Initiatives

CfP hopes to advance its interests in pastoralism on the back of institutional partnerships.  It hopes to work in close collaboration with civil society organisations with governments and government agencies such as the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources and the National Dairy Development Board and the private sector, including craft, milk and cheese entrepreneurs.  Similarly, CfP will develop partnerships within academia to advance research as well as undertake curricula development at the undergraduate and post-graduate level.  Conversations are ongoing with faculty at the Indian School of Business,  Shiv Nadar University, Srishti School of Art Design and Technology, Ambedkar University and CEPT University.

India has substantial livestock populations, including the 1st, 2nd and 3rd largest populations of goats (135 million), sheep (65 million) and cattle (190 million) in the world. The livestock sector contributes 4% to India’s GDP and employs 8% of the labor force.  This, of course, includes both pastoral and non-pastoral populations and unfortunately, neither data on animal numbers nor on economic contribution is segregated with reference to pastoralism.  There are, however, pointers to the relative importance of pastoralism in this larger picture.

Of India’s total cattle population, in 2012, just over 20% comprised of exotic breeds; the remainder was indigenous.  Each of the major indigenous breeds –Gir, Sahiwal, Rathi, Tharparkar and Murrah – emerged out of pastoral systems.  Similarly, 80% of India’s sheep population is maintained by pastoralists; slightly less so in the case of goats.  India’s camel population is almost entirely bred and managed by pastoralists.

The true contribution of pastoralists to a region’s economy, however, is almost certainly many orders of magnitude higher than captured within the pastoral system itself.  By way of illustration, dairies in Mumbai and Gujarat buy the bulk of their animals from herds managed by pastoralists in Kutch.  Thus, while the Maldhari pastoralists of Kutch have a turnover of 100 crore every year, Kutch district has a turnover of 500 crore, premised almost entirely on animals purchased from Maldharis.

Two numbers point to potential rather than current contributions to the Indian economy.  The bulk of wool used by India’s hosiery sector is imported.  Only 4% of the wool produced by 65 million sheep in the country is currently consumed by industry.  There are technological and design issues related to Indian sheep wool, but solving these challenges points to the huge potential that might be tapped in advancing shepherd livelihoods.

Equally, the growing demand for goat cheese in urban India is met almost entirely through imports.  And yet, India has the second largest population of goats in the world, with no current attempts to use goat milk.

One can go on.  The point is that India has the largest livestock population in the country, and barring investments in the white revolution, there has been no systematic engagement with pastoralist livelihoods.

CfP is undertaking research that aims to provide greater nuance to these numbers, and specifically in relation to the contributions by pastoralist societies.  CfP has embarked on the following initiatives as a step in that direction:

Camel milk: The camel population in India has been in sharp decline for many years, largely on account of a reducing appeal for the animal as either beast of burden or puller of small carts.  Mechanized transport is the more efficient alternative.  A recent CfP-Government of Gujarat initiative in Kutch, points to a possible mechanism to reverse this decline.  By installing a number of decentralized collection centres, GCMMF’s Sarhad dairy is now able to procure milk on a daily basis, and does so at two to three times the price camel milk used to fetch.  Four young herders have now added to their herd in the expectation of a reasonable return on investments.  With support from the RRA Network, CfP is undertaking a six-month study to examine the potential for camel milk procurement in the state of Rajasthan, a state with 350,000 camels, nine times the population found in Gujarat.

Goat Cheese:  As urban India expands its culinary ambitions, there is growing demand for goat cheese.   This demand is currently met almost entirely through imports.  And yet, India has a large goat population, held both by pastoralist populations and small farmers who fatten goats for the market.   Pastoralists will often have 200-300 animals in a herd, and represent the kind of concentration needed to generate adequate surplus in goat milk to enable the commercial production of goat cheese.  A consultation on goat cheese making on the sidelines of the Ahemdabad Living Lightly Exhibition, threw up a number of logistical challengers associated with procuring goat milk, and controlling temperatures during the production of cheese.  CfP has just initiated a discussion with Amul  to undertake a goat milk procurement cum cheese production pilot in Gujarat.

