Livestock – the mainstay of mountain economy - I

By Syed Shamsuddin  
In G-B, quaint traditional livestock breeding still remains underway in the primitive pastoralist ways with almost all the farmers rearing the local, non-descriptive breeds of sheep, goats and cattle and poultry. Strivings remain underway by the relevant authorities to bring about positive change in terms are livestock and dairy development as testified by the establishment of a model dairy farm at Konodas, Gilgit in the vicinity of KIU where there is a jersey flock comprising 24 cattle heads (07 male, 10 miclh and rest calves) – all of original breed, says Dr Muhammad Naseer deputy director livestock and poultry development overseeing both the projects of dairy farming and poultry development. The adjacent hatchery with a significant yield of chicks of different breeds (both broiler and layers) which has this time round, produced 57000 to be provided to the farmers on subsidized rates in simultaneous with a significant quantity of eggs from the poultry farm being equally given to the dwellers of the city on subsidized rates, he said. It is to be remembered that a hatchery was established decades ago at Jagir Basin in Gilgit which did not obviously cater to the growing needs of the city primarily because of the mounting demographic pressures witnessed over the years which altogether changed the landscape. It is to be seen that research and reference assumes the centre-stage in the present era to overcome snags in the context of sustainable development. This culture has to be put in place by the relevant quarters with a view to help adopt and popularize innovative techniques to support the fragile mountain agriculture which in this region, is ironically characterized by its being merely at subsistence level.

In the prevalent system, where land holdings are scant and which still remain subject to further fragmentation due to horrific population explosion vis a vis the scarcity of per capita landholding, research-based meticulous efforts geared towards supplementing household income are needed with special focus on livestock and dairy development. Given its acute geography, the region may profitably be halved out in order to zone it into the upper and lower in keeping with the altitudinal phenomena obtaining in here. In the scheme of things, the first may include those areas which are lying at 6000 ft above sea and more while the latter to include all the low lying area below 6000 ft above sea, suggests Dr Aqil Hussain, an eminent local veterinary doctor with a diverse experience of sedulous work in the field having first served with AKRSP and later in the defunct Livestock Development Board at Gilgit which was established under the aegis of federal ministry of agriculture. As to centrality of livestock to mountain farming, it cannot be gainsaid that the one does not become complete without the other – something underscores the need of both to work synergistically and inexorably to make it gainful in terms of per capita income of the mountain dwellers. Needless to say that there must remain in place the culture of constant assiduous research in the relevant fields which is considered a sine qua non especially in the present era, to identify and analyze the key dimensions primarily responsible for the failures and how to overcome them effectively in making meaningful progress.

The first and the foremost viable option could have been the identification and sifting out the finest breeds from amongst the available regional livestock breeds to popularize them to meet the local requirements indigenously.

The existing research, if any, underway has therefore, to be more focused on innovativeness and understanding the constraint vis a vis opportunities in the field to translate such an understanding into strategies and eventual policy-making to improve livestock to benefit the regional poor farmers. In this sense, research and reference forms the bedrock of development which assumes all the more primacy in the peripheral mountainous regions like Gilgit-Baltistan where subsistence farming is rife. The proposition of zoning of the region into the upper and the lower as referred to in the above and going whole hog with the hybridization scheme of jersey-yak all across the upper zone including whole of Baltistan, Ishkoman, upper Hunza, Hopar-Hispar in Nagar, Bagrote, Haramosh etc., if popularized will bring about a revolutionary change in livestock development in Gilgit-Baltistan. Indeed, the hybrid (jersey-yak) would be substantially advantageous to the respective mountain communities.

Dilating upon this, it explained that the average milk yield of jersey cow per day is put at 15 kg while the milk yield of hybridized yak would almost half half of what jersey cow usually milks. The hybrid male, it is said, lacks fertility but nevertheless, in terms of meat, the sterile male hybrid can fetch unimaginable income in terms of meat when sold because of of its enormous size while ( yak-jersey) cow having fertility as well, could be an ideal milch in the high altitude zones. Obviously, such plans can be conceived and materialized by the government alone provided there be will and the relevant quarters are really determined to go ahead proactively. To the leading exponents of this scheme, argue that average milch-yak gives scant milk of say, 1.5 kg a day while prognosticating that the hybrid jersey-yak milch cow would give almost half of what a pure jersey cow gives. It is noteworthy that jersey cow gives about 15 kgs of milk per day as illustrated earlier while 50 per cent reduction will occur in the event of the hybridization. The introduction and popularization of this scheme would hugely profit and rather change the destinies of the respective communities in terms of milk and its by-products – something non-existent in the original yak flock.

