Published: Saturday 15 July 2000

Goats and scapegoats

The article 'A scapegoat' ( Down To Earth , Vol 9, No 1; May 31) was very informative. Recently, I presented a study to a group of veterinary scientists in Hyderabad on the utility of goats as sentinel animals for monitoring Japanese encephalitis ( je ) virus activity in an endemic area. Goats are the better risk indicators than pigs of cases of infection by the je virus on humans. We have found that many villagers willingly accept goats, more than pigs, as sentinels.

Some veterinary scientists told me that there is a ban on goat rearing in Andhra Pradesh. Your article is timely and should help dispel the myth that goats are enemies of the environment.


Goat rearing is indeed harmful to plants. Today goat rearing is done for its commercial value and not for subsistence. Whenever a commercial activity is taken up, it has the least reverence to nature. Humans can live happily on grains, vegetables and fruits. But, as the author says, several hectares of land are in the hands of the landlords and government agencies, which otherwise would have been utilised by every individual so as to produce their own grain and vegetables.

The world renowned natural farmer Masanabu Fukaoka has said that for every kg of meat a person consumes, he/she has to spend 10 kg of grain. That means while eating 1 kg meat, he/she is actually consuming 10 kg grain, which is unsustainable for Earth.


F orty years ago, the great scientist-adventurer Thor Heyerdahl moved into his mountain top estate in the Italian Ligurian Alps. Keeping his patch of mountain-top green was stymied by periodical raging forest fires.

He devised his own unique solution to the problem: he bought a herd of goats. Everyone told him that he was crazy as the goats could deforest the mountains with their nibbling at bark and branches. Undeterred, he went out everyday heckling a path in the underbrush. The goats followed feeding on the bushes that provided fodder for the fires. Today his estate is characterised by a magnificent stand of oak and pine trees. The neighbours who initially thought that he was crazy have now complimented him in their own way: they, too, discreetly keep a few goats of their own.


I do not agree with the views expressed by Sagari R Ramdas on allowing goats in forests. When a forest is completely protected from degradation, activities such as the setting up of industries, construction of dams and conversion into agricultural land, but is allowed for livestock, especially goats, the degradation process starts and ends in desertification. The dangerous quality of the goats is their feeding behaviour -- they browse, not graze, and eat a wide variety of plant species. Repeated browsing results in the plants' stunted growth and also affects the roots. This ultimately results in the death of the plant.

Goat rearing is prevalent even in dry areas where the forest is not rich. As long as lopping is done on a limited scale, trees will continue to grow. But the fact is that in dry localities, the goat population is over and above the carrying capacity. The trees are lopped heavily during the dry period. My experience in many parts of Rajasthan and Dharmapuri district in Tamil Nadu shows that only some trees will withstand lopping . For example, bamboo, amla and rosewood trees are highly susceptible to browsing.

Many studies have revealed that in areas dominated by goat browsing, the forest type itself has changed. A study by the Tamil Nadu Veterinary Research Centre, Dharmapuri, found that the rate of weight gain in stall-fed goats would be four to five times higher than the free roaming ones. The latter waste so much of their energy in roaming about for food that th.

We're on the same side

S aying that the anti-dam activists "hijacked" the conference is quite unnecessary and uncalled for.

I agree that such protests sound negative and hog limelight, but their cause and the causes of cse are supporting are parts of the same whole. In fact, in the Narmada Valley, the lobby has begun working on such alternatives. Therefore, both parts should be represented as complementary to each other rather than opposing each other.

It is at such international fora like the Second World Water Forum that absolutely ridiculous mega-projects are conceived. Therefore, it is also important to oppose those that are there to bring the government and private interests to their senses, as well as to show them the proven alternatives such as the Arvari Parliament and its regeneration. Again, both are parts of the same message.


I ndira Khurana's report on the World Water Forum at the Hague ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 23) states that "the real issues of global water management took a backseat" as anti-dam protesters "hijacked" the meeting. I suppose it is a compliment for anti-dam groups that you believe they were able to hijack the massive jamboree. But I find it puzzling that Down To Earth should imply that large dams are not a "real issue" in global mismanagement of water and that activists should not have sought to respond to the deluge of pro-dam propaganda at the forum.

The writer also states that the Centre for Science and Environment's ( cse ) message that the problem is not one of water scarcity but rather water mismanagement, was a "lone, odd voice". Yet the statement released at the meeting from International Rivers and a global coalition of anti-dam groups, including the Narmada Bachao Andolan ( nba ), discusses the "myth of a global water shortage crisis" and says that "the problem is largely one of mismanagement and politics -- of overconsumption, waste, pollution, watershed degradation, rampant dam building". It appears to me that cse and the anti-dam groups have the same message on the global water situation, so I wonder why Down To Earth seeks to drive a wedge between us?

I was also rather surprised to see myself quoted as being dismissive of the speech on community water management by Sunita Narain, deputy director of cse . In fact, I started my speech (which focused on the big dam lobby's influence at the World Water Forum) by saying that I would not address the issue of sustainable water management precisely because this had already been so eloquently covered in the two previous talks by both Narain and Reema Nanavaty of sewa .

I believe that groups opposing large dams and those implementing sustainable water management are fighting the same battle. Movements against dams have opened political space for debates and practical work on sustainable and equitable alternatives, while those working on alternatives, such as cse , have strengthened the case against large dams. It would be helpful if Down To Earth did not seek to fabricate a spurious split between us.

Received on email

Indira Khurana replies:
Your objections seem to stem from the fact that we wrote that the agenda of the Forum was hijacked by anti-dam activists. You have also accused us of driving a schism in the ngo community. I would like to bring to your notice a few incidents that took place during the conference.

When Narain, speaking at the welcome address at the ngo Forum on Water, mentioned positive examples wherein communities in India were managing their wate.

Catching every drop

The recent drought in Gujarat and Rajasthan has proved that we are heading towards a serious water crisis. Recently the government issued a full-page advertisement in the newspapers on harvesting rainwater. But the illustrations given were beyond the comprehension of the common person.
Rainwater harvesting programmes must be implemented in all the states. But I wonder whether the government has any plan to harvest rainwater during the monsoon season....

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