Page last updated at 10:16 GMT, Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Soldier is 'Herriot of Helmand'

Capt Malone with villager and sheep
Capt Malone holds a free clinic once a month

A soldier from Suffolk has been nicknamed the "Herriot of Helmand" by his colleagues after setting up a veterinary clinic for Afghan farmers.

Captain Miles Malone, 28, of the Royal Army Veterinary Corp, 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.

But he is also leading the new veterinary clinic project - now into its third month - for farmers from the small villages to the north-west of Camp Bastion, the main British base in Helmand.

'Benefit whole population'

Capt Malone, from Mount Bures, near Sudbury, said improving the animals' health would result in improved meat and milk production, increasing their value at market and boosting the diets of locals.

"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.

Farmers here have absolutely no idea about animal husbandry
Sgt Major Greg Reeve

"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.

The British soldiers also try to educate the Afghan farmers about how to look after their animals.

Sgt Major Greg Reeve, 39, from Upavon in Wiltshire, said there was a staggering ignorance among the villagers about how to care for their livestock.

He said: "Farmers here have absolutely no idea about animal husbandry.

"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."

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