YGro is a social action NGO that came from Youth for Christ. It offers training, micro enterprise and micro loans. About a third of their emphasis is working with poor dairy farmers to increase production and provide an increased income for them and their families.
The focus of the work is in the north which is less developed and poorer than the south. The northern areas were badly affected by the civil war which ended in 2009. Much of the rural population was displaced and a lot has been done to encourage resettlement, but some areas have returned to jungle. A lot of cattle were lost in the war (50-60%) and even now all females are used to breed and only those certified by the vet as unproductive can be sold for beef.
YGro work with the government to identify an area in which to work. YGro provide dairy training to around 100 farmers and then provide a mixture of grants and micro loans to 10-20 farmers to improve milk production.
We visited four of the YGro centres. The format of each visit was as follows:
- A meeting with the local government veterinary surgeon.
- Visits to local farmers selected by the Vets/ YGro staff to see individual cows and to do farm walks.
- A debrief of the day’s activities.
- The next day a training session for extension workers looking at Dairy Management, Fertility, and calf rearing was given, followed by a question and answer discussion on any other topics.
The YGro staff in the North were presented with a Tamil translation of Peter Queensberry’s book “Where there is no animal Doctor”. I also gave a presentation on Transition Cow Management to a meeting of the Northern region vets in Jaffna at the Dept. of Animal Health. There was a presentation of 80 copies of “Where there is no animal Doctor” for the vets to use in training with their Livestock Extension officers.
The infrastructure for dairy farming is in place and there is a government program to promote and develop the industry. The subsidies are well targeted and thought through, if somewhat bureaucratic.
There is a government veterinary service which handles subsidies, AI, FMD vaccination and training as well as general veterinary services. The District Vets cover a large range with about 15,000 cows. Generally, they are poorly resourced. There is much dependence on the drive and commitment of that local vet. The variation in the level of annual FMD vaccination was marked. In some areas it was over 90% which means herd immunity would stop an outbreak. Other areas were around 20%. Blackleg vaccination is routine. Tick borne diseases are a big problem and cows are treated for ticks up to every 15 days.
The farms are small subsistence units milking 1-8 cows by hand with yields around 10 litres. They are moving from a range feeding beef suckler system where a little milk is harvested to a dairy system. About a quarter of the animals are crossbreds, mostly Jersey but also Pakistani Sahiwal, and AFS (Australian Friesian Sahiwal). The area is predominately a rice paddy area but supplied by monsoon and tank (reservoir). There has been a drought and with global warming the government policy is to shift from rice production to other crops.
There is a network of chillers and milk collection points so access to market is not a problem and the price is relatively high at SR65-70 per litre. (40p/litre) Where land is irrigated there is good growth, both fodder and cash crops. Sorghum and Napier grass (there are several varieties available, sugar grass, CO3, and CO4) are grown and harvested. YGro have implemented the use of Azolla tanks to provide high protein algae fodder.
Extension workers vary in ability and in knowledge. Some are trained in AI whilst some are just starting to learn but generally there is a good level of dairy knowledge in YGro staff. The Model Project farmers are aware of the importance of water access and feeding, but implementation is variable. The identification of innovative farmers is an important part of the project. The use of mash feeding, to ensure water intake and a good rumen fermentation, is routine.
Calf rearing has not moved with the change to a dairy system. Most are currently weaned around 5-6 months of age though some were still suckling as the following year’s calf was born. Most are poorly grown.
The Government target for weaning is 10-12 weeks but this is currently counter-cultural. Time and training needs to be given so that farmers understand the principles of calf rearing. The calves need to develop their rumen and change from being a mono-gastric digesting milk to a ruminant fermenting fodder. There was little understanding of the principles amongst farmers or extension workers.
Sri Lanka has a developing dairy industry and there is a government emphasis to try to increase the amount of domestically produced items to reduce the reliance on the import of milk powder and milk-products.
There is a significant opportunity for these small farmers to increase their output and income.