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 Livestockemail@example.com
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.
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.
A few days ago I had the enormous pleasure to be hosted by Prof. Muhamed Younas, Chair of the Department of Livestock Management of the University of Agriculture in Faisalabad (Pakistan) for the celebration of World Camel Day on 22nd June. Initially conceived by my friend Dr. Abdul Raziq Kakar, a great camel researcher and currently dean at Lasbela Agricultural University, it was a grand event with dancing camels, scientific sessions and launch of the Dacha brand of camel milk.
My brief visit proved extremely instructive for in this country camel numbers are on the increase with the current population being estimated at one million head. This trend is in stark contrast to the situation in neighbouring India where camel numbers have dropped to around 200,000, according to inofficial sources – more than 50% in the last five years!
Why is the scenario in Pakistan so different from India, I asked myself and the reasons were not difficult to identify: Pakistan is a nation of meat eaters and the demand for camel meat is strong – I was told that if camel meat is available at any butcher’s shop, word spreads quickly and it is immediately sold out. Secondly, Pakistan exports a large number of dairy camels to the Gulf countries at very remunerative rates. Both situations generate lucrative income for camel breeders, creating incentives to keep breeeding camels. An interesting nugget of information was shared by Dr. Raziq: by means of a Biocultural Protocol (an approach promoted by my organisation LPP and by the LIFE Network for securing the assets of livestock keepers), the awareness of the camel breeding community in Cholistan was raised about the value of their genetic resources and they are now able to negotiate for much higher prices with the Arab buyers – ranging from 250,000 to even one million Pakistani Rupees. The sale of even one good dairy camel enables some of the previously poorest nomads to purchase a piece of land and totally transform their economic status.
While this is great, I find it extremely worrying that all the best dairy camel genetics are either ending up in the Gulf countries or becoming extinct in India. Why are there no serious efforts to develop the potential of camels in South Asia for food production locally and inproving the lot of some of the poorest people in rural areas? Of course, establishing the camel dairy industry in Dubai (such as Camelicious) and other countries in the area was a question of massive investment which was provided by the deep pockets of Arab potentates. But couldn’t for instance the Indian government – or some of the larger donor and aid agencies – encourage and support public-private partnerships to get camel dairying going? The benefits accruing could be rather significant: it would place value on Indian camels that are currently wasting away because of neglect, absence of veterinary care, closure of grazing areas and, most importantly, lack of a market. Such an approach would be vastly more promising than placing a ban on the export of camels from Rajasthan and India and prohibiting the slaughter of camels – the measures currently adopted by the Rajasthan government for saving the camel.
While the attention of Rajasthan’s government to the issue of camel decline is laudable, it would be well advised to look into fostering (social) entrepreneurial engagement in which camel breeders are the main stakeholders, but backed up by sound business strategies and complemented with supportive policies that ensure grazing for camels.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is famous for its multitude of pig cultures. When an invitation by Dr. Workneh Ayalev of its National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in Lae arrived to catch a glimpse of them, this was a rare and cherished opportunity. Dr. Workneh who hails from Ethiopia shares my confidence in the value of indigenous breeds, in fact did a seminal study comparing the benefits of cross-bred versus indigenous goats to farmers in the Ethiopian highlands.
The trip to Lae was an add-on to a symposium on customary rights and traditional knowledge that took me to Griffiths University in Brisbane where I met plenty of law professors that had began their careers in the roughs of Melanesia. They issued me with a catalogue of warnings and tips to protect myself in this wild place against thieves and malaria. I also had picked up a copy of Throwim way leg, a book written by Australian zoologist Tim Flannery who studied the country’s mammals and other fauna in the 1980s and early 1990s. After digesting these various sources of intelligence, I was beginning to get second thoughts about the wisdom of travelling to PNG. It was not only the danger of malaria and other diseases that worried me, but some of the descriptions of cruelty to animals, such as limbs being hacked off living turtles and dogs given terrible treatment. Would my maxim of “animal cultures, not animal industries” hold up in such a place?
