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.

 

 

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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