Animals for aid: Opening new vistas for empowerment

MULTAN   -   After decades long spell of poverty, poor widow Lateefan Begum’s economic well-being began with the acquisition of a buffalo through Punjab government’s support initiative – a turnaround resulting in Master degree for her son and a respectable job for him.

A resident of Mouza Kotla Chakar, Lateefan Begum was handed over this buffalo in 2017 under the support initiative for poor widows when her son was a student of intermediate. Through her hard work, she reared the animal properly, sold its calves to pay fee of her son who after completing masters’ degree is now serving as a lecturer.  

“This initiative had brought in a ray of hope for my family. Provision of an animal opened a door to prosperity and we as a family fully benefitted from it,” Lateefan Begum said. ”This venture of the government made my son to complete his education and got a job. Now we are living a happy life.”

It was in 2017, when the Punjab government had given animals to poor widows whose children were studying at educational institutes with a vision to support these families in running their kitchen smoothly and help manage educational expenses of their kids. Lateefan Begum was not alone to benefit from this scheme as number of other families also made way for their better survival and wellbeing.

Another woman, Rubab was supported with two sheep that, in few years multiplied into a dozen after her immense focus on rearing these animals.

“A few years back, I was provided two sheep and today I have a dozen,” Rubab informed appreciating this small scale empowerment initiative. “During these years, I sold out ten sheep generating vital income to meet my house and children’s education expenses.”

“For me, these sheep were not just livestock but the lifeline that helped me sustain in the face of financial uncertainty,” she remarked.

Firdos Bibi, the wife of Abdul Rasheed in Moza Motha Shumali also told the same story of embarking on a journey of empowerment with expanding the number to six from two goats she was provided under this scheme. It is not the saga of only three women as there are many more managing to stand on their feet through this scheme of the then Punjab government.

This initiative also reminds us of Prof. Muhammad Younas of Bangladesh who started an action research pilot project in 1976 that was transformed into Grameen Bank in 1983. After disbursing billions of dollars to poor and downtrodden Bangladeshi families without any collateral, his initiative was rewarded with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

We also had in our country initiatives like Small and Medium Entrepreneur, SME bank, revival of cottage industry, youth and small farmers’ loans. But, most of them met their ultimate fate and vanished. Now once again we have the opportunity to promote the livestock sector to alleviate poverty and ameliorate the lot of people.

“Disbursing cattle to empower poor families is a good initiative as it helped empower scores of poor families in the past. It is not merely the cattle rearing but an opportunity for economic independence and self-sufficiency of poor families,” stated Deputy Director Livestock Dr Jamshaid Akhtar.

“As 70 percent of rural population in South Punjab is directly linked to livestock sector, it becomes a valuable asset for them to run their kitchen and meet other daily needs,” he said. “Presence of animals in a household is akin to holding a blank cheque to be cashed at any moment of need. Animals also serve as a safety net for farmers, providing them a tangible source of cash flow in hard times.”

Livestock plays vital role in Pakistan’s economy by contributing over 14% to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) also having immense potential to uplift rural communities. As Pakistan is ranked as fifth-largest milk-producing country globally, livestock sector can bring about pleasant changes in lives rural poor.

For this purpose, Jamshid emphasized to focus on enhancing animal genetics to unlock its full potential for meeting milk and meat needs and fighting out impending food security challenges.

According to Animal Census and Economic Survey reports of last years, around eight million people are rearing around 53.4 million big and 80.3 million small animals in the country. According to Livestock Department, the Multan District alone owns 3,611,964 big animals (Buffalo, Cow), 2,292,687 small animals (goats and sheep) and 714 camels.

Dr Jamshaid Akhtar observed that livestock can perform far better than its present capacity in poverty alleviation and milk and meat production. “The Punjab Livestock department has launched different programs like calf fattening, save buffalo calf, advisory service and provision of free of cost animals. We should also promote use of Silage, Rhodes grass and new animal breeds to further enhance milk and meat production.”

Ameer Hamza, a progressive farmer from Vehari also urged the government to promote animals’ provision policy earmarking sufficient finances for this scheme as it proved to be successful and beneficial in alleviating poverty, providing financial support to poor families for educating their children and making them to lead a respectable life.

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