Talunna Farmers Prosper from Integrated Farming

SLCDF has funded a Heifer dairying project for six participant families with disabled persons in the Talunna village, in the Tangalle Divisional Secretary’s Division through Navajeevana, an NGO working with the disabled in Hambantota district and based in Tangalle. They have all received the usual preparatory training provided to all Heifer participants – in Cornerstones and technical training providing skills and knowledge so essential for a successful Heifer dairy project. Three were females and three males, in this initial group who were given Rs.37,500 each in 2007 for putting up a cattle shed, purchasing a cow, for transporting the cow, and for insuring it.

These six participants along with their trained counterparts who were to receive pass on calves* formed themselves into a producer CBO, Samagi Sanvidanaya on 15-7-2007. They have been regularly meeting on the 21st of every month at one of their houses in rotation, with NGO participation. The CBO handles a small group savings fund, and share their experiences discuss progress and shortcomings in an open fashion. They also ensure the pass on process among the group. The CBO has taken the initiative in collecting the milk available for sale from among the group in one location to enable Milco to collect the milk from them.

These farmers have been incurring a monthly expenditure of between Rs.800 – 1000 for each cow on their dairy projects, mainly for that part of the cattle feed they have to purchase from outside. Most of the cattle feed originates from their homesteads where fast growing species are grown to continuously feed the cows in addition to a little CO3 grass grown by these participants. All these participants are fortunate in having sufficient water on their homestead itself, which is a prerequisite for productive dairying. They also have sufficient land for providing adequate quantities of cattle feed – their highland holdings are all over 1 acre except one which is also ¾ of an acre in extent. A full grown cow has to be fed around 20 – 30 kgs of cattle feed every day.

At present production of milk amounts to a total of 28 litres daily from 6 cattle in milk, 3 buffalos and 3 cows. They are milked only once a day. The daily fresh milk sales varies from 2 – 8 litres (2,6,8 litres) per cow and the number of pots of curd sold range from 2 to 5, two participants selling 5 pots each. The producer gets around Rs.47-50 per litre for fresh milk and Rs.90-120 per pot for buffalo curd. Over a period of 6 months, which is the average standard cycle when milk is produced by a cow, these participants can expect anything between Rs.51,000 to Rs.108,000 while one of the participants who gets only 2 litres daily does not sell the milk, consuming all of it within the household and sharing any surplus with the neighbourhood. The higher incomes are possible with buffalo curd production. The curd is sold through retail outlets located in the neighbourhood, and fetches Rs.90 – 120 per pot, depending on the size of the pot.

*the original participant gifts the first born female calf to a designated, trained participant from the neighbourhood.

The home gardens of these farmers provide fresh vegetables and fruits, which generate a monthly income of Rs.2000 – 6000, going up to even Rs.10,000 for some when premium prices prevail. These farmers make full use of the cow dung from their cattle on their own home gardens without selling it as some in other groups have sometimes been doing. Many in these families have started to consume fresh milk in preference to the less nutritious milk powder which they previously were consuming. Increased consumption of vegetables, fruits, and fresh milk has contributed to an improvement of the nutrition status in many of these families, thereby reducing the incidence of malnutrition, especially among children. However, there has been no attempt to measure all this systematically.

The additional income they have been able to earn have gone into new investments – mainly housing improvements, getting water and electricity connections, educating their children and for cattle feed / medicines, been ploughed back into the dairy project.

The Heifer dairy programme is ideally suited for families with disabled persons, where the other members of the family can attend to the manifold dairy activities without moving out of their homestead. They are now involved in a sustainable income generating activity within the home garden, whereas previously they more often than not were forced to move out of their homestead looking for irregular casual work leaving the disabled member to fend for himself / herself as best as they could. The differently abled member of each family is now better cared for, with special attention from Navajeevana trained staff. They are cared for under the Navajeevana Community Based Rehabilitation programme.

Talunna village has been fortunate in getting the services of Veterinary Surgeons and Livestock Development Instructors whenever they were required. The success rate of the Artificial Insemination services provided by them has been a near 100%.These farmers have been getting cattle feed and medicines at subsidised rates from the local Veterinary Office. In addition, the Veterinary Surgeon has been available always to help out with day to day problems faced by these farmers. Their technical input has also buttressed the previously provided training in animal management as part of the Heifer programme.

This herd which started with six now has rapidly expanded to twenty one – five pass on calves, six 2nd and 3rd calves, one cow as a grant from the local Veterinary Office and two purchased by original participants. This is a remarkable achievement over a period of 4 years. These participants have single mindedly followed the Cornerstones principles on which the project is founded – the pass on gifts of calves, improved nutrition from income generated, satisfactory productivity, going on to spiritual advancement.

The cooperation between husband and wife, family unity has all improved tremendously with this project. Women, however, appear to be doing most of the work involved in dairying. The children too willingly contribute their mite to the success of the project.

Women have been taking on more leadership roles in the village, a woman working as the Secretary of their small CBO. They keep simple accounts.

The women folk keep their homesteads meticulously clean with much beautification also going on with appropriate fauna and flora. They have managed to maintain high levels of biodiversity in their gardens. The micro environment has gained significantly from the dairy project.

Within the village and in neighbouring villages there is a burgeoning interest in dairy farming and the demand for assistance has been growing. The farmers who were fortunate enough to have been selected for participation in the Heifer programme are extremely keen in continuing their dairy activities and if possible expand them in the near future.

Factors that can be identified as been responsible for the overall success of the programme in Talunna are – the careful selection of participants, their training in Cornerstones and in dairy management, the effective group processes, taking place there; the prevailing steady market for fresh milk, the readily available Veterinary Services, a disease free herd and the determined commitment to the project by Navajeevana.