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.
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.
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.
“Physically we are fine, but our minds are uneasy and disturbed” explains Salimbhai, a Banni buffalo breeder from Gujarat (India) and goes on “we don’t know what the future of our animals will be when we our grazing areas are taken away. It is all a question of access to land whether our animals and we will survive.” He is referring to his community’s ancient resource base, the Banni that is known as Asia’s second largest grassland. It has turned into a hotly contested area which the Forest department is fencing in and subdividing for the purpose of “conservation”. Bhikabhai Rebari, a camel breeding colleague from the same area gently shakes his head “Yes, it’s a big problem – I don’t know how we can continue keeping livestock under these circumstances.”
“The forest needs us to thrive” emphasizes Dailibai Raika from Rajasthan, a seasoned campaigner for Livestock Keepers’ Rights who has travelled the world to speak up on behalf of her community. “Our sheep are essential to keep the grass short, preventing forest fires. By eating fallen leaves, they keep the termites in the forest under control. Our livestock helps the forest to recover as tree seeds that have passed through their stomachs germinate much easier and faster. And our community has protected the forest from poachers and loggers – our mere presence keeps them at bay.” Dailibai lives at the edge of the Kumbhalgarh Sanctuary which is slotted to become a National Park, a development that instills fear into the hearts of the local livestock keepers.
“We need to ensure a balance between land used for crops and land available to livestock. In Maharashtra so much land has been taken over by sugar cane cultivation, there is no more place for livestock. And once livestock is gone, farmers become prone to suicides” pleads Nilkanth Kuruba whose community breeds the famous black Deccani sheep.
At a seminar that the LIFE Network organised on 13th April in Hyderabad (India) the representatives of India’s pastoralist communities expressed both deep worries as well as profound wisdom. With their immense experience, they can provide valuable guidance on how to get livestock development onto a sustainable path – an issue that international agencies are increasingly concerned about. But for that their knowledge needs to be respected and their voices to be heard. This is also the task that the LIFE Network India that was constituted on the next day has set itself. As a collaborative effort between NGOs working on livestock and local breeds, herders’ associations and a small group of supporting scientists, this is an immensely important goal. The proceedings of the meeting will be shared here shortly.
“Better lives through livestock” is the motto of ILRI, the International Livestock Rsearch Institute which recently brought out its second 10 Year Strategy for the period from 2013-2022. This new strategy is much superior to the previous one, as it encompasses a wider range of goals, including food and nutritional security and acknowledges that livestock can also have negative consequences. However, an important angle is missing and that is the question of how this is going to be achieved. What kind of research is necessary to actually addresses this issue?
Lets face it, livestock research in general is rarely conducted from the perspective of supporting small-scale livestock keepers and ecologically sustainable decentralised ways of keeping farm animals. Most of it has been oriented towards increasing quantities of product – more milk, faster meat – in the belief that this would automatically raise poor livestock keepers’ income. Well, this may true in some cases, but in many instances it is not, because the “genetically improved” animals that go along with this approach usually do not perform in the setting in which poor livestock keepers operate. They require inputs in terms of feed and medicine which need to be purchased and which often are not available or draw the farmer into a debt trap, as is indicated in the research study by my colleague Evelyn Mathias entitled “Livestock out of balance. From asset to liability in the course of the Livestock Revolution“.
In my experience, research should take its cues from the problems as they are experienced by livestock keepers themselves. And these are almost always the same: insecure access rights to land and lack of veterinary services. I have never heard a livestock keeper complain that his or her animals are not productive enough. But I have seen how excited they get when they realise the marketing potential of their animals, as the camel breeders in Rajasthan when they experienced new camel products such as camel ice cream, fashionable camel wool products or even camel dung paper.
But sorry, because of my enthusiasm for the camel, I am getting diverted from the mainpoint that I am trying to make: In order to identify research that really helps poor livestock keepers, a dialogue has to be initiated with them to identify their real needs and priorities. For too long, livestock research has been conducted top-down for scientific merit only and based on the wrong assumptions, equating higher output with better income. What we now need is a platform and a process that enables this kind of participatory and bottom-up approach – an approach that reflects consideration of one of the Livestock Keepers’ Rights – “Livestock Keepers shall have the right to participate in the identification of research needs and research design with respect to their genetic resources, as is mandated by the principle of Prior Informed Consent.”
It would really be great if ILRI (and of course all other research institutes working on livestock) looked into establishing such a platform for the interaction between scientists and livestock keepers that will undoubtedy make research more meaningful, targeted and likely to reach its vision of a world where all people have access to enough food and livelihood options to fulfil their potential. We at LPP and the LIFE Network are certainly ready for this!
Jaisalmer is one of the fastest developing districts in Rajasthan , or even India. The once empty desert spaces are now being mined – for wind energy, solar energy, oil, stone, etc. This development if good for some, especially the large corporations behind these activities, but the majority of the local people, with their dependence on livestock keeping are losing out. For this reason, Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan is supporting the Jaisalmer Camel Breeders Association to develop their Biocultural Community Protocol under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. In this they put on record their role in conserving the local camel breeds as well as the associated rangeland biodiversity – many traditional practices exist or existed to conserve the enviornment, but – as is also becoming clear – they are erdoding rapidly and will soon be forgotten. Camel breeding has lost its status and attraction for young people.
