Published: Thursday 15 February 2001

Warm and smug on shahtoosh

Politics has often stood in the way of reasonable decisions towards sustainable management of many natural resources. Scarcity of land in the Kashmir valley is, of course, true for the so-called 'poor'. But what can you say of denotification and deforestation of the Salim Ali sanctuary and its conversion into a golf course. The degraded land/'forest' that you talk about in your article (Down To Earth, Vol 9, No 7; August 31, 2000) could be reforested or would have made eventually also an appropriate spot for a golf course. But, probably, it would not have many trees to shade the stressed while playing golf, but still the chopped sanctuary-wood, at least, was not lost.

Yet, doing away with cynical remarks and talking about chiru you suggest farming/herding of these animals. This, in fact, has been tried in many countries with other wild species (antelopes in Africa or agouti in South America). Yet, most efforts failed in the immediate term. Chiru or Tibetan antelope, in my opinion, is very difficult to farm or herd. It is a nomad, moving great distances between summer and winter locations, especially the female for lambing. Fencing them in means big investment/maintenance of infrastructure, and to guarantee food supply for 12 months a year. At this altitude, where does the food supply come from to feed these animals? On the other hand, if you would let them do free grazing like goats, I don't know how many would be driven back in the evening to the crawl.

From the economic aspect, how long would it take until your targeted half million Kashmiri families employed by the shahtoosh business would be operative, supplied with the needed raw material? Probably ages if ever. Will the market absorb their production, will the price by such increased offer keep its level or will it fall as it did with the pashmina? Besides, most of the shahtoosh weavers have by now turned to pashmina weaving to keep their hearths going. The ban will be/is much more felt by the few families who control the shahtoosh trade (buying the raw material, contracting weavers and trade the final products). They are the main losers by the ban and I think there we have to talk about an 'unthinking' environmental-ignorant hype, all for the sake of short-sighted, short-living capital gains. Since they are politically powerful, they have the means to manipulate and influence and they did it for long enough.

I, therefore, support the court's mandate to ban shahtoosh. I think this is a wise decision which should be kept enforced at least until the population could fully recover and adequate farming/herding or wool collection technologies have been developed, without depleting the species population in the wild.


I read with interest the debate that was sparked off by your suggestion on chiru farming. To begin with, I must say that I completely agree with you on the approach that you have suggested. In fact, I made a similar suggestion in an article that I wrote in August on tehelka.com.

By getting bogged down in details of the biological viability of chiru farming your critics miss the point that enhanced supply through commercial farming is wildlife's best chance of survival.


As a lay reader I rely on the various experts' views to understand the issue of shahtoosh ban and chiru farming. Excepting the one reasonable critical comment (Down To Earth, Vol 9, No 12; November 15, 2000) by Meeta Vyas where she lays out her case, the others sound pompous and self-righteous. Valmik Thapar's comments are not worthy of my comments, Maneka's pathetic attempt to make your article (Down To Earth, Vol 9, No 7; August 31, 2000) sound badly informed and the unconvincing Wildlife Institute of India (wii) observations discredit themselves and their case. In fact, Maneka seems to have taken her mother-in-law.

Niched land for sandalwood

I entirely agree with Down To Earth's view that taking away sandalwood trees from the people's control and putting it in the hands of the forest department has been the surest way of killing the resource. I want to relate our experience in this regard.

For the past 12 years we have been living by farming in a village in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. In these lands, sandalwood trees grow wildly even in private gardens, let alone inside the forests. So do red sanders. The climate and other conditions seem to be particularly suited to their growth and propagation.

Unfortunately, these trees are becoming a nuisance because as soon as they grow to the required size, thieves and smugglers enter the garden in the nights, cut them and take them away. Very often they cut up tender trees and when they find that the sandalwood core is not formed, they leave them and go away. We have lost several trees from our garden in this manner. We use such felled trees as fuelwood. We may not have much to eat but we cook our meals on sandalwood!

These thieves come as traders during daytime offering to buy the trees (illegally of course) but at very low prices -- a mere Rs 100 per tree (of a girth of about 12 inches). The farmers feel it is better to sell the trees to these gangs than let them enter the garden at nights. The farmers have no incentive to keep a night watch because they cannot sell the trees openly. They are also afraid to confront the thieves for fear that they might be carrying arms. So these valuable trees are felled indiscriminately.

The ban should be lifted and farmers allowed to go for plantation of sandal and red sander trees. The most important factor is that these areas are an ecological niche for these trees. They are a natural vegetation of these parts and they do not need much work or investment to grow. In stead, farmers are urged to grow crops which are totally unsuitable for these regions. For example, coconut gardens, which are best grown in coastal areas, are very common here. They cannot be grown without heavy irrigation support because these areas are semi-arid (900 mm rainfall on average) and hilly with uneven rainfall. But farmers have taken to coconut farming, especially in the '60s and '70s only because they command a good price. Nowadays even pepper, which is a crop of the equatorial rain forests, is being encouraged in these semi-arid conditions!


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