How can livestock become sustainable? Impressions from the 6th Meeting of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock

Panama Canal Authority

The Panama Canal Authority is working with beef cattle raising Campesinos to protect the Panama Canal watershed.

The 6th meeting of the Multistakeholder Partnership of the Global Agenda for Sustanbale Livestock took place in Panama from 20-23 June, just before the new locks of the Panama Canal were inaugurated.

On the surface, the two events may not appear to have much of a connection. But, for one, there is an urgent need for protecting the Panama Canal’s watershed area through extensive livestock keeping. Secondly, the new expansion is critical for U.S. soybean exports to Asia. About a quarter of the average  4 billion-bushel U.S. harvest is transported on the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, from where some of it is destined for Europe and Africa while around 600 million bushels will pass through the Panama Canal en route to Asia, especially Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, and Korea.

The new Panama Canal extension allowing passages of much larger ships will make the transfer of livestock feed considerably more efficient, and “improving efficiency” is one of the key tenets of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL), which basically is a long-term follow-up to Livestock’s Long Shadow, the seminal first comprehensive analysis of livestock’s environmental impacts published by FAO in 2006. GASL was initiated in 2011 in Brasilia and is a concerted effort to involve all stakeholders (including government, research, social movements, NGOs, international organizations and the private sector) in constructive dialogue and arrive at a “consensus” about how the livestock sector can become more sustainable.

While the priorities and opinons of the different groups obviously vary (I personally believe that the focus on improving “livestock efficiency” is only a small part of the solution, if any) , the meetings provide a great and very valuable opportunity for understanding each other’s perspectives as well as to get exposure to different livestock production systems. At this meeting the focus was on showing the connection between livestock and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which is certainly a very timely and appropriate endeavour.

But the most interesting and thought provoking information was presented in the parallel sessions. Most fascinating  was a paper presented by Pablo Manzano, currently an independent consultant adscribed to the IUCN commissions, who drew attention to the fact that the greenhouse gas emissions of wild herbivores once exceeded those of current domestic ruminant populations. Another paper by Pablo Peri of INTA in Argentina dwelled on the potential of Silvo-Pastoralist Systems as an animal-friendly, climate change mitigating alternative to the rapid expansion of soybean cultivation in Argentina – a process that is destroying native forests, biodiversity and local livelihoods. Then there was the presentation by Elizabeth Katushabe, Ankole cattle breeder from Uganda and fellow member of LIFE Network International  in which she showed the draw-backs for farmers and the environment of the transition from local cattle to Holstein-Friesian cows for dairy production.

Interesting also the fieldtrip to the watershed area of the Panama Canal where campesinos are being incentivized by the Panama Canal Authority to keep forest standing and utilize sustainable land use practices in order to prevent soil erosion .

Campesino cow

“Indian” or “Indian origin” cow kept for beef production in the Panama Canal Watershed

I was especially impressed how the Indian origin Zebu cows were thriving in the Panamanian jungle and how happy and well-fed they looked by comparison with many (but of course not all) of their Indian relatives, despite being kept for beef production!

Uplifting also the participation of pastoralists and the attention that is given to the subject of pastoralism, as reflected in the number of best practice notes that were published for the occassion by the Action Network on “Restoring Value to Grasslands”, including one based on our experiences with the social institutions upholding sheep pastoralism in Rajasthan.

In conclusion, its important that such global meetings around livestock continue to take place and we hope that GASL will get the necessary support from FAO Headquarters that it deserves!

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Listening to Camel Breeders in Iran

camels elikai comp

Young nomads in Elikai

“Our camel culture has totally changed“, laments Mr. Muhammed Rabii with a wistful hint of a smile. “We never ate camel meat earlier and my father refused to take it until the end of his days. We believed to kill a camel would make a person cruel. And we never used camel wool to weave rugs, only garments, because we thought it disrespectful to the camel to step on its hairs with our feet. But now camel breeding is all about meat production.”

Mr. Rabii, a tall and gaunt man in his fifties with a gentle but somewhat resigned demeanour is from the Torud camel breeding tribe.  We are sitting under the shade of a big tree in Chojaam,  a crumbling complex of mudbrick buildings in the middle of the desert in Iran’s Semnan Province. It’s an abandoned caravanserai from the times in which the camel was the only means of transportation, trade and communication over long distances. Now only a couple of rooms are used by three camel herders for sleeping and cooking. But in front of it is a huge water tank, almost the size of an Olympic swimming pool. It is filled to the brim with fresh water channeled to it from a nearby mountain range through qanats, Iran’s traditional covered irrigation system.

