Welcome to JP Melville's review, experience, and statement on foreign aid and the international development industry. A conservative faith in family. A love affair riding the riotous tensions between money, personal freedom, the majestic travesty of our specie's ecological footprint, and economic politics. Selected writing of both prose and poetry, anecdotal travel log to rhetorical essay, dating back from the 1980's to the present. Enjoy!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Collected Notes #3 - Helplessness

Goats and Sheep

Today, Sunday, I have just returned on my motorcycle to my room on the research station, 14 kilometres from the market and town.  I had bought a shirt, two blankets, coffee, and foodstuffs.  Bungua, my polite and friendly neighbour, comes over on his little motorscooter and beeps outside my door.  I welcome the break from scrubbing my laundry and go outside to see what he wants.  He has a message for me.  The Muslim fellow who buys and sells livestock - buffalo, cattle, sheep, and goats - had come around while I was gone to enquire about the order for the purchase of some goats.
What order?
The office for which I work does on-farm research.  My colleagues in this office are responsible for different kinds of government sponsored research programs - cash crops, large livestock, fish, and horticulture.  They collaborate with groups of farmers in assorted villages.  The projects are implemented by farmers and monitored by the researchers.  In theory, the research is a healthy blend of farmer participation and researcher expertise all-in-all intended to service the needs of the farmers.  In practice, it is a top-down injection of government policy which draws the rural population further into the national and international economies.  My original research parameters included cattle and buffalo only.
Frustrated with the obstacles that surrounded buffalo and cattle research in the Esan, I found myself yattering one day with Mr. and Mrs. Onsi about goats and sheep.  We sat in their straw covered shelter out in their rice paddy, taking a break from tending the buffalo and repairing the little fences which protected the young mango trees that had been planted in the rainy season.
"What can be done for research," I asked, drawing on my cigarette for a moment and exhaling. "You have no land to plant grass.  Where you already planted grass, it died.  Cattle and buffalo range from 3,000 to 10,000 baht per head.  Expensive to buy.  Expensive to feed.  You are already growing nitrogen fixing plants which can be fed as protein supplement.  I just don't know."
Mr. Onsi poured himself some water and drank long and thoughtfully.
"Don't know," he finally said.
Mrs. Onsi looked at me for a moment, smiling as always, and then turned her eyes' attention to the buffalo grazing on the bunds which surrounded each rice paddy.
I too looked at the beasts and after a silence said, "You know, in the Caribbean people keep goats on very limited plots of land - women are responsible mostly..."
So the idea of goats sprang to life.  Mr. Onsi was interested in the idea that he would not have to change much, if anything, in his husbandry practices, or on his farm in order to increase the numbers and kinds of animals which he kept.  Mrs. Onsi was interested in milk, how much a goat gave.  And, well, one thing leads to another.  I found out three weeks later that three families in Mr. and Mrs. Onsi's village were interested in goats.
That's one part of the job.  And that took six months to happen.  An idea.  A focus.  A potential project.
So I started dragging my co-workers all over Ubon province to find some goats.  Even had Padt check out Surin and Buriram Provinces, but no luck there.  There were leads and dead ends.  Classically, we found some under our feet, living not in the countryside but within the city of Ubon, grazing the streets.  Could urban goats adapt to country living?  A few weeks later more goats were found eighty kilometres away over by the border with Laos.  Their owner was the fellow who had stopped by this morning.  A Mr. Sombat.  Acquiring goats would not be a problem.
Getting my office interested would also be no problem.  Not only were they interested, they were energized.  A few were also already versed in goatology.  Muay was talking about food made with milk.  Padt had wanted to do goat research two or three years earlier, before he went off to do his master's degree.  Pochai, though a neophyte goatologist, began making plans to buy a few goats of his own, a sort of wedding present to himself and his fiancĂ©e.
Too energized, in fact.  I had only heard from Mr. Onsi that two other farmers in Khoo Khad were interested.  Never met them.  One for sure and two maybes?  Sure, I had discovered that goats existed in the region.  They were purportedly available but at what price?  In what condition?  There had been no visits by farmers to see goats firsthand.  There had been no meetings.  There were no plans.  This was the worst basis on which to begin a farmer based research trial.
What was this about an order for goats from Mr. Sombat down by Laos?
"Apparently," said Bungua my colleague, "while I was gone harvesting rice last Tuesday and Wednesday, a Mr. Sombat had stopped by the office and made some arrangements with my co-workers."
"What?" I exclaimed.
"That's what I know," Bungua said simply.
"It's out of my hands," I told Bungua.  "I mean, I suppose it's a good thing that it's out of my hands.  But for a moment there, it was so nice to think that I understood what was going on."
Bungua shrugged his shoulders and I shrugged mine.  Bungua drove off on his rattly scooter.  I look up into the trees at nothing and went back to my laundry.
There is only waiting to see what tomorrow brings.  Often enough, it all begins from there.

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