In the absence of veterinary services, traditional medical practices for treating livestock remain popular in tribal villages
All veterinary doctors will unanimously agree that treating ruminaltympany disease (bloated rumen or paunch of the cattle) is difficult. After all, it is responsible for 20 per cent of cattle mortality in the country.
But a study on the use ethno-veterinary medicines-traditional practices of veterinary medicine using local plants and herbs-claims local cattle herders cure the lethal cattle disease with good old tamarind. The paper, Use of Ethno-Veterinary Medicines (EVM) from Vidarbha Region, India, published in Bioscience Discovery, in July 2014 found that the use of plants to heal cattle diseases is a common practice in the tribal parts of Nagpur, Chandrapur and Gadchiroli districts of Maharashtra.
It has identified 46 plants used to cure different diseases in livestock used by 60 herbalists and cattle herders experienced in administering such plant-based medicines. The paper found EVM to be highly effective in curing 20 conditions, ranging from serious ailments such as foot and mouth disease, fractures and abortions to common conditions such as reduced lactation, eye or teeth problems and snake or scorpion bites.
EVM, however, have their limitations with contagious diseases and emergent conditions such as viral diseases goat plague (peste des petitsruminants ) and blue tongue, the report says.
Free and effective
EVM, says the study, are indispensable for ensuring livestock health. The first reason for this is the cost. While ethno-veterinary services are provided in the community for free, veterinary treatment is expensive, points out Ajay Gawde, an artificial insemination worker with Pune-based non-profit BAIF Development Research Foundationfrom Sironcha tehsil in Gadchiroli district.
Ranjeet Maraskolhe, a farmer from Tuyiaapar village in Nagpur district, says, “Hoof infections are common in our village during rains. If we get veterinary treatment, it costs Rs 100-200, but our local cures cost nothing.” He adds that transporting a sick animal to the treatment centre—available only in large gram panchayats or taluka headquarters—is more expensive than the treatment itself. “In case of emergencies, the animal is likely to die during transportation,” he says.
The paper points out that village residents believe EVM are more effective than modern medicines. “In our system, three doses of herbs over a period of one-and-a-half days are enough to cure any disease,” says Maraskolhe, “Conventional medicine takes longer.” Gawde agrees. “These treatments are effective. To cure tympany through EVM, one needs to just mix tamarind pulp or crushed leaves, a bit of oil and ash from cooking fires with water and give it to the animal to drink. Within 20 minutes, the most severe case of tympany is eased,” he says.
Dynamic community practice
“Ethno-veterinary practiceshave been part of livestock rearing for ages and are deeply rooted in the rural way of life,” says Sajal Kulkarni, lead author of the study and a livestock researcher with BAIF. “Most cattle-herders have some knowledge of herbs. In case of complicated problems, they take help from others in the community. This has lead to a system based on mutual understanding and trust,” says Kulkarni.
Gawde says the EVM network is dynamic. “Usually, there are a few experienced ethno-veterinary practitioners in every village. If any disease is beyond the expertise of those available, people usually know whom to contact in nearby villages. A cluster of villages is usually self-sufficient in its veterinary requirements,” he explains.
The practices documented in the paper are both curative and preventive. Herders, for instance, regularly fumigate cattle sheds with neemor common wormwood (Artemisia vulgaris) leaves to remove insects and germs.
Simple treatments for healing wounds, improving lactation and de-worming are usually carried out by the herders themselves.
The help of traditional herbalists is taken only in curing complex diseases which require the use of different herbs that need to be boiled, dried and burnt.
The paper notes that a plant is used for different problems in different areas. It says different parts of a plant are used for different conditions. An example is mahua (Madhucalongifolia), whose fruit is used in the Vidarbha region for treating malarial fever in cattle. Liquor from the flower is used in western Maharashtra for a prolapsed uterus.
The report found that while some herbs were commonly used, others were known only to a few herbalists. It was observed that while 48 of 60 herbalists used Daturametel for healing wounds, only five used Ficus bengalgenesisroots for dental problems.
A mix of both needed
The report calls for strengthening ethno-veterinary practices and public animal healthcare systems because “they meet different needs in the area of cattle health”. Amod Kale, a veterinary toxicopathologist from Akola district in Maharashtra, says the veterinary sector is primarily concerned with breeding and productivity issues in cattle and relies extensively on vaccines for the same. “Vaccination for foot and mouth disease, black quarter and other major contagious ailments is our main concern. Farmers bring their cattle to us mainly for milk yield-related problems like mastitis,” says SatishRaju, animal husbandry development officer, Wardha district.
On the other hand, ethno-veterinary practices deal with day-to-day problems and emergencies faced by cattle-herders. “This area is not covered under scientific investigation programmes, so there is no correlating data or information available regarding the nature of these problems or measures cattle stakeholders take to deal with them,” says Kale. “Even pharmaceutical research in veterinary medicines is concentrated on productivity and serious contagious diseases.” This, says Kulkarni, is where ethno-veterinary plays a crucial role.
The paper concludes that while there is no substitute for a comprehensive animal healthcare system, ethno-veterinary practices also need to be supported and extended.
The most important step to be taken in this regard is the implementation of the Biodiversity Act, which allows communities to own and protect their local resources.
The second important step is to preserve and extend traditional EVM knowledge within communities. Maraskolhe says EVM practitioners tend to be secretive of their art because of superstition. “Healers often do not share their remedies even with their own sons,” he says. Kulkarni says there is a need for a two-way process. “On the one hand, community members need training from qualified veterinary doctors so that their art becomes more exact and comprehensive, and on the other hand, the veterinary system needs to learn from the healers. Only then will this art be sustained.”
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