The pool is the watering point for about three thousand camels owned by 30 families of Mr. Rabii’s clan. The animals roam around the desert feeding on thorny low shrubs and return for drinking in 2-3 day intervals. Most of the people of the Torud tribe live in the town of Torud, about 30 km away. But they take turns managing the camels. “All Torud people are camel breeders”, Mr.  Hassan Ameri, one of the three herders currently on rotational duty tells us.  “Our families used to have more than 7000 camels. The numbers have decreased, but they still provide us with our basic livelihoods – enough to live on, although not enough for any extras or luxuries”. Then he adds “Soon I will sell ten camels to pay for my son’s wedding”.

When I ask how the importance of the camel has changed, Mr. Rabii breaks into a philosophic homily. “Before, the camel was everywhere and essential in all aspects of life. We needed it for the transportation of goods, for bringing the bride, and as an ambulance. It was involved in every celebration. When a caravan started, the camels were decorated elaborately and it was a time of excitement and happiness. The wool of the camel was used to make the aba (cloak) of the clergy. In the Koran, the camel is the only animal is put on the same level with humans. But since the car came, all this changed.

The current camel breeding system is minimum input. The camels feed themselves, cursorily supervised by a young man on a motorbike who tries to prevent them from harm on the highway to Torud and from being attacked by cheetahs and wolves, but with limited success. The losses due to accidents and predation are significant. But apart from these dangers it’s an ideal area for camels that thrive in the hot and dry climate.  Once a year, the young male camels are caught and sold to the meat markets in Teheran, Semnan and elsewhere. In Iran, there is a lot of demand for camel meat which sells as the same price or higher as lamb, for 10,000 Toman (about 3 USD) per kg liveweight.

The camel breeders proudly point out that they do not fatten their camels with processed chicken manure as has become a wide-spread practice in Iran. Mr. Rabii strongly disapproves of such methods, emphasizing that camels need to roam around freely and are an essential part of the desert eco-system. Sitting down next to a prickly camel thorn he explains how the camels are pruning the dried parts of the plant and thereby stimulating it to branch out. He also points at places where camels have urinated and says that this is where new shrubs will germinate as soon as a few drops of rain will fall.

camels in Torut

Camels in Torut

The traditional knowledge of Mr. Rabii and his camel breeding colleagues – result of astute observations on the relationship between camels and plants over generations –  is supported by bona fide scientific research. Already in the 1960s, zoologist Hilde Gauthier Pilters studied the ecology of camels in the Sahara and, in a book published by the University of Chicago Press, came to the conclusion that their grazing behavior does not cause damage to desert vegetation, but instead nurtures the growth of its plants.

This knowledge does not seem to have filtered through to bureaucrats and officials sitting in government offices and deciding over rangeland policies. About 200 km north of Torud, close to Firuzkot, we visit the summer camp of three nomadic families from the Elikai tribe. They are  shepherds but also keep a herd of about 40 camels – in excellent fettle, with bulky humps and no trace of mange, the parasitic skin disease that is the scourge of more humid camel breeding areas.  Most of them are only half tamed, but one of them behaves more like a favourite pet than a farm animal, placidly allowing everybody to sit and pose on it.

The family seats us in their tattered army type tent which is surprisingly comfortable inside, the floor covered with rugs and big cushions to lean on, then ply us with glasses of tea served on a silver tablet and freshly baked flat bread still warm from the stove. Nobody is more hospitable than nomads living in isolated areas.

Two of the men, with sparkling eyes in their weather beaten faces, talk expansively about their camels and their affection for them. “We have seen others who have sold their camels, but they are not any happier than we are – on the contrary”, they say. “ But the Ministry of Forest, Rangelands and Watershed is telling us to stop keeping them. The officials say that camels are destructive to the rangeland vegetation.”

“Camels are very clever animals and they are the owners of the pasture. So they do not destroy anything as long as they can move around. They take only one or two bites, and then move on. In fact, now that there are fewer camels, the balance of the rangelands is being destroyed. The camel thorn has grown so high that the sheep can no longer eat it. And tamarisks die if they are not browsed upon.”

“They even tell us that we should sell our camels and that they will bring in camels from Australia. But good will that do? Already large numbers of camels are smuggled into the country for slaughter from India and Pakistan. This is dangerous, as they pass through our territories and bring in diseases.”

At a meeting of UNICAMEL, an association of camel herders from all over Iran, that is held in Azerbaijan,  in the far northwest of Iran, I gain more insight into the minds of the bureaucrats that decide on rangeland policies. The meeting is hosted by the Shahsevan tribal confederacy, Turkish speaking nomads who herd sheep and traditionally used two-humped Bactrian camels to transport their belongings on the migration between summering and wintering grounds. It is organized with the help of CENESTA, an Iranian NGO that has a long history of supporting Iran’s 600 nomadic tribes – organized in 100 tribal confederacies – in various ways. The get-together takes place in an encampment, an oba, perched on a slope with a magnificent view of the snow-covered volcanic Mount Savelan.

