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No more sick buffalo

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An article from Sundays Bangkok Post. Next time she tells you that she needs money for her sick buffalo, you will know better.


Give me a home where the buffalo roam


Conservationists are trying to halt a sharp decline of the iconic rural beasts, which are increasingly ending up on the dinner menu

When Mae Moon and Mae Mung gave birth to Poo Gao and Poo Ruen, respectively, six months ago, the young buffalo calves were a blessing for Ai Techa, a 63-year-old farmer from Ban Mae Khanil Nuea in Chiang Mai's Samoeng district. Such is the affection that Mr Ai has for the buffalo in his herd that he has given them all names, and treats them more like old family friends than beasts of burden. For years he has made a great effort to preserve his herd, but he is an exception to the rule these days.


228827.jpg RESIDENCE FOR RUMINANTS: Above and below, a temporary camp for buffalo before they go to market.


Samoeng district, like many parts of Thailand, was once a popular buffalo breeding area, as the animals were an integral part of traditional agriculture and played a crucial role in day-to-day operations on the farm. With the advent of petrol-powered agricultural equipment in even the most remote rural areas, however, most farmers gladly sold off their herds to interested buffalo traders.




From hundreds in the past, the buffalo population of Ban Mae Khanil Nuea has fallen to only a few dozen raised by old farmers like Mr Ai. The Livestock Development Department saw the value in preserving their buffalo-raising skills and is now offering support to those who still love to raise the animals.


228826.jpgNo longer beasts of burden, the buffalo around the village are now being raised mainly for conservation purposes.


Mr Ai warned that if farmers raising the buffalo face difficult times they may be forced to follow their neighbours' lead and sell the animals as well. But what he is most concerned about is not economics; it's the rapid development that signals the end of his way of life. He said his children are no longer interested in a life on the farm. Without any successors, not only the buffalo, but also the land, will be gone.


"Future? I cannot quite see the future for farmers, farm families, and buffalo," said Mr Ai. "Young people these days have lost interest in farming. Their interests lie elsewhere. They go off to college, get a degree and leave old people like me to stay home and raise buffalo."


What's happening at Ban Mae Khanil Nuea reflects a wider trend across all of rural Thailand. The agricultural sector will undoubtedly continue to be vital, but the traditional agrarian lifestyle is fading fast. In that sense buffalo might be a bit like canaries in a coal mine. Even though Ban Mae Khanil Nuea was singled out by the Livestock Development Department, the village still faces the challenge of conserving the animals in a changing environment.


LC Cruz, a researcher at the Philippine Carabao Centre at the 9th World Buffalo Congress hosted in Buenos Aires last year, said buffalo are still very important for many poor farmers in developing countries as draft animals and are highly valued in rural communities as they permit more land to be cultivated in a timely manner and with less human drudgery. However, their contributions are under-valued when it comes to calculating the costs of producing major agricultural crops.


Mr Cruz said that during the last 10 years, the buffalo population has increased worldwide, but declined sharply in Southeast Asia. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated that Thailand had about 1.6 million buffalo left last year compared to two decades ago when the country had the world's largest buffalo population, about 4.7 million.


228828.jpgStudies from the Livestock Development Department show the sharp decline is due to a combination of factors, not just modern agricultural tools and changing lifestyles. The study also pointed to government policies which have changed the focus from subsistence farming systems to agro-industries, as well as an increasing demand for buffalo meat. The latter has led to heavy harvesting of young male and female buffalo and even productive females. As the animals become obsolete in farm work, this potential revenue source is hard for many farmers to pass up.


The Livestock Development Deparment's first attempts to promote buffalo conservation came in 1979 when an experimental breeding programme was established in Surin province.


The department plays a major role in the cattle and buffalo bank project, in which animals are donated to poor farmers, and is also aggressively promoting organic farming, an area in which it is thought that buffalo have a promising future.


Besides Ban Mae Khanil Nuea, several other villages have been selected as buffalo conservation sites. Jintana Indramangala, a senior official at the department who has conducted intensive research on Thai buffalo, said the government's policies to address their plight are ''on and off''. In order to help the buffalo survive in Thailand, she said, the government must clearly define their role and function.


''As buffalo are part of Thai farm culture, the government should be serious about supporting conservation in this context,'' she said, while conceding that government polices can't provide the entire solution and that as society changes, it will no longer be possible for buffalo to maintain their former stature.


''Will they survive? I think they will, but it will be impossible at the same level and in the same context,'' said Ms Jintana. ''But if we are serious about conservation, we can slow the rate of decline or even maintain the present numbers.''


She said the current breeding programme is going well, but there have been disruptions in the government funding.


228829.jpg ON THE HOOF: aweekly market where buffalo are sold.


Over time, the dedicated old farmers raising buffalo will be gone, and if nothing is done to support new ones, there will be no one to take part in the breeding programmes, she said.


At the present time, buffalo are sold extensively to traders, who in turn usually sell them to slaughter houses. At one of the country's biggest cattle and buffalo markets in the North, several buffalo traders said they were now finding it difficult to buy buffalo from local farmers. This reflects scarcity more than an unwillingness to sell on the part of the farmers. The traders say that they rarely sell a buffalo to a farmer these days.


A livestock official estimated that in Chiang Mai province alone about 100 buffalo are sent to slaughterhouses each week. The traders say they are now travelling to border areas and buying animals raised outside the country. Without buffalo from somewhere else, the trade can hardly go on, they said.


In Ban Mae Khanil Nua, Mr Ai looked affectionately at the newest additions to his herd, and said there are very few children in the village who know how to raise the animals.


He pointed to the two calves and said: ''I think they will be gone when we have gone.''


228830.jpg TRAIL ENDS HERE: slaughterhouses are the fate for many buffalo.


228831.jpg HAVE HORNS, WILL TRAVEL : Buffalo at a camp before being moved to a local market


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Never understood this sick buffalo concept. Firstly I have never heard his comment from any thai girl, secondly why would you pay for her dam buffalo"s? Maybe this was a trend back in the day used as a cash grab, just saying I have never come across it...


Ad a matter of fact I would actualy like to hear about "sick buffalo's " just for a laugh. Maybe I will be so lucky next trip.

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To be honest......nor have I!


The closest that I came was a great conversation with a Soi 6 girl during a C4C session one night. She was telling me all about her parents farm and about how all the buffalos had names and individual characters. I enquired as to their health but the irony was wasted. Nice girl I really enjoyed her being so open about her family life.




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  • 7 months later...

In may or june, last year (1st trip) I was chatting with a BG on Soi 8. She related a story to me of a falang who was asked for 15KB(15,000) for "sick buffalo".

LOL, I said why buffalo sick, no answer to that.


The punch line was great though, "must hab 15KB or buffalo die" Wait for it ...........


If buffalo die, need 50KB(50,000) for new one !!!!

The story was sorta told as if it was some other BG, and I never did find out if she actually got the $$

Improving one Issan girls cash flow , one cash grant at a time !

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