Mount Bures Community Web Site

Article by Tim Relf
November 26th 2009

The Helmand blog is run by Major Paul Smyth from the UK Forces Media Ops team. The team is located in Helmand at Camp Bastion and the Task Force Headquarters and works to support the coalition forces together with the other government departments such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.

British Army vet work with Afghan farmers

Captain Miles Malone is fast becoming known as the "Herriot of Helmand" for his work with Afghan farmers.

Miles who comes from Mount Bures is halfway through a seven-month deployment at the British Forces hub of Camp Bastion, is spearheading a pioneering veterinary clinic.

He is part of the Royal Army Veterinary Corp and invites villagers from a remote area of Helmand Province to bring livestock for free check-ups.

He hopes de-worming and vaccinating goats, sheep, cows and donkeys will help improve communities.

His main task is to care for dogs who sniff out explosives or guard camps.

"A farmer may well be more concerned about an animal dying than he would his child or one of his wives," he said.

"It sounds harsh, but life is harsh here.

"If a farmer's herd is in poor health, his family's income will be reduced and all the family members will suffer.

"Once you start to understand the way Afghan society works and the crucial dependence on animals for existence, you can see why a project like this could really benefit the local population."

The project helps to improve relations with the local population, making them more likely to give UK troops information about the activities of the Taliban, said Capt Malone.

It's a dangerous business. Under the watchful eye of Kalashnikov-armed Afghan Army guards, perched on top of four-wheel drive Ranger vehicles as security look outs, the veterinary officer carries a pistol at his waist. This is, after all, Taliban country: unpredictable and dangerous.

Shadow of Kalashnikov rifle keeping a watchful eye >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

"Here come the first customers of the day," announces Miles as he spots movement several kilometres away.

A turbaned Afghan farmer moves slowly across the sandscape on his motor scooter, with his three young sons riding pillion and another boy herding a flock of about 100 sheep towards the makeshift wire pen of the vet clinic.

"Livestock forms the lifeblood of these local communities," he says, "so by improving the health of the herd, we can have a positive impact on the health, wealth and general wellbeing of the population."

"If we reduce the disease state of the animals, the effect will be improved meat and milk production. This increases the value of the animals at market and increases the amount of protein in the locals' diet. If the meat doesn't contain worms or diseases which can be transmitted to humans, the local population's health improves."

Giving assistance to the population also serves a useful purpose for British forces. "By helping the locals with a project like this, we build up good relations with them and they repay us with information about the surrounding area and Taliban activity."

In this remote and desolate area, semi-nomadic families eke out a living by growing a few crops - usually poppy with its ready-made market to the Taliban - and farming livestock. The goats, sheep, cows and donkeys are prized and valuable possessions (so much so that the womenfolk make colourful beaded necklaces to adorn the cattle's necks).

Despite the value they place on their livestock, the locals a largely illiterate populace know little about how to care for their beasts.

"There is near total ignorance about causes and spread of disease, breeding cycles and how milk is produced. If a goat stops milking, it is said to be Allah's will rather than the fact that it has not bred for 18 months and therefore has no anatomical reason to produce milk."

Miles, who has now held three vet camps, points out that the priority is firstly to de-worm and de-louse. Once the animals have achieved a baseline of health, he then vaccinates.

"From a slightly geeky veterinary perspective, these herds are fascinating because the goats and sheep are extremely ancient breeds. They have not been engineered by breeding programmes and are as they would have appeared in biblical times. Because they have not been exposed to drugs and have built up no resistance, they respond extremely well and quickly to the products I give them."

Already he is seeing the same farmers returning with their herds for treatment. "The improvement in herd health is marked, even in such a short space of time."

After his livestock have been treated, the Afghan farmer shakes hands with the vet, mounts his motor scooter and heads off, accompanied by his children and animals.

He is, by Afghan standards, wealthy and therefore influential and the British serviceman know if they can get him on side, he'll spread the word about the veterinary programme.

The next day several more locals farmers arrive at the clinic together with about 500 sheep, goats and a couple of donkeys. Miles once again goes to work...

This article reproduced courtesy of the Helmand Blog and Farmers Weekly

December 2009