Members of UNICAMEL from all four corners of Iran hold forth about their woes, and officials from various government departments give speeches, with often vastly divergent views. I learn that as most of Iran is covered by deserts and steppes in which crops cannot be grown, nomadism has always been an important, even predominant way of life. Besides being providers of meat and dairy products, they made major contributions to its arts and crafts, notably its rug and carpet making traditions.

Unfortunately, under the Pahlevis, the dynasty that took over Iran at the beginning of the 20th century, the nomads were considered a threat. In the 1960s, the Shah declared the rangelands property of the state and the nomads were forcefully settled. While almost all policies were changed after the Iranian Revolution in 1978, the rangeland policy remained the same and until today bureaucrats decide about the dates on which nomads can move between their summer and winter pastures.

Iranian officials may want to keep camels off the range but, at the same time, they are eager to increase camel meat supply. Three years ago the government imported ten Bactrian male camels from China to cross them with the local one-humped camels because the hybrids reach significantly higher body size. Now they are planning to bring in 300 more in a swap for oil. Due to the embargo on Iran, the Chinese have not been able to pay for the oil they have obtained from Iran and instead sent compensation in kind, including camels.

The nomads also reported that large numbers of camels were being brought into the country from India – and that huge herds passed through their territories en route to slaughterhouses in Teheran. While Iranian officials did not confirm this, the nomads emphasized that such things could not happen without government connivance. They actually confirmed what I had heard earlier from reliable sources in Pakistan and India: large numbers of camels cross the Indo-Pakistan border in Kutch in Gujarat to reach their final destination in slaughter houses in Iran. This happens although this part of the Indo-Pakistan border is supposed to be sealed by a strong fence and although the camel was recently declared state animal with its export and slaughter banned in the Indian state of Rajasthan.

Disregard for nomads and their way of raising livestock is not limited to Iran, but similar thinking prevails in many countries. In China, Tibetan nomads are forcefully settled in order to protect the rangelands, leading to their economic destitution and dependence on hand-outs from the government. In India, camel nomads are systematically excluded from their summer grazing grounds in forests, while at the same time not being allowed to either sell their milk nor dispose of them for meat.

It is difficult to understand what is behind the contradictory policies of Asian countries versus the camels, and nomads in general. Why would Iran bring in camels from Australia instead of supporting its own camel breeders? Why does China sedentarize Tibetan nomads for “environmental protection” when nomadism is recognized as a means of conserving nature elsewhere? How can Rajasthan expect to save the camel when neither its products can be sold nor  a place for camels to graze?  Sometimes I wonder whether this is just incompetence or an intentional effort to promote industrial livestock production.

Nevertheless, Happy Camel Day 2016, and many thanks to its active promoters, especially Dr. Abdul Raziq Kakar!

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Banjaras, Bullocks and Biocultural Protocols

Rajabai Banjara exressed deep concern about the future of her cattle herd.

Rajabai Banjara exressed deep concern about the future of her cattle herd.

Women are the (often) invisible guardians of livestock biodiversity. This was once again confirmed during a recent fieldtrip to central Maharashtra at the occassion of the Malegaon Livestock Fair. Sajal Kulkarni of BAIF and the Maharashtra Gene Bank Programme had invited animal geneticist Dr. Chanda Nimbkar of Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute and me to see his work with documenting Maharashtra’s indigenous livetsock breeds.

Red Kandhari bullock cart

Lal Kandhari bullock pairs are essential for transportation of agricultural harvest, as well as a source of pride for their owners.

The Lal Kandhari cattle is the dominant breed in the area and, according to Sajal, it is Banjara women who have the most intimate knowledge of breeding it. The Banjara are one of India’s most famous nomadic tribes. Also known as Lambadis, they were once – during the time of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal era – responsible for the transportation of goods, especially grain and salt, throughout India. They represented a guild of caravaneers that could organise 10,000 and more bullocks to convey goods over distances over 2000 miles, and were especially in demand to accompany and provide grains for the armies that invaded the Deccan.

It was new to me that the Banjaras are also breeders of cattle, especially the Red (Lal) Kandhari, in this part of India. At the Banjara tunda (settlement) that we visited near the town of Kandhar, the Banjaras mused that they had brought the original stock from Rajasthan, and by crossing it with local animals, had created the Red Kandhari. The women emphasized that they never sold cows, only male calves. These are still very much in demand as draught animals as we could see at the weekly markets. The  price for a pair is around Rs 70,000-80,000, but can also be more.

Lal Kandhari pair

Pair of Lal Kandhari bullocks for sale at a weekly market.

Lal Kandhari cow

Lal Kandhari cow – what a multi-purpose animal, with a glistening coat and a very relaxed – if not drowsy – temper!

Additional demand is stimulated by shows and competitions at which significant prize money can be won. And the breed even seems to have dairy potential: we were told about a cow that gives 14 kg of milk per day.

