Mother Dreams Of More Cash Cows

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Hands-on training and a female para-veterinarian makes dairy farming easier – and more lucrative – for Afghan women


Sima Behbodi started dairy farming four years ago with just one calf. Today, says the mother of seven, “I have eight cows and all produce milk.”

Sima is one of many women in her area who were trained in dairy farming at a Veterinary Field Unit. USAID’s Incentives Driving Economic Alternatives for the North, East, West (IDEA-NEW) project has supported nearly 100 such units, staffed by women para-veterinarians, over the past three years. The units aim to help Afghan livestock farmers, particularly women, reduce livestock mortality and help increase the yield of meat, milk, eggs, cashmere and wool from karakul sheep.

“After I was trained, I changed my method of raising cows,” says Sima, “I cemented the floor of the cowshed, established a gutter-like canal, put in a wooden container for water and fixed exhaust fans.” The changes were a marked improvement on the simple provisions of before. “I would just fill the feed bunk and water container and leave my cows.”

Sima says the Veterinary Field Unit in her neighborhood remains the primary reason she is successfully able to raise milch cattle. “If my cows get sick, I now go to ‘Mrs. Doctor’ and she helps us,” she says, in a reference to the female para-veterinarian and Afghan women’s traditional reluctance to deal with men outside their family.