Washington State professor gets an education in Nepal

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Earlier this year, Dr. Mushtaq A. Memon, associate professor of theriogenology and coordinator of international veterinary medical education for Washington State University, was given a broad agenda by WSU for his two-week journey to the Chitwan district of Nepal, about 150 kilometers southwest of Katmandu. Dr. Memon presented a videoconference on his trip on March 28, accenting veterinary practices and the dairy industry in Nepal.

The developing country is about the size and shape of Tennessee, is home to Mount Everest, and out of 24 million people, almost 80 percent depend on animal agriculture.

Animals have a special place in Nepal, as about 90 percent of the country is Hindu. Cattle are sacred, and euthanatizing downed cattle is like announcing a death sentence of a family member. Alternatives to euthanasia need to be taken under consideration.

Expecting a high rate of malnutrition and parasites in livestock, Dr. Memon packed up plenty of anthelmintics, mastitis products, and calf nutrient supplements.

Cows are sacred in Nepal. This Tharu tribe woman is willing to care for the downed cow, instead of agreeing to the recommended euthanasia.

The dairy industry in Chitwan works through a cooperative. There are approximately 420 farmers selling milk, with each farmer owning two to 20 cows or water buffalo each. Each farmer gets approximately 25 cents per each liter of milk, but there are only four full-time employees of the cooperative, making around $5,000 a year.

The milk is brought to the processing plant by bicycle in aluminum containers, without refrigeration or thermos, Dr. Memon said, and then brought to Katmandu for pasteurization and packaging. "I was surprised by the lack of what the United States usually calls quality control, that is, there was no testing for somatic cell count or antibiotic residues. Nepal does not regulate for these things."

In the afternoons, Dr. Memon held presentations to packed crowds on reproduction, nutrition, parasite control, calf health, mastitis prevention, and milk quality standards.

"My main concern was nutrition, as these cows are fed primarily wheat and rice straw, resulting in low milk production," Dr. Memon said. "Right away I assessed that most fertility problems stemmed from malnutrition, and parasites as many of the cows and water buffalo had inactive ovaries. They were almost the size of peanuts; there was no follicle growth or corpus luteum."

Dr. Memon taught the groups the California Mastitis Test, in which milk will thicken or gel, indicating infection. "They were surprised and interested in what they saw," Dr. Memon said. "They were so happy to hear the 'beep' of the digital thermometer, which they had never seen before."

Although Dr. Memon addressed concerns and demonstrated proper techniques on how to use medical products, he could not solve all their problems.

"I kept wondering and asking if they were using any veterinary services," Dr. Memon said. "People were not very willing to talk about their experiences, but I concluded that most did not trust their veterinarians, others were not able to afford it, and some people thought they knew enough that they didn't need to use veterinary services. I kept telling the farmers that I would not be able to stay there forever, and that they would need local people to help them. I found they had a veterinary teaching hospital, part of Tribhuvan University, that was about 30 to 40 miles away, about a two-hour drive."

While using his time to teach the Nepalese farmers, Dr. Memon got an education of his own. "One of the problems we have in Western countries is an excess of cow manure on dairy farms and what to do with it," Dr. Memon said. "Many developing countries are using a method of processing manure, originally started in China, and using it as a fuel for cooking."

An eye-opener to Dr. Memon, the process involves the breakdown of complex animal waste or cattle dung into simpler chemicals and organic materials.

Subhash B. Singh, MS and assistant country manager for Winrock International, Nepal, explained to Dr. Memon that 45 kg of manure produces enough gas for four-and-a-half hours.

Dr. Memon estimates that, in addition to the some 360 veterinarians in Nepal, 500 more are needed. Most veterinarians in Nepal are government-employed in district hospitals. Consultation and examination is free of charge, but medication is purchased separately. Nepal does have its own veterinary association, and it publishes a journal. Right now it is the association's goal to upgrade the veterinary faculty and facilities.

"When I accepted this assignment, my goal was to help these farmers," Dr. Memon said. "I needed to appreciate the development, culture, beliefs, and socioeconomic system of this country. My recommendations had to be in harmony with all those factors." Winrock International and Washington State University supported Dr. Memon's assignment.