The process to develop the BCP was already initiated some time ago, but now it was time to check the facts and focus on the essential points. So about 35 camel breeders assembled in the meeting hall of Jaisalmer’s rural development authority and went through the draft document. Many bits and pieces were added, but further checking will be required, as at least seven different castes and communities have a common identity as camel breeders. Each one has a slightly different take on issues.
Hopefully this process will be completed in the next couple of months, so that the BCP can be released and shared with officials and the public at large.
Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan (LPPS) recently organised an experience sharing workshop about Biocultural Protocols for those groups of livestock keepers that have already undertaken such an exercise. So far there are only a handful of them, and the ones that made it to the meeting were the Raika, the Banni buffalo breeders, the Kutchi camel breeders and the Jaisalmer camel breeders. The Kuruba shepherds of Karnataka were also represented by Nilkanth Mama and a colleague.
While the pastoralists unanimously underlined the importance of BCPs, it was also quite evident that a lot of uncertainty still surrounds the concept and that undertaking the process is by no means easy or fast. It requires time, resources and commitment for it to be of value. Nevertheless, BCPs are a crucial and even essential tool – for groups of marginalised people that traditionally have not attached that much importance to land ownership and are now losing out rapidly. The Raika, for instance, never really tried to claim land rights after Independence, since they believed there was plenty of it and they preferred mobility for their animals, even placing taboos on building permanent houses. Now they are suffering from this ignorance, as Dailibai Raika elaborated.
Biocultural Community Protocols were originally conceived in response to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and as the basis for Access and Benefit Sharing agreements with communities. However, they have developed since then and other legal frameworks than the CBD may be even more important reference points – such as the Right to Food.
The essential elements of BCPs are documentation, awareness raising and knowledge about rights under national and international loegal frameworks. How best to implement them, what methodologies to use, how to ensure their integrity – these are the questions that are currently being adressed by various non-government organisations. However, the communities themselves also need to get into the action and push the processes.
Supporting and facilitating this will be a major strategy of LPP and its partners in the near future – because without decentralised small-scale livetsock keepers, livestock keeping will never become sustainable. See the photostory about this subject by Greenshoots and stay tuned about the more detailed report about the BCP Experience Sharing Meeting that will be put on line shortly!
In the meantime more photos by Dipti Desai about the meeting can be seen at this link.
Recently I had the privilege to attend a “high-level” meeting between ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research and ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute) bureaucrats and scientists. While interaction between such major institutions is important and necessary, I became a bit concerned about the underlying tenor of many of the presentations. For instance there were remarks about farmers/livestock keepers having no concept of animal nutrition and not being able to “calculate rations”. And there is this general attitude of believing that the farmer/livestock keeper is backward, illiterate and in need of guidance by scientists. Well, nothing wrong with science, but how many of the interventions developed by scientists are actually taken off the shelf and being put into use? And, considering that India is not only the largest dairy producer in the world, but also all set to become the global leader in beef exports , must the country’s livestock keepers not be doing many things right? Especially since this development has happened without any noteworthy extension activities, without animal health services reaching the more marginal areas, and without India (yet) becoming dependent on imports of feed stuff from other countries?
In fact, in my view, India’s livestock development trajectory is exemplary, as compared to a country such as China which, in the course of its Livestock Revolution, has become heavily dependent on import of soy and maize to feed its farm animals. This is because India’s non-poultry livestock production is still largely in the hand of small farmers and pastoralists who make optimal use of locally available feed and fodder resources – both crop by-products and natural, very bio-diverse, vegetation – with their indigenous breeds and by means of their extensive experience and willingness to innovate. Let’s ensure that it remains that way – in the interest of national food security, rural employment opportunities and conservation of biodiversity!
The outgoing chair of the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Animal Genetic Resources (ITWG_AnGR), Francois Pythoud from Switzerland started his speech with the remark that animal genetic resources really had hogged the limelight during the Convention on Biological Diversity held in Hyderabad, India, earlier this month. He was impressed by the number of side-events on the subject that had taken place, as well as an exhibition of India’s indigenous breeds at the side-lines of the event.
With Access and Benefit-Sharing being on the agenda here in Rome, things are heating up. African countries are promoting Biocultural Community protocols, but its still a new subject for many others. The above picture from the LIFE Network’s side-event in Hyderabad was graciously shared by Polish animal scientist Dr. Ela Martyniuk, and it symbolizes for me how far we have come in the last decade. At the beginning of the new millenium, livestock keepers were not even considered as stakeholders in the conservation of animal genetic resources, but now there is probably consensus that they are the key-actors!
I’m here in Rome for the 7th Session of the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Animal Genetic Resources. Agenda-items include the preparation of the second report on the state of the world’s animal genetic resources, the role of small-scale livestock keepers, and Access and Benefit-Sharing. The latter is a subject that requires a lot more thought, although in a side-event hosted yesterday by the governments of the Netherlands and of Brazil, three of the stakeholder groups outlined some initial ideas. Cleopas Okore from the Kenyan government reported about his country’s experience with developing Biocultural Community Protocols (based on the Samburu Biocultural Protocol), while Dawn Howard from EFFAB (European Forum of Farm Animal Breeders) represented the industry perspective. I had been invited to present the results of the Working group on Biocultural Protocols and ABS held during our Bonn Conference.
There will be more discussion on this today in the plenary. It will be interesting to see what the various regions and individual countries will have to say! I will keep you posted!