However, once I reached everything worked like clock-work. I had the pleasure to be guided by Dr. Pikah Kohun, principal scientist at NARI, and did not see any cruelty to animals. All people that I met were extremely friendly and helpful; the country is truly God’s own – never ever have I seen such a paradisiacal place where a cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, tubers is just growing into your mouth so to speak. The dogs I saw were treated nicely too!
Over the next few days I had the pleasure of being introduced to three women pig keepers.
The first one, in the lowlands, was Edith, who kept her pigs in a spacious corral – there were three of them, one of them by far the thinnest porcine specimen I have ever seen. It was a “white pig”, mostly exotic blood, and probably could not sustain herself on the local feed; the other two were black and in fine fettle, although they were not fed any differently. Edith was also running a guava tree plantation and kept chickens and Muscovy ducks. Her garden was that of Eden – we were served fresh coconut water and given huge gifts of bananas, papayer and guavas – the largest I have ever seen.
On the second day we travelled to the highlands, to Goroka, on a very smooth, only occasionally pot-holed road, past the air-strip from where Amelia Earhart once started her last flight, through almost infinite pastures on which beef cattle were enjoying the lush grasses, up a fairly steep ascent offering mind blowing vistas, then along . On the way, we stopped at two markets to get an idea of the range of vegetables and fruits available; piles of earthy peanuts, bunches of bright orange carrots, heaps of taro, groups of areca nuts, assortments of lychees, rows of tomatoes, crimson beef sausages from Ramu, live chicken and many more varieties were neatly layed out on card board with little hand written price tags.
In Goroka, we picked up Joe Alois, an animal scientist currently with the Fisheries Department, to introduce us to a peri-urban pig keeper. Although it had started pouring, Betty received us amicably and led us to her pig stable, a wooden cage on stilts, stocked with three sows.
Again a mixture of white and brown indigenous pigs. I had hoped to see free-ranging pigs, but clearly this was not possible in this part of town which was composed of little fenced in gardens. Besides, there is the permanent theft problem. Betty also showed us her boar, a very placid animal that was tied up by its frontleg to her verandah and seemed very friendly and keen to be petted.
On the next day, the weather was friendlier and we had the privilege of being taken to Joe’s family homestead, some distance out of town, and accessible only via a steep climb on foot. It was a gorgeous place with stunning vistas and Joe’s wife Nancy, also a graduate in animal science, explained to us her pig husbandry system. She had three sows that were tethered during the day in various fields which they dug up and thereby ploughed and prepared for planting. The piglets were running free, in fact, when Nancy called them they raced up to the hill to her, but stopped in their tracks when they saw us strangers. All the pigs are given names and they are not raised to sell them, but for feasts and to resolve conflicts within the community. If somebody is upset with you, this can be set straight by the gift of a pig. I also learnt that one family cannot manage more than six sows; otherwise the work gets too much. When the sows show that they are in heat, Nancy unfetters them and they seek out a free-ranging wild boar and come back pregnant.
It was clear that exotic pigs don’t make any sense in this kind of setting. First of all they get sunburn and secondly, they would grow too fast and need too much feed. The local pigs are much better able to fulfil a storage function in a system where it is unpredictable when the pig will be slaughtered.
Another highlight of the trip was a meeting with Professor Alan Quartermain at the University of Goroka who has lived in the country for decades and written extensively about its animal husbandry systems. Already in the 1980s, he had the foresight to get his students to study and document the way animals were kept in their home villages; one of these reports he had dug out for me which provided very interesting details on how in the traditional PNG Western Highlands women had shared a house with the pigs, while the men slept separately. In return, I presented him with a copy of the booklet by my friend and colleague, Dr. Balaram Sahu on the pig nomads of Odisha (India), who earlier contributed a guest blog here.
