This article was originally written by Garland Mason and published by the Peace Corps.
As a Peace Corps volunteer, there are myriad challenges to overcome. We have to bridge cultural and language barriers before we can even consider ways to apply our on-paper qualifications to our on-the-ground projects. As a result, successes can feel few and far between.
I earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science, then a master’s degree in agricultural, leadership and community education. I had intended to put my degrees to use during my time as a food security Volunteer with Nepal. Eight months into my service, I felt integrated into my community and had a handle on Nepali language, but I was still struggling to connect my academic training to the realities of the Nepali context. Early last spring that started to shift.
In February, I was invited to attend a training of trainers on artificial insemination in goats with the Winrock International Farmer-to-Farmer program. The program partners American volunteers who have expertise in their field with counterparts from universities, government training centers and farming cooperatives in the host country to facilitate knowledge exchange and promote agricultural development.
This training’s American volunteer expert was Dr. Bill Foxworth, a goat reproduction researcher from Prairie View A&M University. He came to provide training to government livestock technicians and to assist the Okadi Goat Raising Group, a small cooperative of goat farmers, in improving their herd’s genetic capacity. The Okadi farmers’ goal is to develop a goat milk dairy and cheese making operation. Sushil Aryal from a nearby government livestock office also attended the training to learn from and assist Dr. Bill.
For the first time, I was able to relate my background in animal science and agricultural education to my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal. As the training began, I found that I was in a unique position to serve as a translator and cultural interpreter for Dr. Bill. I was familiar with the practices that Dr. Bill referenced and the science behind them.
I also had a sense of what concepts might be familiar and what might be new for the participants. This allowed me to translate the information within the cultural context in an easy way participants could understand. Drawing from his years of experience working in the U.S. and within developing countries, Dr. Bill shared creative and innovative adaptations of some of those resource-intensive practices I had learned about as an undergraduate. Sushil sir and others also shared information about new technologies that are increasingly accessible to rural communities in western Nepal.
At the end of the training, Sushil sir agreed to come to the village where I serve to hold a similar training. During the following six months, my partner Ollie (whose background is also in livestock production) and I met with Sushil to plan the training. Ollie and I wrote a Peace Corps Small Projects Assistance grant to cover the expenses of bringing Sushil sir to our community to give the training. Following a few of the inevitable delays and setbacks, we hosted the two-day training in early September.
Sushil sir and his associate trained attendees in breeding and selection, feeds and feeding, disease management and improved housing, among other topics. Sushil sir also introduced the concept of artificial insemination (AI) and explained that we will introduce two improved breeds of goat, saanen and boer, in the community using AI. Most of the attendees were unfamiliar with these technologies and are eager to try it.
Next month Sushil sir will return to our village to assist Ollie and me in introducing saanen and boer crosses via AI. The introduction of these new genetics, coupled with training on improved breeding management strategies, will allow goat farmers to develop a crossbred goat that is both specifically adapted for local conditions and more productive and efficient than the currently available local stock. The resulting improved herd will provide farmers with diverse economic opportunities that could include some combination of selling breeding bucks or does and selling meatier goats for slaughter.
Working in a rural agricultural village in Nepal, my resource-intensive, United States-centric expertise doesn’t always feel relevant. The villagers I work with have been farming here for their entire lives, with practices specifically adapted for these conditions over generations. This training helped me find new ways to apply my U.S. education in my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer and reminded me that I have valuable knowledge and experience to contribute here. The training strengthened my motivation, creativity and confidence and introduced me to new possibilities for synergy between modern technological practices and traditional Nepali agriculture.
Through this project, the goat farmers in our village will have the skills to select and breed for the ideal goat for their conditions and the opportunity to take advantage of traits like enhanced milk or meat production that the saanen and boer genetics offer. They will be able to continue doing this long after Ollie and I have left the village, and that feels like success!