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Can farmers learn from their losses and from each other?

B. Mehraban, D. Ward and J. Otte

B. Mehraban is National Programme Manager, Project AFG/96/007, c/o FAO Representation, Islamabad, Pakistan; D. Ward and J. Otte are both Senior Officers, Animal Production and Health Division, FAO, Rome, and are responsible for Non-infectious Diseases and Veterinary Services, respectively.


Dans de nombreux pays en développement, l'incapacité des gouvernements (et des donateurs) à reconnaître l'importance de l'élevage en tant que pilier de l'agriculture nationale, a été bien souvent la cause d'une affectation nettement insuffisante, et prolongée, de ressources aux services vétérinaires nationaux, notamment au niveau des propriétaires de bétail. Cette carence chronique de fonds est à l'origine d'une détérioration progressive mais inexorable de ces services, jusque-là bien organisés et dirigés, en réduisant fortement leur champ d'action et leur capacité d'assumer des responsabilités publiques, par exemple pour la maîtrise des épidémies et en matière de santé publique.


La falta de reconocimiento por parte de los gobiernos de muchos países en desarrollo (y de donantes) de la importancia del ganado como columna vertebral de la agricultura nacional ha llevado en muchos casos a una escasez grave en la asignación de recursos a los servicios públicos de veterinaria, en particular para los propietarios de ganado, durante un período prolongado de tiempo. Esta escasez crónica de financiación ha provocado el deterioro gradual, pero inexorable, de esos servicios públicos, antes bien organizados y disciplinados, reduciendo gravemente su alcance y su capacidad para hacerse cargo de las responsabilidades públicas, como la lucha contra las enfermedades epidémicas y la salud pública.

The failure of governments in many developing countries (and of donors) to recognize the importance of livestock as the backbone of national agriculture has in many cases led to severe underresourcing of government veterinary services, particularly at the livestock owner level, over an extended period. This chronic underfunding has resulted in the gradual, but inexorable, deterioration of once well-organized and disciplined government veterinary services, severely diminishing their outreach and their capacity to deal with public responsibilities such as epidemic disease control and public health.

The private sector has not filled the gaps left by the deteriorating supply of veterinary services from the government. It is unlikely that, without incentives, the private sector will take over the delivery of public sector services to livestock owners in rural areas, where the return on livestock products is insufficient to support the costs of fully privatized veterinary service delivery. In some countries animal health care is provided by international non-governmental organizations, breeders' cooperatives, livestock committees, etc., which have an abundance of good will but at times lack technical expertise.
The UNDP/FAO livestock health and production programme in Afghanistan is one example of successful FAO assistance in the delivery of animal health care. The programme brings animal health and livestock production services within the reach of 75 percent of the communities in Afghanistan. In its early stages the programme introduced cost recovery for veterinary services and remedies and is now starting to charge farmers for some vaccines. Some district-based veterinary clinics are being privatized.
One fundamental problem identified by FAO was the often poor interaction and relations of the veterinarians with livestock owners. The community-based veterinarians spent most of their time in their clinics waiting for the farmers to come to them. Veterinarians felt that they knew everything and that farmers were generally ignorant. The farmers, however, felt that the veterinarians were interested only in their personal incomes. Unless they had a serious disease problem, livestock owners would not visit the veterinarians. Production diseases, such as reproductive inefficiency or poor nutrition, were not even identified.
To address this serious communication problem, in 1966 FAO initiated a programme to change the traditional method of extension, i.e. telling farmers what to do. Through FAO/Technical Cooperation Programme funding, it introduced a participatory programme called Animal Health and Production Improvement Module (AHPIM). Since AHPIM in the Afghan language sounds like "opium", another acronym was sought. PIHAM was chosen because in Afghan it means "continues" and reflects one of the first comments made by farmers about the early trainees of the programme, which is that Afghan farmers were pleasantly surprised that the PIHAM trainees kept coming back to their village to talk with farmers, learn from them and have a genuine and continuous relationship.


PIHAM village: livestock population and farms involved in the programme
Village PIHAM: cheptel et exploitations participant au programme
Aldea PIHAM: población ganadera y explotaciones participantes en el programa





Number of farms in PIHAM programme




Average female herd size per village (June 1997)


2 393


Average herd size per village


4 472


PIHAM is a training programme for veterinarians and can easily be adapted to other disciplines, especially for extensionists. It consists of four modules, each lasting about one week and followed by about one month of working together with the farmers in the field. In these four modules and field practice, the veterinarians are trained in participatory techniques in:

The key indicator data collected by the first group of farmers during the first year are shown in Figures 1, 2 and 3. The key production indicators were selected by the farmers themselves as being essential economic indicators for their family livelihoods and food security. As can be seen, there was a general improvement during the first year of the project. Data from the second year will be available by the end of 1998.


W9980t36.GIF (5823 bytes)

Birth rates of livestock, 1995/96 and 1996/97
Taux de natalité du cheptel, 1995/96 et 1996/97
Tasas de natalidad del ganado, 1995/96 y 1996/97


W9980t37.GIF (4498 bytes)

Neonatal death rates of livestock, 1995/96 and 1996/97
Taux de mortalité néonatale du cheptel, 1995/96 et 1996/97
Tasas de mortalidad neonatal del ganado, 1995/96 y 1996/97


W9980t38.GIF (5285 bytes)

Death rates of livestock, 1995/96 and 1996/97
Taux de mortalité du cheptel, 1995/96 et 1996/97
Tasas de mortalidad del ganado, 1995/96 y 1996/97

Thus, the FAO/UNDP livestock programme has introduced a continuous cycle of monitoring and dialogue with the farmers for identification of livestock problems, for finding solutions, for implementing suggested solutions and for evaluating the impact.
The training programme for veterinarians and others is currently being extended through Afghan trainers who participated in the first training courses. This highly participatory programme is based on three pillars:

In the process of monitoring, the performances of different farmers are evaluated. Reasons for low performance as well as reasons for good performance are discussed and farmers are given the opportunity to learn from each other and learn from their own successes and failures.

Under this programme, the training of 12 trainers was completed in 1997. Thirty-six veterinarians were trained in 1997-1998 and training of 50 more is currently ongoing. The achievements of the programme are remarkable in districts where the programme was started. The veterinarians have completely changed their attitude towards farmers. Their incomes have increased because they have made contacts with and become friends with the farmers in their districts. The farmers have improved their management and gained from working together with the veterinarians and other farmers. A period of two years of prospective key indicator data is desirable in order to judge the effect of the programme on livestock production.
As a consequence of the good preliminary results achieved with PIHAM in Afghanistan, FAO is providing assistance in the delivery of livestock services to smallholders in the Lao People's Democratic Republic using the approach outlined above. In this country the emphasis is on training district-level livestock specialists and village volunteers to provide effective livestock health and production improvement through services and extension messages. The AHPIM programme is adaptable enough to fit into any number of existing livestock health and production delivery structures.

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