Act before vicious cycle sets in

Without a grazing policy the goat economy can go bust

Published: Wednesday 15 December 2010

Act before vicious cycle sets in

Goat rearing is the poor’s survival response to an ecological crisis. It has turned out to be an economic success. But the goat economy has the potential to precipitate an ecological crisis if grazing is not ensured. Options before India are very few: shrinking grazing ground, restricted forest land and stall feeding. India has to respond quickly to protect both poor people’s livelihood and ecology. How can it achieve that?

To begin with, the ministries concerned have to turn attention to grazing. At present, no ministry is concerned with grazing. The animal husbandry department’s mandate is to popularise goats, the agriculture ministry is limited to crops, the rural development ministry merely factors in goat rearing in its programmes and the environment and forests ministry just opposes grazing inside forests. If natural resources are to be protected, departments of animal husbandry, agriculture and rural development and the environment ministry will have to work together, Sunandan Tiwari, who has worked with non-profit Winrock International, said. “You cannot stop people from rearing goats; it is a lucrative business. But a clear understanding of the carrying capacity of the land is necessary,” he added.

Goats being a private resource that survive on common resources, grazing and forest land, India needs to have a clear policy on goat grazing. Discussion on grazing policy at the national level has been going on since 1994. Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have attempted adopting a policy; it did not work. In Madhya Pradesh, the government formed grazing rules after studying the carrying capacities of the grasslands in mid-1980s. The rules were withdrawn because people as well as politicians opposed them.

Can stall feeding help?

Now there are talks about stall feeding. Hanumantha Rao, chairperson of the task force that was set up in 1986 to evaluate the impact of goat and sheep rearing in ecologically fragile zones, suggested a middle path. “The importance of goats in the livelihood of poor cannot be ignored. But since demand for goat meat is touching the sky a major part of it should be met through commercial goat farming so that there is least pressure on natural resources,” he said.

M M Roy, director of the Central Arid Zone Research Institute in Jodhpur, thinks it is already happening. “People are shifting from extensive (open grazing) goat rearing to semi-intensive and intensive (stall feeding) rearing,” said Roy. “In the metros many companies are entering goat farming because it is profitable.”

Feeding in such farms is done through industrial production of fodder. Given the shortage of fodder in the country, stall feeding may not be tenable. Currently, 253.26 million tonnes of dry fodder is available in India against the demand of 415.8 million tonnes.

The fodder and livestock sectors come under the agriculture ministry. “The ministry thinks its only priority is to feed the people. What about the feed for animals?” asked an official in the Union environment and forests ministry.

Goat is a symbol of the fragile equation between ecology and economy in India. Let’s sustain it.

With inputs from Ravleen Kaur and Ankur Paliwal

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