India’s wool industry may have set off on a decline: Degrading pastureland and an increase in agricultural activity has affected sheep herding and the quality of wool produced, prompting the country to increase dependance on raw imports
Workers sort wool at the Bikaner wool mandi, once known as the Asia’s largest wool mandi. India has the third-largest population of sheep in the world; but the quantity produced has on the decline recently. Its dependence on imports of raw wool has been increasing. Photo: Vikas Choudhary
Hari Ram, a sheep herder in Bikaner’s Madholai village, has 250 sheep. He had 300-500 sheep a few years ago. He has diversified into agriculture as sheep rearing became costly due to degrading pastures. India has 74.26 million sheep under 42 registered breeds, according to the 20th Livestock Census, 2019. This was a 14.1 per cent increase from the previous census in 2012. Photo: Vikas Choudhary
One reason for this disparity is that despite the overall rise in sheep population, their numbers are declining in major wool-producing states like Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir. This decline has spilled over into wool production and trade. Photo: Vikas Choudhary
Rajasthan, whose sheep population declined by 13 per cent — from 9.1 million in 2012 to 7.9 million in 2019 — has been a wool hub historically. A decade ago, the Bikaner mandi was one of the largest wool markets in Asia. Currently it sells wool and grain since the former is no longer sustainable. Photo: Vikas Choudhary
One of the major reasons for decrease in sheep and wool is degrading pastureland for grazing, along with increase in agricultural activity. Shepherds and experts said sheep herding as an economic activity has been neglected for several years. Photo: Vikas Choudhary
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