On the other hand, the male hybrid could be sold at amazingly high prices. The methodology would stand viably in that Jersey could climatically adapts to cold regions like those in the upper zone while other species like Sahiwal do not acclimatize here. It is also worthwhile to mention that yak feeds round the year in high altitude alpine meadows and the owners do not have to feed them. Thus a hybrid (jersey-yak) cow will go uphill for grazing in the alpine meadows only to return with 6-7 kg milk daily – something the original yak lacks. This wonderful addition will certainly change the economic status of the respective owner. It is said that in Khaltaro village in Haramosh, each villager ordinarily owns 30 cattle heads in terms of yaks. If the proposed hybridization is introduced with firm governmental commitment to come to grips with the phenomenon of poverty among the mountainfolk, a sea-change in terms of economic development will be witnessed all across this region.

Alongside, introduction and popularization of angora breed too, especially in the upper zone areas would prove a great boon in that wonderful wooly goat originally to be found in Ladakh and Kashmir can be sheared annually and its wool used specifically in ‘shal-making’. One would remember that the respective department first introduced about a dozen perhaps such goats in this region decades ago but all in vain. There was absolutely no fruitful result perhaps because of dealing with the matter rather in a perfunctory way. What instead was required was the responsibility of the respective authorities to resort to constant monitoring of the progress if at all it was truly to be popularized across the region. This exactly will be the case with any other livestock breed if the progress at all goes unmonitored in the same nonchallant manner. In the rest of areas, the original jersey breed needs be popularized to help cope with the existing scarcity of milk in the region. But such programmes needs be implemented strictly in a result-oriented manner by putting in place an effective monitoring mechanism so that the outcomes are minutely evaluated consistently for positive transformation.
Last but not least is the need of re-introduction and popularization of Damani breed of sheep in this region. It is to be remembered that a scheme for the introduction of this breed was launched by the Agha Khan Rural Supports Programme (AKRSP) long ago. The flock they procured was later handed over to the animal husbandry department at Skardu. The scheme attached very much significance in terms of its immense profitability and popularization in this region. Damani sheep found in the D.I Khan area,very well acclimatizes in this region. The ewe yields 4-5kgs milk per day provided the finest breed of it is selected.Significantly, the fate percentage is put at 7 as against merely 3.5 of cow-milk. Sadly, the project launched did not achieve the results fully fundamentally because of flaws associated with its implementation.It is to be mentioned that all such families in constituting the mega poor segments with negligible landholdings, cannot even imagine to rear a cow which obviously needs a wider grazing area. The average family of this class having hardly a kanal or two of land cannot afford such a breeding while the Damani ewe almost yielding milk equivalent to that of a milch cow (4-5 kgs) can easily be bred by such families because its can be easily be fed in a limited area. Therefore, a scheme must be re-launched to genuinely popularize this breed. The project must envisage giving pregnant ewes to such mega poor families against a bond to be served by them inter alia that they return it whenever it may deliver while leaving the lamb to them. This is primarily because poor families might not be in a position to afford the cost of the ewe. In case if they may afford, it should be given to them on subsidised rates ane even against easy installments. There must remain a monitoring mechanism in place besides provision of rams to communities as well. This scheme attaches great importance hence needs be accorded top priority. Needless to say that defunct livestock development board had undertaken a programme initially providing 06 jersey bulls to some communities to facilitate cross-breeding but the programme launched by them ended with its eventual dissolution in the wake of the 18th Amenedment that resulted in devolution of powers to the provinces. But nonetheless, no efforts seem to have been made to resuscitate the same by the provincial government as yet despite the board having become dysfunctional and redundant about 3 years ago.Another heartening initiative remaining underway is the artificial insemination (AI) by the respective authorities since long. This programme has now to be made simply more focussed on the upper zone to make tangible results achievable.

Related article:
Livestock – the mainstay of mountain economy - II

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