My final act in PNG was to give a lecture at NARI for which I had chosen the title “The power of indigenous breeds for rural transformation“. It generated good discussion, not only about pigs, but also about the country’s poultry industry – PNG is actually one of the few countries in the world that is free from Newcastle disease – an enormous advantage for its chicken rearers. unfortunately this status appears to be threatened, due to the government’s decision to allow imports of fresh eggs and uncooked chicken meat.
Trying to sum up the similarities between animal husbandry systems in PNG’s extremely wet environment and the drylands that I am used to, I once again came to the conclusion that if local resources – genetics, feed, and culture/knowledge – would be the foundation of livestock development, this would certainly make the world a better place, create more rural income, conserve biodiversity, and be much better for the environment. Maybe sufficiency should be the mantra of the livestock sector, rather than efficiency!
W. Ayalew, G. Danbaro, M. Dom, S. Amben, F. Besari, C. Moran, and K. Nidup. 2011. Genetic and cultural significance of indigenous pigs in Papua New Guinea and their phenotypic characteristics. Animal Genetic Resources 48: 37-46.
Quartermain, A, R. 1977. Pigs, goats and people – on the role of animal husbandry in the tropical subsistence agriculture. P. 54-60 In: Enyi Bac and Verghese, T. (Eds) Agriculture in the Tropics, University of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby.
It is great news that the GAA (Global Agenda of Action towards sustainable livestock sector development) is serious about establishing a Civil Society Mechanism that allows the organised and regionally balanced participation of social movements and of marginalized livestock keepers in the challenging process of putting livestock systems onto a more sustainable path. Recently a successful meeting (“Civil Society Dialogue”) was held in Ahmedabad (India) where some of the aspects of the modus operandi were identified . Another meeting is planned for mid-December in Kenya to further clarify the way of working.
We are delighted about this, as it effectively means that small-scale livestock keepers have come to be considered as a separate stakeholder group and are no longer encompassed under the private sector, as earlier was the case. (LPP had pushed for this during the 3rd Multistakeholder Platform of the GAA in Nairobi in January 2013.) They have also been singled out from Civil Society at large, as the mechanism is supposed to be only for marginalised groups or social movements, and not NGOs which can participate independently in the GAA.
With participation of the largest stakeholder group ensured, it is now time to challenge some of the underlying conceptual frameworks of the GAA in order to put the livestock sector on a truly sustainable path. As the GAA endeavours to have everybody on board, including the powerful proponents of industrial livestock keeping, certain issues and angles have so far been blocked out.
For instance, the question of reducing consumption of livestock products is a taboo area, as it would go against the interests of the corporations that earn from the present high-input and high output systems. Then, greenhouse gas emissions are calculated at the farm level per unit of product, while the whole processing stretch from the farm gate to the consumer is left out, a decison that favours high-input production. Alltogether there is still that underlying assumption that we need to improve output per head of animal and that emissions can be reduced by feeding ruminants higher value food (as recommended in the new FAO publication “Tackling climate change with livestock”). But that runs counter to the crucial ecological advantage of ruminants that pastoralists are so good in making use of: The ability to access and metabolize fibrous natural vegetation and thereby utilize arid and other marginal lands for food production.
Fascinating and crucial discussions on these questions lie ahead and if the GAA can facilitate these, all the better. Livestock keepers and social movements will require the support of sympathetic and holistic thinking scientists in order to make their case. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see that much of the rhetoric within the GAA has already changed. There is now a greater recognition of the importance of livestock for the poor and an explicit acknowledgment that social issues can not be ignored – another positive change since the first GAA meeting in Phuket that I attended almost two years ago.
So lets keep up the dialogue and marshall all scientific arguments in favour of socially and ecologically sustainable livestock keeping that also respects animals and cares for their welfare!
While unfortunately not many people seem to care about the rapid vanishing of the camel from Rajasthan’s drylands, the women below certainly do: Their livelihoods depend on it. These women from a village in Jaisalmer district are members of a spinning group that turns camel wool into yarn. The hand spun yarn is subsequently processed into stoles and rugs – and possibly many other specialty items in the future as well.
