Contribution of animal husbandry to GDP is 4.11%, yet role of pastoralism is rarely recognised

Maaldhari ladies posing at Living Lilghtly - journeys wih pastoralists exhibition
Pastoralists from Kutch at the exhibition

A note on the curated exhibition, “Living Lightly: Journeys with Pastoralists”, from October 5 to 8 in Ahmedabad:

“Living Lightly: Journeys with Pastoralists”, a 4-day curated exhibition, covering the land, lives, and livelihoods of Indian pastoralists, was inaugurated on October 5, 2017 at the Mill Owner’s Association Building, Ahmedabad. Organized by the Centre for Pastoralism, an initiative of Sahjeevan, a Kutch-based advocacy group, the exhibition and the accompanying cultural events seek to capture the lives of Indian pastoralists – their remarkable history of mobility, the eco-systems which nurture their life-world, their culture, science, art, spiritual moorings and the economy of herding. The exhibition unfolds through a blend of music, poetry, art, photo essays, specialty food stores, films, workshops, and live events.

The exhibition has brought together pastoralists from different parts of the country to speak about their efforts, experiences, feats, and failures.  At the inauguration ceremony of Living Lightly, Valamjibhai Humbal, chairperson of Sarhad Dairy handed over a cheque of Rs 4,67,000 to the Camel Breeders’ Association for the first procurement of camel milk to be marketed by the famous Amul brand. Its process was initiated at the first edition of Living Lightly, which was held in New Delhi in December last year.

The Government of Gujarat has given Rs 2.75 crore to the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) to setup a separate chilling plant for camel milk, which will give a great fillip to the camel breeders who on an average would earn Rs 2.5-3 lakhs every year by selling their milk.  Additionally, the Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR) awarded a certificate to Ram Rahim Asvapalak Sahakari Mandali, recognising the Kachchhi-Sindhi horse that they have bred and conserved. It is the seventh horse to be recognised as distinct in India with the accession number India Horse 0417 Kachchisindhi 07007. This horse is famous for its canter (revalchal).

A Apstoralist from Kucchh & Sandeep Virmani Mentor, Centre for Pastoralism
Sandeep Virmani

Sandeep Virmani, mentor, Centre for Pastoralism, said:

“Maaldharis are communities that have evolved their lifestyles and production systems by developing breeds of domestic animals that follow the rain, the commons, the grasslands and forests. There are about 200 communities of pastoralists in 15 states with a population of about 3.4 crore. They graze on almost all the Commons of the country. Pastoralists also contribute to the farmers’ productivity in India.

“Despite chemical fertilisers, almost all rain-fed farmers in the country apply manure to their farms to get a range of micro-nutrients that chemicals do not provide. However, they wait for the pastoralists, specially goat, sheep and camel herders to come and sit their animals (penning) on their farm for a day or two in the year. They know that the dung brought by these animals has many more nutrients they bring from the grasslands and forests that their own farmland manure or chemicals cannot provide.

“The total contribution of Animal Husbandry to the GDP is 4.11%, where the role of pastoralism is rarely recognised. Our pastoralists have developed a huge diversity of wool from different sheep breeds. A whopping 95% is sheered and literally thrown away, while India wears imported Marino, Syrian and Pakistani wool. In the meat economy, the total contribution of sheep-poat is 45%, of which 90% is produced by pastoralists. Further, 90% of the feed of sheep and goat comes from the commons; village gauchars, forests, grasslands and pastures.”

Ramesh Bhatti, Anchor Pastoral Breeds, Centre for Pastoralism, said:

“India is the world’s highest producer of milk, a whopping 156 million tonnes, from 512 million animals. Of this only 23% comes from cross-bred cattle; more than 75% milk in India is from indigenous buffalos (54%) and cattle (21%), and Pastoralists have contributed by developing most of these breeds. Farmers regularly buy their animals from pastoralists who maintain the resilient character in the genes of these animals by carefully rotating the males with desired character amongst the females. The importance of pastoral breeds lies in developing animals by keeping them in natural grasslands eating a diversity of feed, facing climatic variations and getting a lot of exercise. 

“The pastoralists have developed more than a 100-125 animal breeds of buffalos, cattle, sheep, goat, donkeys, horses, pigs and even geese in the country. However, of the 300 odd animal breeds in India we have only registered, recognised and brought under conservation, 170 breeds. In Rajasthan and Gujarat alone, who have registered the maximum breeds, 26 and 19 respectively, 90% are bred and managed by pastoralists.”

A Pastoralist from Karnataka expaining his life & issues
A pastoralist from Karnataka

The Living Lightly exhibition has been curated by Sushma Iyengar with other co-curators; the knowledge inputs have come from Centre for Pastoralism and many other experts across the country. It is sponsored and supported by Centre for Pastoralism, an initiative of Sahjeevan.

About Centre for Pastoralism (CfP): 

The Centre for Pastoralism is a platform for citizens to appreciate and understand the complex and simple world of livestock herders or pastoralists – their lives, their livelihoods, their eco system, and their many contributions to society. A recent initiative, CfP facilitates policy for the recognition and conservation of pastoral breeds and the commons; brings business, government and NGOs together to build value chains; encourages research and educational initiatives to unlock the scientific expertise of herders and breeders.

Some examples of animal breed developed by pastoralists that have national significance are:

  • Changthangi Goat developed by the Changpas of Ladakh. This animal is taken to alpine pastures in -45 degrees cold and brought to +45 degrees in the summers. This coupled with a range of nutritive and rare shrubs have developed their hair to become so thin, long and strong that it produces the world’s most expensive cloth – Pashmina!
  • The Banni Buffalo from Kutch Gujarat sells for an average high of 75,000 – 2,00,000 rupees. More than eight lakh farmers regularly buy their animals from the 7000 families of Banni Buffalo breeders in Kutch. It is considered the most profitable buffalo in India as it provides the maximum milk to feed ratio, as it has drought resistant character in its genes.
  • The Nalla Malla cattle have been developed by the Lambani pastoralists in the forests of Telengana. Its bulls are much sought all over the rice growing belt of Telengana and Andhra Pradesh. This is because it is a strong animal and its hoofs are water resistant and can stay in water-logged rice fields without getting diseased.
  • The nine camel breeds, six of Rajasthan and two in Gujarat, including the recently registered Kharai breed that is known to swim in the sea, have milk that has many therapeutic properties. It is known to cure TB, autism, even type1 and 2 diabetes. Further its milk composition does not have any lactose, is light on the stomach and can be digested by people with lactose intolerance. Camel milk is considered sampurna-aahar (complete food) by the pastoralists, many who live off only drinking its milk alone.
  • Marwadi Sheep has been developed by the Raikas of Rajasthan and brought to Kutch by their brethren, the Rabaris. This animal provides a high quality wool and meat and is known to be disease resistant. It can walk long distances.
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