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Two hands at the corral exchange a few words across a timber fence that could be a divide between the decades.

On one side is the very epitome of traditional livestock rearing in Brazil; faded slacks, straw cowboy hat and spurs. He’s answered on the other by a colleague in standard 21st century issue polo shirt and baseball cap.

This is an industry with a long legacy in Brazil, where some 360,000 people are employed rearing the country’s 209m head of cattle. The figures at the fence are just two of the 80 employed at José Augusto Franco Vilela’s Uberlandia farm, whose pristine corrals sit in a sea of grassland, punctuated by knots of trees.

The importance of this industry to this country can’t be overstated; it’s the second largest beef producer and a huge export in a country that’s riding high in the economic rankings.

Veterinarian Flavio Luiz is a well-known face at José’s farm, where livestock cattle mingle with dairy herds. He is in no doubt about the national importance of the sector.

“Today, we know that livestock farming is really important for national GDP,” he explains.

“More than a third of this involves livestock farming. And I think food production for this growing population is extremely important – we need to feed everyone.”

He gestures to the many hands who mill around the enclosures on foot or horseback.

“We have these workers here on the farm. The most important thing here is job creation, and livestock is doing that in a big way.

“And there are many other people who are directly and indirectly affected by production on the farm.”

But supporting a booming industry is far from an easy living. It’s hard graft for the workers on José’s farm, even if there’s still the occasional pause in the action to chew the fat.

In India, the dairy industry isn’t so much booming as in the throes of a full-scale revolution. In just two decades, this is a country that has gone from importing its milk to becoming the number one supplier on the planet

This growth is nothing short of astonishing – not least because the overwhelming majority of the players in this $83bn global industry are the many millions of rural smallholders. A recent census found that as much as 69 per cent of India’s farmland is held by farm owners with less than a hectare. As many say in the region, India is not mass production -- it is production by the masses.

On the buffalo dairy farm in Lonad village, which is located in the Thane district of Maharashtra, we see every member of the family – men, women and teenagers – pass through the sheds at some point during the day. Each of them a member of a vast, informal workforce that operates the country’s 70 million small farms.

For every set of vacuum tubes helping to make cow milking a bit easier, is a team of men taking on the task by hand. It’s a practice they’ve done for much of their lives. They’ll fill bucket after bucket, each one adding a bit more in wages to their pocket.

When the job is done, they will gently pour this liquid gold into a jug nearly a meter tall. The women of the family will hoist the jugs two at a time onto their shoulders and set off for the market. They’ll deftly weave through crowded back alleys while calling out greetings to friends, all without spilling a drop.

“Most of the farmers here are marginal farmers,” says Dr Shrawan Singh, whose arduous working day sees him criss-crossing the hills of the Maharashta region for appointments to visit the many smallholders with dairy cows.

“Working as a veterinarian, we are with the farmers. We’re treating their animals, preventing their huge losses, and we are contributing to our country. Being a cattle veterinarian in India is the highest thing, you know.”

Supporting Smallholders In Kenya

In Kenya, Daniel Kisee has been a veterinarian in Makueni County for nearly three decades, where the vast majority of people live in the rural expanses covering much of the country.

Though he now works for the county, he was originally part of a Government scheme of national service for veterinarians, and has seen first-hand how healthy animals can provide a path out of poverty for communities.

“This was in 1994, and I found working with the rural farmers very interesting,” he says.

“Most of our rural people are poor and they have various challenges. But it is always exiting when you help them fulfil their potential – when you see someone move from one level in their production to a whole new level … that’s what keeps us going.”

Two vast counties away is Daniel’s colleague Samuel, who provides essential support to the smallholders of Nakuru County. He’s acutely aware of the importance of these animals to the communities who depend upon them.

“When a small-scale farmer loses a cow – or even a calf for that matter – it’s devastating in that it’s not just a matter of economic activity, but because cows are part and parcel of the family setup.

“There’s nothing as devastating as seeing a farmer mourning the death of an animal. I’ve seen women weeping … crying because a cow has died.”

He admits he’s lost sleep himself over the death of an animal, but that his role in protecting against these events is what drives him.

“As well as that satisfaction of relieving suffering from an animal, I get a lot of happiness from seeing my clients develop or grow economically.

“There’s nothing that gives me good satisfaction like hearing a client who has been able to send his child to school – whether that is university or primary or whatever – using proceeds from the milk or the sale of a cow. That gives me a lot of happiness.”

Daniel may be the very model of a vet deeply invested in his entire community. But he admits with a wry smile that his ambition to become one was founded in his own sense of social mobility.

“It’s funny how it started. When I was a young boy at around 14 I saw a veterinary surgeon practising artificial insemination, and he was driving a nice vehicle,” he laughs.

“I think was a Volkswagen Beetle … and I really wanted to drive that vehicle!”

Spotlight: Poultry and poverty

The nutritional richness of poultry makes these animals an absolute essential in some of the world’s poorest communities. Poultry farming is highly accessible to some of the people most at risk of food insecurity1.

Research has found that chickens also contribute to communities in less direct ways, contributing to mixed farming practices, and helping fulfil sustainable development objectives.

They’re also a surprisingly liquid asset in many countries; one that can be sold at short notice to manage everyday expenses. In fact, chickens are known as the ‘ATM of the poor’ in the international development community.

In strict contrast to the cattle industry in Brazil, raising poultry in many of these countries is considered the job of a woman.

This is significant because when women control the purse strings, their children do better.

One statistic shared by the Gates Foundation is that when a woman is in charge of a family’s income, her children are 20 per cent more likely to live beyond the age of five2.

The foundation is so convinced of the power of poultry that it’s stated ambition to help 30 per cent of the rural families in sub-Saharan Africa raise improved breeds of vaccinated chickens (up from just five per cent now).

Responsible use: the responsibility of us all

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