But the situation of the Banjara cattle breeders is all but rosy. Due to the drought, they have to buy water by the tanker. Grazing land is in short supply, and the family land holdings that were once quite ample have declined from generation to generation. In his book “Subjugated nomads“, Bhangya Bhukiya describes how, during the colonial period, the Banjaras were classified as a criminal tribe due to their nomadic existence, while also being kicked out from forests and even so-called “wastelands”.

In the context of the Maharashtra Genebank programme, Sajal is developing a Biocultural Protocol for the Banjaras of the area and several other breeds or human/livestock associations. Certainly the area is full of genetic or biocultural treasures, including the

Osmanabadi goat

Osmanabadi goat bounty

Proud owner of an Osmanabadi doe with six living kids at the Malegaon Fair

Donkeys – in demand for bringing home the harvest from black soil fields during the rainy season. Apparently they are the only viable means of doing so, all other animals and machines get stuck or slip….

Donkey keeper

Four donkeys just purchased at Malegaon Fair for Rs 81,000

 

Deoni cattle

Deoni bullock on show at Malegaon fair

Deoni bullock on show at Malegaon Fair

 

Local poultry

Local poultry

Hunting dogs

Hunting hound

Establishing Biocultural Protocols for at least some of these breeds and their keepers will certainly be an important step towards their long-term conservation and sustainable use and I applaud the efforts by Sajal, the Maharashtra Gene Bank Programme and BAIF that they are making this effort!

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The Shepherds that Worship Wolves

meeting-shepherds

I am currently visiting the shepherding communities of the Deccan Plateau to see how the efforts by our partner NGOs to develop a Biocultural Protocol are coming along. I have the best possible guides: Nilkanth Mama, a leader of the Kuruba shepherd community and Gopikrishna of Mitan Handicrafts who knows the area intimately.

We started in Bagalkot in Karnataka where veterinarian Dr. Bala Athani from the NGO Future Greens is supporting rural communities with access to credit and marketing, as well as animal health care and other services.

In this area two developments are noteworthy: The large number of people who have recently taken up shepherding and the fact that the traditional breed of the area, the Deccani sheep, has almost totally been supplanted by a breed called Yellaga.

The first shepherds we met belonged to the Valmyki community who are actually hunter-gatherers (and have the most amazing hunting dogs), but now herd sheep. They pen them overnight on farmers’ fields, and during the day graze them on the uncultivated hillocks to which they have free access (Forest Department is not interfering). The lambs are penned during the day and given all kinds of supplementary feed to make them grow fast. By the age of 3-4 months they are already sold, fetching about 4000 Rs on the local market – which supplies the big cities.

One of the interesting topics raised by these shepherds was the role of the wolf. They were concerned that the wolf had disappeared from the area and explained that on every new moon they worship the pen, the wolf and their goddess. When a wolf dies they make a burial for it. And when an infectious disease hits, they leave a lamb in the wilderness to the wolves believing that this will prevent the further spreading of the disease. Without the presence of wolves they felt they had less protection against epidemics. (A recent survey of the wolf population in Karnataka has confirmed the correlation between sheep and wolves, and that shepherds are not a threat to them.)

The Yellaga is a hair sheep breed that grows faster than the Deccani wool sheep and has the advantage of not needing to be shorn – a process that is not worthwhile these days when wool prices have hit rock bottom.

Yellaga hair sheep

The Yellaga hair sheep, a breed first mentioned by John Shortt in his “Manual of Indian Cattle and Sheep” in 1889, but not officially registered as a breed.

The only place where we actually found the traditional Deccani breed of sheep was the village of Honnakatti which is famous for fighting rams. These rams can be worth up to Rs 400,000 and get pampered with milk and eggs – actually one has to keep a buffalo to feed them, one of the owners told us.

Fighting ram of the traditional Deccani sheep breed

Fighting ram of the traditional Deccani sheep breed

Later, when visiting the temples of Pattadakal, a World Heritage site dating back to the Chalukiya period in the 8th century A.D., we were excited to come across a carving showing a ram fight, providing proof that this kind of amusement is more than 1200 years old. Striking was also the similarity to the present day rams with the long shaggy hairs on the front part of the body making them look like lions!

Depiction of a ram fight at Pattadakal from the 8th century A.D.

Depiction of a ram fight at Pattadakal from the 8th century A.D.

In the more fertile parts of Karnataka around Belgaon where the soil is black, the Yellaga has not made that much inroads and there are still some weavers who make the traditional kambli, the signature blanket of the Kuruba shepherd community.

