Our CERF fund has helped hundreds of donkey and mule-owning families in Uttarakhand, India, to feed their animals sustainably with home-grown produce during the Covid-19 pandemic.

We launched our Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund (CERF) in July 2020 to tackle the challenges that the coronavirus pandemic caused within donkey and mule-owning communities across the globe.

One recipient of the CERF fund, the Sanjeevani Vikas Evam Jan Kalyan Samiti organisation, has been promoting the growing of Azolla, an aquatic plant often added to livestock food, as a sustainable way to feed donkeys and mules.

Azolla can be produced at home, giving donkey and mule owning families a way of giving their animals a sustainable food source.

From this project alone, a total of 100 owners have received the training and resources necessary to begin their own Azolla cultivation.

Sanjeevani has also distributed emergency relief rations to 505 owners and 1,274 animals.

An uphill struggle

In Uttarakhand, donkeys, mules and horses are the main methods of transporting materials from the road to villages in the mountains.

In the hillier regions, low household incomes mean that many families face challenges when rearing their donkeys and mules.

Animals often become sick due to a lack of proper food and clean water, as their owners cannot afford to provide it.

While these working animals play a major part in agriculture and transport, the financial pressures often force owners to overwork them.

The problem became more severe as the Covid-19 pandemic reduced families' income levels to almost nothing.

Families used their savings in the early months of lockdown, forcing them to live in extreme poverty and food scarcity. Without the money to buy grain, owners could not give their donkeys and mules the nutritious meals they needed.

This lack of income forced owners to let their animals graze openly, but lockdown restrictions meant they could only graze in and around their owner's homes. This, in turn, caused the animals' health and stamina to decrease.

The region's rugged landscape and hilly terrain added an extra challenge. Medical facilities were not accessible to the animals, and veterinary hospitals were too far away to visit, leaving traditional local treatments as the only option.

Azolla cultivation training (Credit: Sanjeevani)

Azolla cultivation training

How Azolla can help

Recognising the challenges faced by these communities, Sanjeevani proposed a project to support donkeys, mules and owners by encouraging them to grow Azolla and by providing their families with a supply of rations.

By supplying rations, Sanjeevani eased the financial burden on the families, allowing them to purchase food and vital medicine for their animals.

In the longer term, growing Azolla as food for donkeys and mules aims to tackle the problem of food scarcity and provide better health for the animals.

Growing Azolla also makes it possible for the owners to increase their income by selling Azolla to other animal owners in the region.

One of the people to benefit from the project is 32-year-old equine owner Virendra Singh, who lives in the village of Saraikhet. Virendra owns four mules, named Chandani, Kallu, Chutaki and Lali, who he relies on to earn a livelihood and to support his family of four.

Thanks to the project, Virendra received emergency relief rations and support with insuring his mules. He also participated in Azolla cultivation training and networking meetings.

Raising awareness

Another part of the project saw the owners meet with veterinary professionals, who helped raise awareness of free or subsidised health facilities provided by the government's veterinary hospitals.

The owners live too far away to access basic government schemes, but the project has built a fantastic network with the local government and helped find ways to link the required schemes to this community.

The veterinary teams informed the owners about various diseases, treatments, medicines and ways to improve living conditions, helping them better understand the health issues of their equines.

They were also made aware of insurance schemes, and as a result of the project, 26 owners have now insured 60 mules.