From livestock to livelihoods: Lifelines through training for rural women in Pakistan

New initiative anticipates that strengthening water governance and management will improve rural livelihoods by increasing incomes for farming households.

By Amjad Jamal, Communications Specialist, IWMI

For many rural households in Pakistan, managing livestock is an essential part of daily life, as it supports families’ livelihoods and provides a vital source of income. But while men help with livestock management – a practice that requires access to a reliable water supply and nutritious animal feed, among other things – the burden of labor often falls primarily on women’s shoulders.

Women in rural Pakistan. Photo: Asian Development Bank (ADB)
Women in rural Pakistan.
Photo: Asian Development Bank (ADB)

Indeed, the wide range of responsibilities women are tasked with typically includes everything from cutting fodder from fields and feeding cattle to cleaning dung from sheds and milking. However, rural women rarely receive formal training in livestock management. They instead acquire their skills primarily through word of mouth, and many women even rely on home remedies to treat their ill livestock, with veterinarians called only in the most extreme cases.

To improve female farmers’ confidence and skills in Kanori Village in north-central Pakistan, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and International Water Management Institute teamed up to organize a three-day training at Gomal University’s Veterinary and Animal Sciences Training Institute in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The training was conducted as part of the USAID Water Management for Enhanced Productivity Activity, a USAID-funded initiative aiming to reduce constraints around the productive and sustainable use of irrigation water in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The initiative anticipates that strengthening water governance and management will improve rural livelihoods by increasing incomes for farming households, thus contributing to broader socioeconomic development and political stability in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Rice farming in Pakistan. Faseeh Shams / IWMI
Rice farming in Pakistan. Faseeh Shams / IWMI

The three-day training at Gomal University marked the first time many rural women had the opportunity to participate in such a session. “I was always worried about the low milk production and diseases of my cattle, but now I have learned to overcome these issues,” says Jag Sabhai, a participant. “This vanda (a specialized fodder containing necessary nutrients for cattle growth and milk capacity) will help increase milk production, and now I know the feeding quantity for small and large animals. This is a wonderful training experience for me.”

Female trainers conducted the technical training sessions so as to allow female participants to feel more comfortable, since out of respect to Pakistani cultural norms, rural women may not always want to interact with men outside their families. This strategy allowed even the most reluctant and shy trainees to participate actively. The trainers also provided practical demonstrations at the faculty farm, while participants learned about stock water management, cattle breeds, improving nutrition, cost-effective livestock housing and management, and improved veterinary care. Stock water management is especially important given that the groundwater table is extremely low.

The most unexpected and promising aspect of the training was the growth in women’s confidence, as some felt comfortable enough by the end of the session to speak at a public forum in the presence of men. Looking forward, USAID envisions that these types of training sessions can enhance participants’ knowledge and skills in livestock management while supporting female farmers as they work to enhance stock productivity and minimize losses. In addition, the districts of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank – where the Water Management for Enhanced Productivity activity is implemented – experience significant water stress. As a result, the project is working closely with water users associations and farmers associations to resolve this issue in collaboration with the Irrigation Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

“Before the training, I had no idea about livestock management techniques, diseases, and productivity,” admits Jag Sabhai. “But now I know how to diagnose disease in my animals and how to treat them,” she says. “With better knowledge, I will have a better livestock that will boost my income.”


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