Ensure pastoralists covered under government schemes: Centre to states

So far livestock-related schemes were only catering to settled farmers, herders

By Shagun
Published: Wednesday 07 September 2022
Ensure pastoralists are covered under government schemes: Centre to states, UTs Photo: Nipun Prabhakar

The Union government admitted that India’s pastoralist communities fell through the cracks when it comes to them benefitting from various schemes. It has urged states with sizeable population of such communities to work to prevent this.

There is a significant population of pastoralists or cattle herders across India who move from one place to another to graze their animals. There are no official numbers but according to organisations working with pastoralists, about 10 million and 20 million pastoralists graze India's forests and grasslands respectively. 

The Union Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying wrote a letter August 23, 2022 to the animal husbandry departments of:

  • Rajasthan
  • Gujarat
  • Karnataka
  • Odisha
  • Andhra Pradesh
  • Himachal Pradesh
  • Uttarakhand
  • Ladakh
  • Uttar Pradesh
  • Sikkim
  • Jammu & Kashmir
  • Arunachal Pradesh

These states are estimated to have the highest pastoralists population.

The letter asked the states to provide assistance to pastoralists under National Livestock Mission, Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund (AHIDF) and Rashtriya Gokul Mission (for cattle).

Till now, the schemes pertaining to livestock were mostly catering to farmers and the settled population of animal keepers. The pastoralists are theoretically not excluded from the schemes but the regulation documents don’t mention the community specifically. 

The letter said: 

The states with pastoralist populations may develop extension activities suitable for awareness generation in the pastoralist community and avail central assistance under this activity.

The central animal husbandry ministry is working on guidelines to ensure the ignored pastoralist community are included in the ongoing schemes, Parshottam Rupala, Union minister for fisheries, animal husbandry and dairying had told Down To Earth (DTE) on August 30. “Currently, we have no schemes for pastoralists.” 

There are schemes for livestock and animal husbandry but those are applied to the settled animal keepers and not the pastoral community, which are mostly included in schemes by the social welfare department, he said, adding: 

The pastoralists are left out of all the benefits and incentives under different schemes of the animal husbandry department. For example, something like vaccination and upkeep of the health of the livestock population is not done for the animals reared by pastoralists because there is no record of them and it is difficult to reach them.

Pastoral production supports the livelihood of rural populations in almost half of the world’s land, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

Pastoralists promote rangeland health by improving soil fertility, conserving biodiversity, managing fibres and accelerating nutrient cycling, FAO observed. They employ strategic mobility to adapt to variable climatic conditions. 

In further boost to the age old livestock practice, the central department is also working on introducing a separate unit for pastoralism under it, Rupala told DTE

“The unit will be tasked with estimating the number of pastoralists in the country, the number of animals with them, and the economy of pastoralism, for which currently there are no figures,” the minister added. 

The first task of the division will be to register pastoralists spread across different states in the country, he shared.

“Climate change is impacting their livelihoods and we can only help them (pastoralists) if we have brought them into the mainstream by linking them with different government schemes,” he said.

The unit will map the routes taken by pastoralists in different seasons and will suggest ways to protect those from development or urbanisation and for restoring grasslands, according to Rupala.

Indian pastoralism is under-researched and poorly documented, seen as an outmoded way of life. This has lead to a disregard of the pastoral system, experts noted.

Vasant Saberwal, director of Centre for Pastoralism (CfP) under Sahjeevan, a non-profit that works with the pastoral communities

There are no official figures for pastoralists and their livestock. Our research suggests that 40 per cent of India’s recognised livestock is managed and bred by pastoralists.

The Union government, in the letter, asked the states to look into the possibility of a farmer-producer organisation or cooperative of the members of the pastoral community for establishing and managing dairy and meat processing centres. 

The AHIDF scheme provides a 3 per cent interest subvention for establishing dairy and meat processing centres and value addition infrastructure.

“We need a linkage between the pastoralists and private or government channels, so that they get a better price for milk and wool and other products,” Ramesh Bhatti, programme director, CfP. 

The organisation has been urging the government since 2016 to include pastoralists in government schemes, he added, welcoming the Centre’s latest direction. 

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