Barefood Vets

Mr. Vanniaraj a trained ‘bare foot vet” from Surangkudi village of Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu in India said ' munnadi nuthuku iruvithanju adukal iranthathu annal ippo athu anjilarunthu pathu sathavitham kuranjurukku.” (The mortality rate of cattle was 25% in the our village but now it has reduced 5 to 10% in. For instance, similar scenarios are prevailing in other villages too. ). 

The Gulf of Mannar is spread over 10500 sq kms starting from Rameswaram to Thoothukudi. It is declared as a marine bio reserve which possesses rare and endangered species such as sea horse, sea cucumber, and duehong-duehong as well as more than 200 commercially exploited fishes.

People's Action for Development (PAD) is social organization engaged in empowering the marginalized section of the society such as fisher folk and Palmyra tapers of Gulf of Mannar region starting from Rameshwaram to Thoothukudi which fall under state of Tamil Nadu, India. It covers two districts namely Ramanathapuram and Thoothukudi, which are economically backward. Thus the people of the region deprived of accessing to basic amenities.

One third of the population constitutes fisher folk and the remaining are small and marginal farmers, Palmyra tappers and others landless labours.

The region is dry and semi arid dependent on rain fed agriculture, which leave the farming community very little opportunity to earn their living. Since agriculture becomes  gambling with monsoon, people of the region are forced to look for alternative livelihood for their survival. The problem in this region is receiving inadequate income from agriculture and fishing, which are the main sources of income. Both are seasonal occupations, which fetch less income for the people. The reasons are inadequate rain for the agriculture and advent of mechanized boats and trawlers for the traditional fishers.

When PAD conducted Participatory Rural Appraisals (PRA) and focused group discussions in the target villages of Kadaladi,Thiruplani blocks of Ramanathapuram district and Vilathikulam block of Thoothukudi district it could identify cattle rearing is viable option, which is considered to strengthen to economic stability of the community.

The region did not have high yielding cattle varieties. The cattle which is found in this region is called as ‘non descriptive animals” and is confined to same area. Non-descriptive animals means local variety of cattle and goats. Goats, sheeps, cows, bullocks, buffalos, pigs, hens and cocks are available in the region.

Secondly, the treatment for sicknesses among the cattle was a big problem. Some of the common diseases which were prevalent among the cattle in this region are enteritis, bronchitis, fevers, laminitis, sprained, open wound, conduced wound, acid dosismastitis.

The accessibility of the people to the veterinary doctors or to veterinary facilities was almost nil. The people had to walk about 12 to 30 km to bring a doctor to treat their sick cattle, due to which they loose their valuable time and money. This unfortunately happened to be major factor for the people not pursuing cattle rearing.

Therefore, PAD facilitated discussions among the community members through village focused group discussions and village level meetings. Various options were discussed to strengthen the additional income for the people. Cattle rearing was prioritized by the people. The pros and cons of the cattle rearing were discussed. The non-medical service for the cattle seemed to be major hinderence. Therefore, in order to solve availing medical service for the cattle the different ways were discussed. The options are lobbying for government medical service in the region or appointing separate doctors. Lobbying would take long time and appointing doctors would take lots of money. Then the community members along with team came with an idea to train educated youths in the community.

Thus, the plan of developing a paramedical group, called ‘Barefoot Vets' (BFV), from the community itself, was enacted since it would help eradicating the problem of non-availability of veterinary assistance in time and within their reach. The idea convinced the community to go ahead with the cattle rearing activities.

Now, in order to develop ‘barefoot vets' there were 44 youths identified covering three blocks of two districts with the help of community. Nine young women were among them. The reason for promoting youths is that they can move consistently and respond to emergencies. Moreover, this would be an additional income for those trained youths, who otherwise might have migrated to other places for employment. The identification of youths was done through the Village Development Committees, which was formed by PAD to facilitate the overall growth of the villages. The selection was done on the basis of their fluency in reading and writing basic English, residence in the local area, interest in cattle rearing and protecting and availability at anytime to serve the needy with pleasure.

All these 44 members were given a 15 day training on first aid and the maintenance capacity to give a better treatment. The content of training included the following aspects: identifying the disease, the prevention methods and vaccination & the reproduction methods. Apart from the training session on the various subjects, many exposure visits were organized to various institutions, universities and farms such as veterinary and animal sciences university of Namakkal, Hassarguttah animal farm of Bangalore and farmers training centre of Rajapalayam to animal husbandry problems.

At the end of the training, the youths were provided with medical kits which enabled them to start their work soon after completion of the training.

To ensure the growth and development of the BFVs, PAD also ensures monthly orientation to refresh their knowledge. Apart from this the capacity enhancement process is also facilitated through job facilitation during their joint action with the veterinary doctor (who is registered practicenare) of PAD in all the target villages.

Promoting barefoot vets was not an easy task and PAD faced some hurdles to cross:

•  It took a couple of months to convince the community to recognize bare foot vets.

•  The government veterinary doctors of the nearby towns often played degrading tricks to demotivate the barefoot vets and propagated false campaigns.

•  Transportation and storage of medicines was another challenge faced as the medicine had either to be brought from Thoothukudi(60 kms) or Madurai(120 kms).

The above-mentioned challenges were overcome by our constant effort such as motivational meetings at the village level, acquiring and storing the medicine in advance. As a result of the availability of the BFVs, now the communities have got an easy access to the veterinary services and therefore more people have invested in goat rearing. According to one of our report there are 800 women who have invested in goat rearing in all 72 villages of PAD's target area during 2006 and 2008. All these women benefit from barefoot vets' services. The following table shows the impact of barefoot vets. The data was drawn from 35 working villages of PAD.

Details of cattle in 35 villages of Gulf of Mannar region

Particulars of cattels




Indigenous cattels




Crossbreed cattels




Indigenous calf















Especially after introducing the barefoot vets, the death rate of animals has reduced in our 72 target villages. Mr. Sundramanicam (member of VDC Thangamalpuram village) said ‘kalnadai paniyalarkal moolam engalathu gramathil 30 sathavitham kalnadaikal koodiyulathu. Athumattumalamalkalnadai irappu vikitham 20% irunthu 10% aka kurainthulladhu.” - "After introducing barefoot vets in our village cattel rearing increased by 30%. There is an reduction of mortality rate among cattle from 20% to 10%.”

Using their capacities One BFV is earning around Rs. 2500 as an additional income in a month.

Cattle rearing has added strength of the people's life. For example, a woman who has two goats gets Rs. 7500 in a year, which is additional income for the family.

The striking fact is that this small initiative is bringing and can bring big time changes to the life of people. Barefoot vets are not only earning for their own livelihood but are also contributing towards enhancement of community livelihood.


I thank Dr. Santhanam and Ms. S Divya of PAD for collecting data.