Only 50 years ago there were 30,000 Water Buffaloes in the Republic of Macedonia. Today, only a handful remain and these are only alive thanks mainly to the efforts of the people of Debreshte village.
Debreshte is a small village near Prilep, located in the northern Pelagonia plain in Southern Macedonia. It is a place where time has stood still in many respects, save one. In the past, almost all of the households were buffalo breeders, relying on the milk of the animals for their livelihoods. Down the years, however, they were gradually replaced by cows in many parts of the country.
In 2007, we discovered that the 13 female buffaloes living in our village, kept by one farmer, were pretty much the last in the country. With no male to mate with, these buffalo had not given birth in over three years, and so their milk production had halted. Without the milk, there is no point for breeders to keep the animals, meaning they were destined to be killed for meat.
It became clear that we had to do something, or this vital part of our heritage and tradition would be lost forever. We linked up with Biosfera, a non-governmental organization, and secured funding from Save Foundation of Switzerland to buy a male buffalo by the name of Breshko to breed with the females. After Breshko arrived, he proved to be up to the job and impregnated all of the females, regenerating their milk production and therefore the breeder’s motivation to keep the animals.
Knowledge Harvest then became involved, and we used the money they received in a UN grant to start a campaign to raise public awareness about the plight of this species. Our main goal was to raise enough money to buy food for the buffaloes for one year, and we succeeded in doing so. Some 3500 students from seven schools heard the story about buffalo’s extinction. The story was delivered via media and we informed all the relevant government institutions about the situation, and they are taking further action to secure the future of the Water Buffalo. We even had visitors from the International Peace Corps come to the village to learn how to make cheese from the buffalo milk.
As a result, many people are now aware of how close we came to losing this buffalo in Macedonia. The breeders now have their livelihoods, and more importantly their self-respect, back. They are now on the road to self-sufficiency and long-term sustainability.
The message to take from this is that we cannot always wait for government to fix our problems for us. Individuals and communities can take the future into their own hands, and I encourage everyone to look around themselves and see what they can do.
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