Sheep Wool: The mountainous regions of north and northeast India, the arid terrains of Rajasthan and Gujarat in western India, and the Deccan Plateau, are home to one of the largest populations of sheep in the world. And India's vast genetic resource of sheep, yak, and camels especially, have been conserved and bred by the nomadic pastoral communities of these regions.  Even two and a half decades ago, wool was used extensively by pastoralists for domestic consumption and also fetched a market price on par with meat. However, with the increase in demand for sheep meat, and Governmentswith governments promoting meat breeds over wool breeds, pastoralists have, over the years, begun to cross breed their native breeds or maintain a larger flock of meaty breeds; they now realize that these are more vulnerable to disease and less resilient than the hardy local breeds.  Across these regions, indigenous sheep breeds have reduced in proportion to the overall flock, and correspondingly, the production for local wool has gone through a sharp decline.

The elimination of tariff barriers on wool in the mid-nineties led to the Indian hosiery sector moving to softer, longer staple wool from New Zealand, Turkey and other parts of the middle east.   But sheep have to be sheared twice, sometimes thrice a year, and the bulk of this ends up on the roadside with no takers. Of the coarse wool that does manage to reach the markets - and all of it produced by pastoral communities - nearly 95% is used as carpet grade wool, or as some form of bulk filling in blankets with only 5% used in apparels.  And India depends almost exclusively on the finer imported sheep wool from Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and now Syria. Ironically, while India boasts of the third largest population of sheep in the world, it is the only natural fibre in which we are deficient!

Pastoralists are increasingly recognising the need to restore the balance of their revenues from meat and wool. There is a growing interest to revitalize the conservation of their native sheep breeds. But where do they begin? Investment in research and technology development to enhance the quality of the coarse wool yarn has been meagre over the past many decades. Persistent and renewed efforts to refine this versatile khadi textile are waiting to happen, without which the narrative cannot change.  We believe that the combined efforts of State run wool research institutions, grass root organizations, pastoralist associations, and professionals can rewrite the script for the future. 

Organizations like Mitan Handicrafts in North Karnataka have already done pioneering work with the Kurubas and Gollar pastoralists in partnership with Shramik Abhivrudi Sangh in the conservation of the deccani breed and the fibre. More recently Khamir in Kutch, Gujarat is breathing new life into the entire value chain of indigenous wool with the Rabaris in the Kutch region. And growing initiatives like Looms of Ladakh are generating new hope for the Changpa herders and spinners.

CfP is initiating work with partners from across the country to collaboratively assess the potential and possibilities for conservation of the native woolly breeds. And create a platform where technological and design innovations for improving the quality of the fibre are explored and shared, even as livelihood options and market interventions are co created for the herders, spinners and a large weavers community with ties to sheep herders across the country.

Keepers of Genes:  Ilse Rollefson’s evocative phrase captures the reality that India’s remarkable domesticated animal wealth is primarily an outcome of careful breeding by our pastoral communities.  Think of the most common cattle breeds found in Indian dairies.  Contrary to popular perceptions, these are not the exotic Holsteins and Jerseys – they are the Gir, the Tharparkar, the Rathi, the Banni Buffalo, the Sahiwal – all products of India’s pastoral systems.   We have imported merino sheep in an attempt to upgrade our sheep population – but because of the Merino’s inability to handle temperature extremes, keepers of sheep chose to retain a large portion of their stock as one of the 42 breeds produced by Indian pastoralists.  The same holds for camels, donkeys, horses, etc.

Along with the government of Gujarat, CfP recently hosted a national workshop on the recognition, registration and conservation of animals bred in pastoral ecosystems.  The workshop served to highlight the crucial role played by pastoral societies in breeding some of India’s most productive and hardy animal populations, including the Gir, Tharpar, The Banni  Buffalo and others.  A key recommendation of the workshop was for the establishment of National mission tasked with identifying pastoral populations that are distinct breeds.  The expectation is that such recognition would also lead to greater state support for the practices and ecosystems that have enabled the development of these breeds.