Three of them are widows – recognizable from their red gowns and the absence of any jewelry. The number of widows is high in the desert, partly because very young women are often married to rather old men. Widows usually don’t have much too laugh about, as they are totally home bound and dependent on their husband’s relatives for their upkeep (although they are entitled to a small government pension).
Spinning the wool with old-fashioned spinning wheels is an activity that can be done in a group and in the confines of one’s home, so it is an ideal occupation.And it creates precious income that the women can control themselves and that empowers them. Although empowerment is relative and will take some time. After all, in some of the villages in the Thar desert, killing of the girl child allegedly is still practiced, although many well-meaning NGOs have tried to stop it.
But the spinning women are not the only ones that benefit from the camel. The next step in the value chain is the weaver who uses an old and self fashioned groundloom to spin the yearn into dhurries (rugs).
This if of course only one of the possible value chains based on camel raw materials. Camels, especially the babies and young animals also have very soft fibre that can be made into stoles. Other options are a range of dairy products, soap from camel milk, and the unique and bio-diverse desert paper, made from cellulose pre-processed by our desert friends.
Locally adapted livestock breeds are a key resource for adapting to climate change. This is brought home by a recently initiated action research project of Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan (LPPS) that documents and seeks to save an as yet unregistered sheep breed from the Godwar area in Rajasthan. This is the Boti sheep which is distinguishable by its small tubular ears and black head, as well as its lustrous carpet wool. This breed was described already about ten years ago by a Dutch researcher, Ellen Geerlings, who noted that it was gradually being replaced by another breed, the Bhagli sheep, which grows much faster and is therefore more profitable for meat production. The present survey, supported through the FAO’s funding strategy for the implementation of the Global Plan of Action on Animal Genetic Resources is coming just in time: it is hard to find any original Boti sheep at all, as herders have generally been using Bhagli rams. The breed is literally at the verge of extinction.
However, in conversations with the Raika shepherds, they remember very well the advantages of the Boti sheep especially in terms of drought and disease resistance. They emphasize that the Boti breed can endure pain and even if it suffers from Foot and Mouth Disease or has a thorn in its foot, it will continue walking on three legs, while the Bhagli sheep lies down and dies. The Boti can also cope well with rains and water in its pen, whereas Bhagli requires dry ground or will get sick. The ewes of the breed have a very long life span, giving up to 10 lambs.
Just by talking about these matters, the shepherds seem to start reconsidering their preference for the Bhagli and express the need to again use a Boti ram (which are however now very difficult to find) for improving disease resistance and drought-proofing their flock. When the possibility is raised that they might receive a higher price for the wool, then they get really interested. Wool prices have been so low that they did not even cover the costs of shearing in recent years. However, through the development of niche markets, for instance by creating rugs that contain both Boti wool and “Desert wool” from the local camels, it will hopefully be possible to create financial incentives for keeping Boti sheep.
So, although the initial results of the survey were depressing, it now looks much more hopeful. Value addition is the way to go for saving breeds and creating high value livestock products that appeal to the discerning customer. My next blog will be about our efforts to develop innovative camel products and how this is benefitting women and “poor” people in the Thar desert.
Deserts are usually cast as bad or inhospitable, something to combat, as the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD) tries to do. People living in deserts are thought to be poor and in need of help from outside. But I think that paradigm is in urgent need of revision. Deserts may experience seasonal material scarcity, but they are also very rich, and not only spritually. Desert dwellers are immensely resourceful and their hospitality is impeccable. They also feed the world’s cities with dairy products and meat. In our Ark of Biodiversity project we have started to accumulate evidence that the nutritional quality of these products is much much better than those produced in industrial systems.
