A little town in Sindh offers a haven of quiet and tranquillity away from the rush and bustle of cities like Karachi and Hyderabad. In a huge courtyard, a group of ladies tend to their livestock, while others chase escape hens under the shade of a canopy of trees. With the seaside winds blowing at a moderate speed, the setting creates a relaxing atmosphere.
It’s early in the morning, and the village men have already left for the fields or other errands in and around the village. The women, on the other hand, aren’t taking it easy. In fact, because they generally labour alongside men in the fields, women make a significant contribution to the economy of such a rural area. For example, livestock rearing is considered their responsibility.
Izzat Lashari village is located in Mirpursakro taluka, Thatta district, Sindh province’s southernmost district. Thatta district is located in the disaster-prone coastal region of Sindh.
Two of Izzat Lashari’s female inhabitants, used to traditional cattle farming and trade procedures, discovered a new approach to maximise the value of the livestock they care for all year: selling them online.
Rubina Lashari beams with pride as she explains, “I obtained the required price (Rs100,000) for my bull ahead of Eidul Azha.” This was the first time she and another villager, Shaheen Lashari, used online marketing and e-commerce to sell their livestock.
Navigating the World Wide Web
“We put images of our calves on a Facebook page and had a greater response in terms of potential buyers; previously, we used to sell them at whatever price dealers in our hamlet offered,” Rubina explains. She claims that these dealers acquired cattle from her and other village women and then sold them at higher rates in the cities’ larger cattle markets set up for sacrifice animals.
Shaheen is in charge of the Facebook page. Using her husband’s and uncle’s telephone numbers, she was able to communicate with online shoppers. “After learning from this year’s experience, we will hopefully do even better next year,” she says confidently.“We put images of our calves on a Facebook page and had a greater response in terms of potential buyers; previously, we used to sell them at whatever price dealers in our hamlet offered,” Rubina explains. She claims that these dealers acquired cattle from her and other village women and then sold them at higher rates in the cities’ larger cattle markets set up for sacrifice animals.
Shaheen is in charge of the Facebook page. Using her husband’s and uncle’s telephone numbers, she was able to communicate with online shoppers. “After learning from this year’s experience, we will hopefully do even better next year,” she says confidently.
Rubina explains, “We uploaded photographs of our calves on a Facebook page and got a lot more interest in terms of possible purchasers; earlier, we used to sell them at whatever price traders in our hamlet offered.” She reports that these dealers bought cattle from her and other village women and then sold them at higher prices at larger cattle markets set up for sacrifice animals in the metropolis.
The Facebook page is managed by Shaheen. She was able to connect with internet consumers by using her husband’s and uncle’s phone numbers. “We will hopefully perform even better next year after learning from this year’s experience,” she says firmly.
They devoted a lot more attention to their cattle this year, according to Rubina, thanks to the knowledge they learned in a livestock management programme. “I gave the animals better food and attended to their other needs, such as health and nutrition. It has certainly paid off “she explains.
Rubina mentioned that a training programme for women was initiated in various Mirpursakro areas. It provided training in livestock management and value addition in milk by-products to roughly 300 rural women entrepreneurs. The knowledge enabled them to see how they could make more during the pandemic’s most trying times, rather than effectively wasting a commodity such as prec
“The [coronavirus] epidemic had an economic impact on us. At the same time, it provided us with the chance and window to investigate other business opportunities that we were previously ignorant of. Thanks to the training programme, we are now also generating milk by-products like maava (condensed milk) and desi ghee,” Rubina explains.
Research and Development Foundation (RDF), a development-sector organisation and a local partner of the project’s lead agency, International Trade Centre, chose the women for the training (ITC). As part of the Grasp’s Covid-19 emergency response for Sindh and Punjab, the programme was established under the Growth for Rural Advancement and Sustainable Progress (Grasp) initiative.
Grasp is a six-year project aimed at reducing poverty in Pakistan by bolstering small-scale agriculture in Sindh and Balochistan. According to the findings of the project, SMEs account for the majority of enterprises in Pakistan.
Animal immunisation and the distribution of tools, equipment, seeds, fertiliser, fodder, and feeds were among the emergency response efforts for Pakistani clients.
Capacity-building of local farmers/SMEs on good agriculture practises, climate-smart practises, e-commerce, and value-chain development complimented the direct input support efforts.
According to Shabnam Baloch, the provincial lead for the project in Sindh, 10 women were provided smartphones to help them get online business exposure. “They are still learning,” she comments.