Picture of Balumama, a shepherd who lived from 1892 to 1966 and is now worshipped as a folk deity. His is wearing the kambli, traditionally made from Deccani sheep wool over his shoulder

Picture of Balumama, a shepherd who lived from 1892 to 1966 and is now worshipped as a folk deity. He is wearing the “kambli”, an all-purpose woven cloth traditionally made from Deccani sheep wool, over his shoulder

While the kamblis used by shepherds today are increasingly made from acrylic, those used for the worship of the local God Beerappa (the first shepherd who was made by God Shiva and who is the ancestor of all Kuruba) definitely need to be made from wool.

Spinning the black wool that the Deccani sheep is famous for

Spinning the black wool that the Deccani sheep is famous for

Near Kolhapur in Maharashtra we also tracked down the sacred herds of Balumama, a shepherd who died in 1966 but is now worshiped as a folk deity for his services to the rural poor.

Balumama had given his 60 sheep to his community for care taking, and by now his small flock has grown to 25,000 head and is divided into 14 herds that are grazed by volunteers and welcomed by villagers wherever they go, because they are thought to bring good luck and it is an honour to host them. As Gopikrishna emphasized, this is real community conservation of a genetic resource!

The movable temple and vehicles accompanying the sacred herds.

The movable temple and vehicles accompanying the sacred herds.

The income from this herd has given rise to a huge temple complex where people come to worship from far and near. And these herds are entirely black, they are almost glowing with blackness if that is possible.

Well, all this may sound very spiritual to any non-Indians, so lets get back to hard core economics. My visit yesterday to the flock of Nilkanth Mama that is taken care of by his two sons and one grandson (part-time) taught me a lot.

Sheep flock of Nilkanth Mama, managed bis his two sons and grandson

Sheep flock of Nilkanth Mama, managed bis his two sons and grandson

The major income generated from this herd is actually from manure. The farmers pay 1 Rupee (or sometimes up to 2 Rupees) per sheep per night that the herds are penned on their fields. In Nilkanth Mama’s herd that amounts to 300 Rupees per night or 9000 Rs per month, an income not to be sneezed at in rural India! And imagine what this practice saves the nation in terms of chemical fertilizer! And how it reduces greenhouse gas emissions, considering that fertilizer production is one of the biggest culprit in climate change!

Finally, I was so happy to see how the pastoralist occupation continues into the next generation! It gave me a little hope for the future.

Penning can be even more lucrative than selling live animals.

Penning can be even more lucrative than selling live animals.

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Animal genetic resources and “Access and Benefit-Sharing”: not made for each other?

ITWG sign

During the eighth session of the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Animal Genetic Resources (ITWG-AnGR 8), the confusion of delegates about how to apply the concept of “Access and Benefit-Sharing” to animal genetic resources (AnGR) was palpable. Developed countries such as USA and Canada argued that nothing should interfere with the free flow of AnGR. Of course they have the interests of their genetics companies in mind. Developing countries such as Bolivia expressed their fear that the indiscriminate import of exotic breeds destroys their locally adapted ones. There is also the latent fear of biopiracy especially of climate resilient local breeds, although at a side-event by WIPO and FAO about the patent landscape in the livestock sector it was stated that there have been no patent applications on genetic material from any indigenous breeds.

Francois Pythoud from Switzerland argued for brainstorming the issues and “thinking out of the box”, but unfortunately nobody picked up the suggestion. LPP and LIFE Network tried to make the case for community protocols, but this elicited neither any response nor support despite a side-event on the previous day that sought to bring across the point  that locally adapted breeds are often low-input and high output. And that this can be made visible by means of the Community Protocols that feature importantly in the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing that recently entered into force.  Our side-event was chaired by Poland’s National Coordinator, Dr. Elzbieta Martyniuk and featured presentations by Elizabeth Katushabe of Uganda about community documentation of Ankole Longhorn Cattle, by Rao Abdul Qadeer from Pakistan about the significance of Pakistan’s genetic resources for the camel dairy industry in the Gulf countries and by Dr. Maria Rosa Lanari of Argentina on the low-input but high-output indigenous livestock production systems of Patagonia.

Rao Abdul Qadeer, Maria Rosa Lanari, Ilse Koehler-Rollefson, Elzbieta Martyniuk, Elizabeth Katushabe (left to right)

Trying to get across the value of locally evolved food production systems and adapted AnGR during an LPP/LIFE Network side-event at the ITWG-Angr 8 on 26th November: Rao Abdul Qadeer, Maria Rosa Lanari, Ilse Koehler-Rollefson, Elzbieta Martyniuk (chair), Elizabeth Katushabe (left to right)

In order to move forward, I think we really need to get back to the basics and remind ourselves of the rationale of Access and Benefit-Sharing in the first place: to provide positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Now, in the case of AnGr, it is quite clear that there is currently not much of a commercial interest in locally adapted AnGR because they do not really fit into the industrial systems for which the genetics companies work. On the other hand, it is just the spread of industrial systems that poses the danger to livestock biodiversity as they contribute to the destruction of native livestock based food production systems – which are often much more productive than is evident, or worse: which have never been documented and remained invisible.Thus the community protocols that are mandated by the Nagoya Protocol have an extremely important role to play in changing perceptions about local systems and providing at least moral support and empowerment to the local livestock keepers that continue to be the backbone of food production in many countries.

