Skip to main content

Reflections from a year in the field: Sustainable livestock feeding systems in rural India

Over the last year, I was conducting fieldwork in the
Kandhamal District of Odisha, India. We implemented a goat feeding experiment
with Kondha tribal farmers in the forest fringe areas of Tikabali Block.
Livestock management in the project area was extensive (as opposed to
intensive) where animals openly graze with minimal or no oversight. Quantity
and quality of grazing areas have seen steady declines in as little as the last
10-20 years because of conversion to agricultural lands and forest extraction
of resources such as firewood.

image

A girl from Budugudari proudly holding up one of
their household goats.

(Photo credit: Maureen Valentine)

Our hypothesis was that a semi-stall feeding system could
improve the health and wellbeing of goats while giving local farmers further
opportunities for marketing improved livestock products. (Learn more.) There is one
cultivation season in this region where farmers mainly cultivate paddy, and
they leave fields fallow for the remainder of the year. Livestock management
proves to be another restraint for farmers to grow crops in other seasons
because unmanaged livestock will damage valuable produce, which increases the
importance of addressing the animal management system for tribal farmers.

image

Goats from one village are out grazing for the
day. Owners would take their goats to the river banks in the cultivation season
when they are restricted from agricultural lands.

(Photo credit: Maureen Valentine)

We established a goat feeding experiment with 16
farmers in two villages. Half of the farmers continued with their traditional,
open grazing system and half of the sample shifted to a semi-stall feeding
system with feed provided by the project. We collected data within each of the
three main seasons: summer, rainy and winter. It was an enriching opportunity
to work with the same 16 farmers for a full nine months to deepen my context
for the quantitative variables measured. We learned their daily patterns,
understood cultural norms of livestock management, and came to appreciate the
social connections and tensions that reside within these complex communities.
Implementation of this experiment in rural India exposed me to the monumental
challenge of establishing projects in rural places with lacking infrastructure
and a dearth of skilled labor for execution of rigorous research methods.
Finding reliable people for delegating responsibilities is essential for
success, and I was privileged to have outstanding support staff.


image

Two male goats enjoy their provided diet from the project. (Photo credit: Maureen Valentine)

We collected a substantial amount of data regarding the
commonly consumed forages, the quality of forages, management practices, and
the potential to change management. In the end, we had farmers request hands-on
tutorials about how to grow forages and how to provide feed for their animals.
We hosted a fodder cultivation workshop with the assistance of the Animal
Husbandry and Veterinary Services Department
, and it was gratifying to see the
interest that organically emerged because of our research. Farmers were
thankful for the interest that we showed in them, and hoped that information
sharing could continue in the future to help them improve their production
systems.

image

Farmers siting for a day-long fodder cultivation
workshop. The extension officer is explaining the best forages to grow in this
area of India.

(Photo credit: Maureen Valentine)

As I work to clean my data and make conclusions about how
our research can influence animal husbandry policy, I reflect on the incredible
experiences that I had in India over the last year. This year has been a once
in a lifetime opportunity to leap into a foreign environment, try out an idea,
and fully embrace the failures and successes. I hope that other students will
accept opportunities to venture outside their research stations or labs and get
a taste of how research could work on the target audience.

image

Nimisha Bhagawaty, the project coordinator,
takes a survey from one of the household participants.

(Photo credit: Maureen Valentine)

I want to thank the Tata-Cornell Institute and TARINA for
the provision of funding to undertake this project, my committee members for
their long-distance support, and all the support staff in India that helpful to
make this project a reality, particularly my project coordinator, Nimisha
Bhagawaty.

image

Our final goodbye lunch in one of the villages.
The whole village came together to say farewell.

(Photo credit: Maureen Valentine)

By Maureen Valentine

Maureen Valentine (mev53@cornell.edu) is a TCI Scholar and a third year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Animal Science. Maureen completed her one year of fieldwork (as required for TCI Scholars) in 2016.