“We never opted for vaccination of animals [in the past] but now we got our animals vaccinated. I have seen animals being vaccinated in our village,” Nasima, a beneficiary, says.
The village is located close to the metropolitan city of Karachi. Efforts are underway through Grasp to develop strong market linkages between these rural women or SMEs and Karachi-based businessmen dealing in by-products of milk to develop a supply chain where they can keep selling the by-products.
The Economic Survey of Pakistan 2020-21 describes agriculture as indispensable to the country’s economic growth, food security, employment generation and poverty alleviation, particularly at the rural level.
The sector contributes 19.2 per cent to the GDP and provides employment to around 38.5pc of the labour force. More importantly, over 65-70pc of the population depends on it for livelihood. Livestock, over the years, has emerged as largest sub-sector in agriculture, contributing 60.1pc to agriculture value addition and 11.5pc to the GDP in FY2020-21.
Shabnam Baloch says Grasp will keep supporting women entrepreneurs in rural areas to build their capacity and in turn, improve the quality and quantity of their products, including value addition, packaging and branding to enhance their marketability. Their e-trade skills will be further upgraded through hands-on trainings and market linkages, she says.
For Rubina, prior to participation in the programme, like many others in her village, she had no idea about livestock management. But the training has equipped her with the essential skills to run a successful business.
“We used to follow conventional practices to manage animals,” she says, adding that she didn’t know what kind of diet is required for them. “We used to feed the cattle dry fodder, grass and some other items that were readily available in the village.”
But all that has changed now, she says. “Now we feed the livestock wanda, recommended to us in the training,” she says. The wanda she refers to is a concoction specifically designed for cattle feed. It helps milk production and makes the cattle healthier.
For Rubina, the wanda worked wonders, she says, as the bull she reared last year turned out to be quite healthy and fetched a good price. Though the product is more expensive compared to what she would normally feed her livestock, the returns make it worth it.
“My bull looked smart. I bathed it as well when the buyers came to make the purchase,” she says happily, adding that this was why she was able to sell the bull for Rs100,000. She will use the money for her daughter’s education. “I want her to become a doctor,” she says.
Besides caring for the livestock’s health, the women were also taught how to produce maava (condensed milk) during the training, for which the basic ingredient, milk, is readily available in villages. Roughly 40 kilogrammes of milk produces around 7-8kgs of maava. For the cattle to produce large volumes of milk, however, their diet must be taken care of.
Buwa Lashari says the milk yield from her cow has certainly increased ever since she changed the dietary pattern. “Previously, we didn’t care much about their (cattle’s) dietary needs,” she says. But ever since the shift, she regularly gets five to 10kgs of milk, instead of the earlier 2kgs.
“We also feared that vaccinations would render our cows infertile. It was just a fear,” she concedes. She is now looking for a business partner who would be willing to buy milk from her in bulk quantity.
“The only thing these rural women need is linkages to the urban market,” says RDF’s Ashfaq Soomro. “The issue is supplying the maava in the market of Karachi or other urban centres,” she adds.
Grasp is not the first project to help farmers improve their profitably. It is, however, the first of its kind specifically catered towards women.
Earlier in 2019, the Sindh government’s livestock department in collaboration with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) had worked on “Sustainable Livestock Development for Rural Sindh” to ensure calf salvation in the province. Calf slaughtering remains unchecked in Sindh, with the slaughtering of 0.6 million calves per annum reported in Karachi alone, according to one figure.
Under the project, calves bought from cattle colonies are kept for 90 days in a calf salvation centre (CSC) established by the livestock department directorate for proper feeding at different stages. Two calves each are then handed over to pre-selected pilot farmers after completion of the 90-day period.
Around 5,000 farmers — both male and female — have been trained under the project, against a target of 3,000, according to a JICA official who coordinates with the Sindh livestock department. JICA has borne 80pc of the cost of the project (Rs838m), while Sindh government has paid the other 20pc (Rs227.061m).
Rubina, Nasima and Shaheen also cultivate tomatoes. The area they live in is considered a hub of tomato production. But at times, the crop becomes a financial burden. “Even tomato picking becomes a liability. We then leave it in the land for it to become organic matter before cultivating another crop,” Nasima explains. This time, the Grasp emergency support provided them with critical crop inputs during the pandemic-driven lockdown.
“We look forward to Grasp training us in value-added items for tomatoes, and their processing, storage, grading, sorting, packaging and marketing to unlock the full potential of the product,” she says.