I have tried to explain this in a study, co-authored with Hartmut Meyer and published by the ABS Capacity Building Initiative and LPP, entitled Access and Benefit-Sharing of Animal Genetic Resources: using the Nagoya Protocol as a Framework for the Conservation and Sustainable use of Animal Genetic Resources and which can be downloaded here.

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Can the Nagoya Protocol become a game changer for animal genetic resources and livestock keepers?

Bakkarwal herders from Kashmir looking at photos of breeds in the Raika Biocultural Protocol

Bakkarwal herders from Kashmir looking at photos of breeds in the Raika Biocultural Protocol

In October, the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing entered into force. This legally binding add-on to the Convention on Biological Diversity places special emphasis on obtaining “prior informed consent” not only from governments but also from local and indigenous communities when accessing their traditional knowledge with respect to genetic resources.

It mandates in its Article 7, that parties, “in accordance with domestic law, take measures, as appropriate, with the aim of ensuring that traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources that is held by indigenous and local communities is accessed with the prior and informed consent or approval and involvement of these indigenous and local communities, and that mutually agreed terms have been established.

In Article 12, parties are urged to, in accordance with domestic law take into consideration indigenous and local communities’  customary laws, community protocols and procedures, as applicable, with respect to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources. Furthermore it is stated that “parties shall endeavour to support, as appropriate, the development by indigenous and local communities, including women within these communities, of Community protocols in relation to access to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of such knowledge“.

Well, pastoralists and other keepers of locally developed breeds certainly qualify as “indigenous and local communities” under the CBD. As reader’s of this blog know,  several of them have already developed “Biocultural Protocols” for their breeds and communities.

And this is where the potential lies: in community documentation of animal genetic resources and of local production systems. For, even in the absence of any party requesting “access”, such documentation will make visible the existence, the significance, and the meaning of livestock production based on local breeds whose economic contribution is routinely underestimated or even entirely ignored.

Visibility of these systems would be the first step towards putting livestock development – conventionally based on “high yielding” introduced genetics and higher inputs from outside – on a more sustainable path, both ecologically and socially.

I am very pleased to report two events:

1. On 26th November, there will be a side-event at the FAO, during the 8th session of the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Animal Genetic Resources with reports from the field about the importance of community documentation and BCPs by Elizabeth Katushabe from Uganda, Dr. Maria Rosa Lanari from Argentina and Rao Abdul Qadeer from Pakistan. The event will be chaired by Dr. Ela Martyniuk, Poland’s National Coordinator of Animal Genetic Resources.

2. Just a fortnight ago, the Rainfed Livestock Network in India kicked off a project on developing BCPs for several communities and/or breeds, including the Bakkarwal pastoralists of Jammu and Kashmir, the Golla pastoralists in Odisha, the shepherds of the Deccan Plateau, and the Kangayam cattle breeders of Tamil Nadu

So all these are small, but important steps forward towards getting more visibility – recognition should then follow – for the long neglected “traditional” livestock production systems based on locally evolved animal genetic resources. Recognition should then follow – hopefully quickly enough to support and save some of these precious systems!

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Something radical…but right!

Pastoralists - like this Kuruba shepherd from India - know how to combine food production and care for the environment. We should learn from them! And support their "Livestock Keepers' Rights"

Pastoralists – like this Kuruba shepherd from India – know how to combine food production and care for the environment. We should learn from them! And support their “Livestock Keepers’ Rights”

I’ve just gotten off the phone with Guenther Czerkus, a good friend who is not only a board member of LPP, but also a leader of the German professional shepherds’ association.

He told me about a promotional film the shepherd’s association had made about their role  in landscape conservation (which is how most German shepherds earn their income – being paid for the environmental services they perform) and about the problems they face.

“We pastoralists are the only ones who actually produce food WHILE also caring for the environment. We are AGRO-ECOLOGICAL SERVICE PROVIDERS” he said.

And I could not agree with him more! This morning I had submitted a somewhat lengthy write-up to the NGO Cluster of GASL, the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock, trying to explain why “Livestock Keepers’ Rights” are relevant to GASL. I made the rather laborious and long-winded argument that locally adapted breeds are necessary for the utilization of marginal areas and producing food based on local biomass, rather than soybeans and other concentrates. That more support for such modes of livestock production would lessen the world’s dependence on industrial production and thereby be better for the environment, as well as for livelihoods. That Livestock Keepers’ Rights, a concept born out of the Interlaken process leading to the Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources, would help create a somewhat more level playing field for such “agro-ecological service providers” and thereby could help achieve some of GASL’s goals.

