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.

 

 

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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

World Camel Day in Pakistan: Interesting Insights into Camel Conservation

bannerA 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.

Dancing camels are a typical part of the culture of the desert that straddles the border between India and Pakistan

Dancing camels are a typical part of the culture of the desert that straddles the border between India and Pakistan

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.

Creating a market for camel milk would be the most appropriate strategy for saving the camels of Rajasthan

Creating a market for camel milk would be the most appropriate strategy for saving the camels of Rajasthan

 

 

Posted in animal genetic resources, Biodiversity, camel, food security, livestock keepers, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Make Cheese, not Mass!

munster cheese

Bargkass (mountain cheese), ripening in a cheese cellar in the Vosges in France

More! Faster! Cheaper! Mass production is the mantra of global livestock development as breeding companies create ever more productive genetics and farmers and countries are caught  in cut-throat competition worldwide. “Producing more with less” is also the guiding principle of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL), a multistakeholder platform that seeks to make livestock production more sustainable, both environmentally and socially.

The spiraling pressure has not been good to livestock producers. Exhorted to “grow or go”, they need to invest heavily in infrastructure and additional animals if they want to stay in business. They get caught up to the hilt in debt, as my colleague Evelyn Mathias has shown in her study “Livestock out of balance. From asset to liability in the course of the Livestock Revolution?“. In all developed countries the number of farmers that can make a living from livestock has plummeted precipitously and this is being repeated in the emerging economies, such as Brazil, China, Thailand, and India, as well as Eastern European countries that have recently joined the European Union. Its a trend that does not forebode well for the sustainability of the livestock sector as holdings become ever bigger leading to huge problems with manure recycling, public health and animal welfare, besides abandoned rural areas.

Yet its still possible to buck the trend and make a decent living from keeping a small number of animals which do not even need to be “highly productive” in the conventional sense, and even enjoy doing so!  The secret is to make cheese. This is the lesson learnt during a recent whirlwind tour to artisanal cheese makers in three European countries originally inspired by the desire to test whether cheese making would be an option for processing camel milk in Rajasthan.

Our first stop was Robert Paget in Lower Austria who produces camembert and mozzarella from about 30 goats and a dozen buffaloes. Robert started out more than 30 years ago with a single goat and believes in growing in quality rather than in quantity. He has a long waiting list of customers – both individuals and gourmet shops – who have to order their cheese quite sometime ahead. Robert covers almost the entire value chain, although he rents the land that produces the fodder for his herds. He has help to milk, but makes and sells the cheese entirely on is own and still finds time to share his knowledge in cheese making courses at home and abroad and supporting the local Slow Food movement.

Robert Paget of Bufala-Connection explaining the intricacies of gourmet cheese making

Robert Paget of Bufala-Connection explaining the intricacies of gourmet cheese making

The next stop on our tour was Northern Italy where we had the pleasure to meet Alessandro a very young man in his early twenties who has embarked on a cheese making career. Alessandro is crazy about his goats and he loves what he is doing – the only downer being the inordinate amount of bureaucracy he has to put up with.

Alex goat hugger

Alessandro Breda in a village near Bergamo (Northern Italy) hugging the goats that are the basis for his cheese making enterprise

Over the span of a few years and with small investment he has built up a faithful clientele for his cheese which he is crafting with the help of his mother in a tiny production unit in his parents’ garden. His enthusiasm – and his lovingly hand crafted cheeses – are absolutely enthralling.

Another interesting experience was waiting for us in the Alsace region of France at the Pensées Sauvages farm of the Baumann family in Linthal. “Pensées sauvages” has the double meaning of wild pansies and wild thoughts which I found very appropriate, as the Baumanns keeps about 30 cows of the Vosges breed which have average milk yields of just above 3000 l. In the European context where dairy farmers usually need well over a hundred high performance cows to make a living, such figures indeed seem to be a wild idea. But here two generations lived well from this enterprise that creates premium organic Munster cheese, a local specialty that is protected by an Appelation d’Origine Controlée (AOC), a French type of Geographical Indication and can be made only from milk produced in the high meadows of the Vosges.

