
I left India in late September, which was a bittersweet farewell. This project has been one of the most challenging – and rewarding – experiences of my life. Over the next few months, I will analyze the data and formalize my recommendations and master’s thesis. There are already a million things that I would have done differently if I could do it over again, but I suppose that is what the learning process is all about!