In the eastern Indian state of Bihar, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme is implementing a rural livestock development programme for women entitled Project Mesha. Supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the programme builds the knowledge and skills of women as pashu sakhis or “friends of the animals”. The women, who function as goat nurses within their communities, are trained to provide basic, low-cost preventive health services for livestock. These services are not only intended to improve the health and productivity of goats but also designed to increase the financial independence of women in general. Pashu sakhis themselves have significantly increased their earnings.
Currently, Project Mesha supports over 23,000 households in rural Bihar. Each woman is trained to support up to 200 households. Work is underway to train enough women to serve 50,000 households. Considered one of the best ways to generate income for women, goat rearing is also considered financially lucrative.
Investing in agriculture, especially for women in rural geographies, is a way to break the cycle of poverty for some of the world’s poorest women, many of whom rely on farming for their livelihoods. The creation of economic opportunities allows women to educate their children, provide their families with nutritious food, save money and inevitably transform their lives and the lives of their communities.
Like Project Mesha, the Aga Khan Foundation’s Rural Support Programmes are founded on the principle that communities can take ownership of their own development through the establishment and good functioning of representative village organisations. The first AKF Rural Support Programme, which was established in northern Pakistan in 1983, has since been replicated in many other contexts. AKF’s rural development interventions now reach over 8 million people living in remote and often marginalised areas in Central and South Asia and East and West Africa.