A children’s book is hoping to create generational change and curb deforestation by telling the story of a young girl and her favourite cow.
Kunthea and the Happy Cow is a new publication funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). It captures the rapid impact deforestation can have on the local farming communities from the quality and quantity of water flowing through watersheds to the loss of nutrients in the soil.
The book is part of a wider effort to educate children across South-East Asia, with a special focus on Cambodia and Indonesia, on how to implement sustainable agriculture practices, including how to care for animals in a healthy eco-farm system.
The book’s author, Stephan Bognar, has worked in Cambodia since 2003 and has seen first-hand how deforestation can devastate natural landscapes and local communities.
‘I remember driving through villages sprinkled with rolling hills covered with healthy trees. Every year these tree-covered hills would disappear,’ he says. ‘There were months when the air was so dark and filled with smoke because of all the forest fires started by the local farmers.
‘Some farmers would plant crops whilst others would let their livestock roam free on denuded hilltops. Conservation or environmental protection was not on the sustainable development agenda.’
As well as operating in the sustainable development sector, Bognar has worked in primary and secondary education for over a decade and saw the potential to affect change through engaging children at an early age.
‘Whilst ACIAR funded projects that focused on farmers—or shall I say adults—I realised that we needed tools to reach out to the farmers’ children; to the next generation of farmers so we can help them understand best practices in farming before they become farmers,’ he says.
‘Before I asked ACIAR to fund a book for children on ‘happy’ cows and eco-farms, I spent many months looking in bookstores in Canada, the United States, the UK and Australia. Besides Old McDonald Had a Farm, there was really nothing on the bookshelves to teach kids how to care for cows, manage a healthy eco-system and embrace collective responsibility.’
Published in both Cambodian and English, the book has quickly become popular throughout South-East Asia, with requests for distribution received from as far as the United States; testament to the book’s valuable and widely applicable messages of environmental sustainability, sustainable agriculture and gender empowerment.
‘I’m thrilled because the book is about how to change behaviour in a practical and realistic way,’ says Bognar. ‘We’re not asking or telling parents or kids to be a vegetarian or vegan. We’re just showing them how cows need to be treated to stay healthy and live sustainably; how clean water and healthy ecosystems go hand-in-hand; and how social inclusion is key to build healthier and more inclusive communities.’
Kunthea and the Happy Cow is the third children’s book ACIAR has funded, with the previous publications telling the story of integrated pest management in crops and the importance of agriculture and good nutrition.
Stephan Bognar is now the Executive Director of the NYDG Foundation continuing to make the strategic connections between healthy ecosystems and public health.