But Guenther expressed the whole complex issue so much more succinctly: Yes, if we are seeking to answer the question of how to make the livestock sector more sustainable, than the answer is “Support Pastoralism!”.

How I wish that the pastoralists of India would have similar self-confidence and pride! Not only of India, but all over the world, of course. But its Indian pastoralists that are on my mind currently, in light of the proposed law to ban use of the camel for meat, and even forbid moving it across state borders, or castrating male camels – a legislation that will deal a severe blow to the Raika and other camel pastoralists – who really don’t like selling camels for meat either, but don’t have much of an option these days.

If you feel like it, please sign the petition of LPP’s partner organisation Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan at http://www.change.org/p/vasundhra-raje-save-the-camels-of-rajasthan-stop-the-bill-that-will-undermine-pastoralist-livelihoods

and maybe also join GASL by contacting Livestock-dialogue@fao.org

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How can you make the camel state animal without asking your livestock keepers how to protect it?

Quo vadis, camel of Rajasthan? Will it be good to be "state animal"?

Quo vadis, camel of Rajasthan? Will it be good to be “state animal”?

Ever since the government of Rajasthan has decided to make the camel state animal, the phones have been ringing non-stop. Its mostly journalists that want to get some insight information or opinion on this issue, or even enquire “what is the latest scandal concerning the camel, madam?”. Confusion is reigning supremely, as nobody seems to know what it means for the camel to be state animal. Is it going to be given the same protection as the peacock (India’s national bird) or the chinkara gazelle and black bucks whose hunting is severely punished with jail ? Or is it to get a status equivalent to that of the cow whose slaughter and trafficking across state borders is strictly prohibited? According to the media, the government is preparing just such an act, but nobody really seems to know the details – it is kept under tight wraps and everybody is guessing, including the people who are in the centre of this hullabaloo and on whose continued involvement everything depends: the camel breeders themselves.

The camel breeders are not amused. Not surprising with some headlines announcing that “camel safaris are likely to end“because of their animal now being “protected”.

“If the camel is state animal, this means that we are no longer the owners of our camels and that the government has appropriated them” is the fear of Amanaram, a well informed member of the camel breeding community who brings out a newspaper (Dewasi shreejayte) for his people. He had recently participated in a ‘dharna’ (sit in) staged by the Raika outside the Legislative Assembly in Jaipur to voice their concerns.

Amanaram Dewasi from the traditional Raika camel breeding community is wondering what it means if the camel becomes 'state animal'.

Amanaram Dewasi from the traditional Raika camel breeding community is wondering what it means if the camel becomes ‘state animal’.

While I assured him this would not be the case, I also remembered a newspaper article earlier this year, stating that the government was planning to patent camel milk, and nobody else would be able to sell it.

What a strange and weird idea! For one, camel milk as a natural product is not patentable. And even if it was, whom would it benefit if only the government could sell camel milk? It would be the final death knell for the camel in Rajasthan if the camel breeders could not even sell the milk of their camels. For this is where the future lies: only if a camel milk market is developed, will the camel survive outside zoos.

So far the details of the planned legislation have not been discussed in the current session of the Legislative Assembly, although this was expected. The government of Rajasthan now seems to be grappling with the question of what steps to take. Notably, it has not made any attempt to reach out to the camel breeders themselves and appears to depend for its advice on some bureaucrats sitting in Jaipur who have never gone near a camel, nor have an inkling about the problems of camel breeders.

Last week, representatives of Rajasthan’s two camel breeders’ associations and Hanwant Singh from Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan (LPPS) met with MLAs and made their suggestions on how to go about saving the camel. They met with much positive response. You can read the letter written to the Chief Minister by the camel breeders and by LPPS here.

I sincerely hope that this letter will be heeded – for everybody’s benefit – the camels’, their keepers’, the public and the government itself.

 

 

Earlier this

Posted in animal welfare, Biodiversity, camel, livestock keepers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Livestock Keepers’ Rights on the roll?

lk landscape comp

Will indigenous and local livestock keepers conserving precious biodiversity ever be heard and given the rights that they have under existing international legal frameworks? Governments are ignoring the generations of expertise owned by livestock keepers at their own peril – as is evidenced by Rajasthan’s decision to put a ban on export of camels from the state. As this Raika herder testifies, this will not have the desired effect of saving the camel, but lead to breeders abandoning the animal because of lack of income. See previous blog at http://ikrweb.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/its-official-camel-is-rajasthans-state-animal/

There appear to be good news for the large number of Civil Society organisations that support “Livestock Keepers’ Rights“, a bundle of rights that would create a more level playing field between small-scale biodiversity conserving livestock keepers and the large-scale industrial livestock producers.

