The Project team embarked on the Intervention phase by visiting three project sites, namely Bangalore, Guwahati and Ludhiana. The two-day workshop entailed training of trainers (ToT) as per the schedule and plan that had been finalised by the Research Group a few months ago. In each of these sites, 10-12 participants were trained as trainers. They included Assistant Professors, senior faculty members from the partner veterinary department, post graduate students of veterinary science, field staff and the Research Investigator. The two-day training comprised of training on operational practices with the use of an Operational Manual, Farmers Manual, a set of power point presentations and a series of posters that captured key messages with visuals and graphics. These materials were appreciated by the participants with some of them expressing keenness to have translated versions for dissemination at their end.
This was followed by the enrolment of intervention and control farms. The team’s presence generated a lot of interest amongst dairy farmers who confirmed their participation for the upcoming training planned as part of the Implementation phase. Some of the observations of the project team and specific feedback from dairy farmers from each of the sites is enumerated below. These inputs would be useful in fine tuning the farmers training, making it more relevant to the local context.
Bangalore: Here, the farms were found to be small in size with barely 3-4 animals in one shed. Mixed farming was widely practised, with sheep and goats being reared alongside cattle. Some farms were not very clean and dung disposal was not done properly. A common sight was to see an animal sitting on the dung and for the dung to be littered around the entire shed and even encroaching into the living spaces of the family. There were some farms that did not have a dedicated shed for their animals, who had to sleep outside the residential structures. They were brought in only at the time of milking, compromising the safety of the animals, while increasing the likelihood for these animals to be exposed to disease carriers.
One farm followed model good practice by using the dung to generating biogas and using it as a primary source of fuel. On the whole, their awareness levels were satisfactory since the Karnataka Milk Federation supported and educated them on various aspects of dairy farming.
Farmers expressed enthusiasm at the forthcoming training planned for them and were happily registered. They also hoped that they would be shown how to maintain hygiene in animal sheds, especially floors and other surfaces. They expressed their desire to know more about the economic burden with respect to animal disease, since this was information that impacted their existence, livelihood and quality of life.
Guwahati: Poverty, ignorance and issues of access were found in the entire peri urban dairy farming belt. Most of the peri urban areas were found in hilly areas where poorer the farmer, higher his dairy farm. This effectively meant that the animal once bundled into an overcrowded shed on top of a hill had only a remote chance of strolling down to the plains. It remained confined there for what was usually a lifetime. Since in Guwahati there is no milk federation that represents the dairy farmers their interaction is largely restricted to traders whose concern is more with profit and pricing and less with animal welfare. Timely advice on sickness, treatment and even hygiene are not provided. Here too farms were found to be dirty with unclean floors and a lot of dung choking the drains and cascading from the farm, down the hill. Farmers seemed to be looking forward to the training where they would learn new things that would benefit them and their animals, leading to higher and better quality milk yield.
Ludhiana: The research team found that farmers here were also unaware of hygiene farm practices and reluctant to learn new things. However, there was a copy effect, in that, if one farmer adopted a new technique or behaviour there was a multiplier effect with others toeing the line. It was found that in this setting the trainer had to be very well trained and aware of local issues and mindsets. There was a feeling that the training tool may need to be further refined since each of the aspects it touched upon had multiple dimensions, making it difficult to arrive at precise answers. In this case, the RI needs to be trained to engage verbally (as opposed to having a questionnaire) with each farmer and to make him/her understand the research question and then give a response that is accurate.
In all the three project sites, farmers seemed enthusiastic and keen to attend the upcoming training. Field staff would be arranging vehicles for them to facilitate their movement. They had many concerns and questions and were looking forward to finding answers and easily implementable solutions. The study team is hopeful that these trained farmers would not only learn to practice healthy milking and farm hygiene but also seeing them, other farmers too would benefit similarly, since in each of these places the best learning amongst these communities happened by seeing others.