 

The Vosges cattle, a once highly threatened local breed, that produces the milk for Munster cheese

The Vosges cattle, a once highly threatened local breed, that produces the milk for Munster cheese

Here too there were two generations absolutely loving what they were doing and producing high quality food with happy animals – in a way that seemed against the odds.

Tow generations of the Baumann family enjoy making specialty Munster cheese

Two generations of the Baumann family enjoy making specialty Munster cheese

Some observations:

All three cheese makers were first generation farmers coming from a non-farming background.

All of them seemed to be doing well – their secret being to have built up their own value chains and being in control over it  – starting with the feed or access to grazing land to the  sale of the premium products.

There did not seem to be a downside – except of course hard work every day of the year. But everybody benefitted: landscape, animals, farmers, quality of food and consumers.

More support – and less bureaucracy – for such kind of enterprises would go a long way towards making the livestock sector more sustainable. In Europe it would enable more people to come back from the cities and revitalize the rural areas. In developing countries  this could be a model for generating rural income opportunities and curbing high unemployment rates.

We are convinced of the potential of cheese making – the only question is whether it will work with camel milk in Rajasthan!

 

 

Posted in animal genetic resources, animal welfare, food security, livestock keepers, Sustainability | 3 Comments

Pigs for Keepers: Visiting Women Pig Farmers in Papua New-Guinea

On the way to the Eastern Higlands from Lae

On the way to the Eastern Higlands from Lae

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.

Edith, guava grower, pig, duck and chicken keeper

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.

peanuts PNG carrots png onions

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.

Betty

Betty, a peri-urban pig keeper from Garoka

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.

Betty and her friendly boar

Betty and her friendly boar

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.

Nancy takes care to be friendly with her sows.

Nancy takes care to be friendly with her sows.

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!

PNG poinsettiasUseful literature
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.

 

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Livestock keepers now have a voice in the “GAA”

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What is lying ahead for us? Raika representatives Hiribai Raika (left) and Dayalibai Raika during a break at the recent Civil Society Dialogue of the GAA.

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!

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Camels make people happy….

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.

whats in there

What’s in those sacks and why are these women in an isolated village in the Thar desert so happy? Well, the sacks are filled with spun camel wool and they have just been paid for their work.

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).

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Hand-spinning the camel wool with the traditional cherka can be done at home and at leisure.

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.

camel wool comes in a range of different colours and lends itself to "naturally dyed" home furniture items.

Camel wool comes in a range of different colours and lends itself to “naturally dyed” textiles.

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).

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This is weaver Maga Ram – who suddenly has a lot more work to do, due to the revival of interest in camel wool.

desert pads

These are the “desert pads” that Magaram is weaving – a modern adaptation of the traditional “baql”, the camel wool rugs that the camel nomads carry with them and that they unroll whenever guests are coming.

shearing compressed

Its shearing time! Shearing – which happens at the transition from the cold season to the hot season – is good for camels and keeps them healthy. This picture should have been first, because its a the beginning of the value chain. But this time I wanted to start the story with the women who demonstrate the number of people that can benefit from value addition activities to neglected animal genetic resources.

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.

desert paper

This is desert paper, made from 36 desert trees and shrubs, with a little help from our friends.

Well, all this may seem a little far fetched to livestock experts who have been promoting quantity over quality, leading to the decline of many of India’s local livestock breeds. But we take heart from a recent survey about present and future trends in the fresh food chain in the Netherlands that my colleague Katrien van t’Hooft from Dutch Farm Experiences has been drawing attention to in her blog: The market for niche products is rapidly growing, and this will actually be the main trend in the near future!

Posted in animal genetic resources, food security, livestock keepers, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Rescuing a drought resistant sheep breed

Boti sheep - tubular ears

Short tubular ears, a black head and fine carpet wool are characteristic for the Boti sheep – a breed that has never been officially recognized.

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.

Explaining advantages of Boti sheep

Explaining the advantages of the Boti sheep makes Raika herders realise what they are about to loose: a breed that can cope with both disease and climate extremes – be it drought or floods.

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.

weighing Boti sheep

LPPS staff Khetaram Raika weighing the rare Boti sheep – to try to establish breed descriptors.

Posted in animal genetic resources, Biodiversity, food security, livestock keepers, research, Sustainability, Uncategorized | 2 Comments