I have just returned from a panel discussion on Livestock Keepers’ Rights held at India’s National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR) in Karnal. It took place at the sidelines of the annual Breed Saviour Awards function  and at the initiative of the institute’s recently appointed director, Dr. Arjava Sharma and one of its well-known scientists, Dr. D. K. Sadana. The panelists included spokespeople for various groups advocating for more inclusive and participatory livestock policies, such as the Rainfed Livestock Network, LIFE Network, SEVA, Kasargode cattle breeders, as well as a livestock expert from Pakistan.

Apparently there is a desire in the government to make a move on Livestock Keepers’ Rights, unfortunately taking India’s Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 as a model and suggesting to just replace the word plant with animal. However, the strong consensus of the panelists and the audience was that this would not at all serve the purpose and not do justice to the complexity of the task. Instead an extensive dialogue, especially with livestock keepers, is necessary to arrive at a useful outcome.

One of the points agreed upon was the need for establishing strong breeders’ associations and that rights must go along with responsibilities.  A good deal of discussion centered on the right of livestock keepers to breed and to make breeding decisions. Some scientists were of the opinion that this could lead to the continuation of indiscriminate cross-breeding and might further threaten indigenous breeds. Others noted that livestock keepers can not be expected to keep threatened breeds if it was not economically worthwhile; in such cases the government would need to make payments if it wanted the breeds to be preserved.

Much doubt was also raised about the wisdom of government breeding policies which have heavily promoted cross-breeding of indigenous breeds and continue to do so.  According to Dr. A.E. Nivsarkar, a former director of NBAGR and currently with the National Dairy Development Board, 60 years of government promoted and supported cross-breeding has had no lasting impact (except in the creation of mongrels with reproductive problems) and wet averages have plateaued out at 6 liters among cross-breds, while the wet averages of indigenous breeds have slowly improved. He was of the opinion – shared by many – that if the same attention had been given to improve indigenous cattle through selective breeding, the impact would have been been much better for the national economy. This seemed to be confirmed by the cattle breeder from Pakistan who proudly talked about his prize winning Sahiwal cow with daily yields of more than 39 kg.

An eye-opening input was made by the participants from Kerala, Dr. Jayan of the Vechur Conservation Trust and Mr. Lal of the Kasargod Conservation Centre who related how the state’s Livestock Improvement Act of 1961 had prohibited the use and keeping of bulls of the dwarf Vechur cattle breed punishing it with one month in jail and a Rs 500 fine. Indigenous bulls were  systematically scouted out and castrated by force. This was against the backdrop of an Indo-Swiss  dairy development project which promoted cross-breeding with exotics. Now, 50 years later, the Vechur cattle – which was rescued against all odds by the well-known efforts of Prof. Sosamma Iype and her students – has turned into a highly treasured and expensive breed whose milk sells at a minimum of three times the price of the milk from cross-bred cows and which is ideally suited because of its minute size for the small land holdings in densely populated Kerala.

Despite the government efforts focusing on cattle, India’s story is one of buffaloisation, as was described by Dr. R. K. Sethi, former director of India’s Central Institute for Research on Buffaloes. This species is now the main provider of milk in the country and largely responsible for India’s number one rank as beef exporter (beef including buffalo meat). This development appears to be largely due to livestock keepers taking advantage of marketing opportunities as well as government pricing policies rewarding the high fat content of buffalo milk.

Much remains to be analysed and discussed but it is a highly positive sign that India – as home of the largest population of small-scale livestock keepers – has opened the discussion on Livestock Keepers’ Rights! Hopefully other countries will follow and thereby move their livestock sector towards a more sustainable trend.

 

 

Posted in animal genetic resources, Biodiversity, livestock keepers, Sustainability | 1 Comment

Its official: Camel is Rajasthan’s state animal!

Camel breeders are happy that the camel will receive protection, but are worried about te planned ban on moving camels across state borders

Camel breeders are happy that the camel will receive protection, but are worried about te planned ban on moving camels across state borders

Yesterday camel herders from both Maru and Godwar Raika communities met at Lokhit Pashu Palak Sansthan’s headquarters to discuss the implication of the planned ban on taking camels outside the state. They fear that this will undermine their livelihoods as even fewer buyers may come to the Pushkar Fair this year. Already sales have been very low in the last few years as demand for draught animals has declined. For more about the gist of the discussions, please see the press release of LPPS.

Later in the day, Rajasthan’s cabinet declared the camel as state animal, announcing a number of protection measures. But unless they help to generate income they will not solve the problem of declining camel numbers. Camels will only be kept if there are economic incentives to do so, as the case of Pakistan with its burgeoning camel population of one million head illustrates.

Posted in animal genetic resources, animal welfare, Biodiversity, camel | 2 Comments