Hanwant Singh, the director of Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan (LPPS), an NGO working with and supporting Rajasthan’s pastoralist communities, and I are currently experiencing this in Rajasthan’s Thar Desert where we are trying to tie up some of the loose ends of the Jaisalmer Camel Breeders’ Biocultural Protocol. We got way-laid because of heavy rains and stopped overnight at the place of a good friend who also happens to be the president of the Jaislamer Camel Breeder’ Association. We slept outside on cots under the pipal tree. In the morning we were awakened by the clatter of milking pails – the seven or so cows of the family that had assembled right next to us were being milked by our host’s wife and son. It was a gentle scene – the cows letting themselves be hand milked without any restraint, although the calves were present to induce the milk flow. After several buckets had been filled, the cows went for grazing on their own. Only one very old cow, said to be more than 20 years old, stayed behind.
This must be one of the most humane and mutually beneficial livestock systems that exists. The cows are habituated to harvest the local desert grasses on their own and willingly share their milk with their keepers. They require hardly any inputs, except a friendly pat and some encouraging words now and then. This production systems runs without medicines, fertilizers, and fossil fuels – not even a shed is required for this system.
Cattle has actually aways been the backbone of human subsistence in this desert, kept by members of all casts and communities. Sheep and goat were rare earlier, as most people were vegetarians. And camel ownership was restricted to the Maharajah and a few wealthy landlords. So cows provided food, manure and draught power.
Our friend, who is in his late fifties, told us in some detail how scarce water had been during his childhood and that guests had not been offered water, but buttermilk, because the latter was more abundant and easier to obtain. He also described how people had lived mostly of buttermilk and ghee and fruits from desert trees. Even bajra – pearl millet – was a rarity.
This traditional food – all natural, home made, and organic – is delicious, as well as healthy. Below is a picture of my breakfast – which kept me going throughout the day.
This is a question that we will have to give some thought if we want to arrive at fair and equitable livestock development. Most people that are involved in international policy processes seem to think small-scale livestock keepers are “private sector” – this appeared to be the consensus of the participants of the recent 14th IADG (Inter-Agency Donor Group) meeting held in Berlin from 22-24th May. The same stand is taken by the GAA (Global Agenda of Action towards sustainable livestock sector development) which does not regard livestock keepers as a separate stakeholder group and subsumes them under “private sector”.
And, of course, on one level, small-scale livestock keepers, such as the milk producers from Uganda pictured above, are “private sector”: producing meat and milk for their own benefit and profit, they are definitely small-scale rural entrepreneurs.
However livestock keepers themselves see this differently. My friend Elizabeth Katushabe, also an Ankole cattle breeder from Uganda, emphasizes that in her parlance, “private sector” is equivalent to “industrialists”.
I think it is fair to say that there are few if any commonalities between these two types of actors and that their interests may even be at cross-purposes. The vast majority of livestock keepers just want to make a decent living and be able to give their children some education. They try to achieve this by minimizing their expenditure on inputs, by making social arrangements for access to pastures and by sharing resources and labour with their neighbours and relatives. The industries however thrive on high input systems, pursue economies of scale, engage in cut throat competition, and, in the final analysis, only care about the bottom line.
Well, according to Charles Darwin, there are lumpers and splitters, when it comes to classifications and taxonomy. I think I am definitely a splitter in this case, as I can not see the similarities between small-scale livestock keepers that are often still mired in a moral economy and struggle for their livelihoods on one side and globally operating multinational companies on the other.
The two groups are too distinct in their needs, their resources, their priorities and especially their worldview and agency to be lumped together. For fairness and justice, they must be represented as distinct stakeholder groups in the context of sustainable livestock development and the processes that hopefully lead us there.
LPP and its partners will organise a Seminar entitled “Towards green and equitable livestock development” in Hyderabad on 13th April. The programme will also include presentations of the exciting results of the Ark-project which indicate that one of the main benefits of keeping indigenous breeds is that their products have a higher nutrient content than those of stall-fed animals. And many other interesting presentations, as well as space for discussion!