A decade ago, after a hot and sweaty two-hour walk, I arrived in a dry and dusty village. I recall sitting in a smoky living room, my eyes smarting while sharing a simple meal, when a villager walked into the room, carrying some stalks of young corn. Having been raised on a dairy farm where we cut and feed corn silage to our dairy cows on a large scale, I was curious about the man’s plans for the corn stalks. I learned from the villagers that they fed the corn stalks to their fighting bull. The Hmong traditional New Year celebration takes place in early December. At this celebration, many villagers get together with neighboring communities, and each community brings a prized fighting bull for a competition. The celebration lasts for several days, and there is a lot of status gained by owning the prize bull that wins that competition.
Generally, cattle are allowed to roam freely in the forest to fend for themselves from day to day, but when there is a special event like a wedding or a funeral, an animal will be brought from the forest to compete in a fight, making the cattle into something like a living bank account in which families store up resources for special events. Ten years ago, the cows were rarely raised and sold as a means of cash income on a regular basis. A key principle in development is to understand practices which already exist within a community and identify ways to build on that foundation. In this case, the foundation was clear: villagers raise cattle, and they know the value of cutting, carrying, and providing good quality animal feed. World Renew staC introduced four diCerent forage options to the villagers in Houayloon: mulato grass, guinea grass, napier grass, and stylo (a legume). Starting with small experiments and a few farmers, the villagers began to see the benefits of cutting and carrying forages to fatten cattle on a small scale. The project was a modification of their traditional system for raising cattle.
Fast forward to January 2015, and villagers in Houayloon now say that over 80% of the residents raise some of their cattle for sale. The farmers fatten the cows for three to six months and then sell them for a very good profit. Mr. Nova, who is married with five children, said that in the last year he fattened two cows and sold them for a total of 24 million kip (about $3000 US). He then showed us the first cow he bought this year, which he will start to fatten once the rains start and the grass begins to grow again in April. He purchased this cow for eight million kip ($1000 USD) and expects to sell it for over 13 million kip ($1,625 USD). With the profit he earned in earlier years, he purchased a small paddy field and is now also able to grow enough rice for his family’s needs. The district oKcials said that they bring groups of people to Houayloon to learn about the villager’s success with improved animal-raising using forage grass. But this is not the only sign of transformation we saw in Houayloon. As we walked around the village, there were many locations where we saw evidence that farmers were grafting good quality scion wood onto wild persimmon and peach root stock. This activity is the result of a recent training on tree grafting that was organized by World Renew’s staff. I am looking forward to another visit in ten years to see how the orchards have grown in Houayloon!