CfP is working with the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources, central and state governments and partner NGOs to think through and take forward this task of identifying distinct breeds and the pastoral practices responsible for them.

The implementation of the FRA has thus far focused primarily on Individual Forest Rights, and has tended to ignore the empowering provisions of community forest resource rights (CFRs). No more than 3% of the estimated potential for CFR recognition has taken place under the FRA.   Accordingly, the provisions for rights of vulnerable communities such as pastoralists and particularly vulnerable tribal groups have not been implemented across the states. Non recognition of rights of pastoral communities has resulted in continued restrictions on traditional access to forest areas for grazing and other resource use. There are also cases of violation of their rights in protected areas (wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and tiger reserves), in areas proposed for forest diversion for various projects, and in areas where plantations have been set up under CAMPA and other forestry programs.

It is important to recognize that pastoralist community claim-making as part of the FRA is likely to be more complex than that experienced by tribal communities.  Efforts by the latter have not necessarily been hugely successful, but have certainly featured more prominently within civil society discussions on the FRA.   Unlike most tribal communities, pastoral resource rights are defined over large landscapes of pasture lands, often cutting across administrative boundaries (inter-districts, inter-states) and falling in multiple governance regimes (reserve forests, protected areas). Also migratory pastoralists often graze areas that are simultaneously accessed by resident communities that practice settled agriculture.  In other words, there are overlapping customary use practices that have co-existed. Sometimes, for reasons of co-dependence, pastoralists have been welcome amongst settled agrarian communities. In other instances, an uneasy accommodation has prevailed. Since pastoralist communities have filed claims, there is little clarity on how such relationships may unfold as pastoralists seek more formal rights of use under the FRA.

CfP is working in collaboration with organizations in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat to strengthen pastoralist groups’ attempts to stake claims to grazing resources as part of the FRA.

There is a large body of academic work on pastoralism, but the bulk of it comes out of Africa, Central Asia and the middle-east.  Within India, and South Asia more generally, research on pastoralism has been scattered.  A PhD on the Gaddis of Himachal, another on the Dhangar’s of Maharasthra and a study of the markets that pastoralists use in Gujarat.  These are isolated studies by ecologists, historians, and anthropologists, even musicologists, with little thought into developing an over-arching framework of analysis.  By contrast, research programs on particular parts of East Africa have been inter-disciplinary and have often taken place over 3-4 decades.  There is a depth to that body of work that provides policy makers and others a relatively nuanced understanding of how these systems work.  That development interventions in East Africa have rarely worked to pastoralist advantage is a different issue.  The point is that we lack such understanding of Indian pastoralism, and that is largely owing to the limited and scattered academic attention that it has received.  CfP hopes to work in collaboration with a range of academic institutions towards building a more coherent research agenda, with the explicit attempt to improve our understanding of India’s and South Asia’s pastoral systems.

National survey of pastoralism: We have struggled to answer two questions that are routinely asked of us:  Just how many people are we talking about?  And the associated, Just how many animals are we talking about?  While there are some localized estimates on both counts, there is a surprising absence of basic information on pastoralism in the country.  There is even less data on demographic and other trends in pastoralist societies – is a younger generation of herders still herding?  Is absentee-herding a growing phenomenon?  Are educational levels influencing career choices within pastoral communities?  In collaboration with the Indian School of Business, CfP is undertaking a yearlong national survey on the state of Indian pastoralism.

Aadhar and pastoralism: Amongst those most likely to both benefit from, and be excluded by, Aadhaar are the many migratory populations present across the country.  The better known amongst these, and most commonly spoken about while discussing the Aadhaar question, is the seasonal movement of labour from eastern India (Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa) to sink states such as Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra (primarily Mumbai), Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Delhi.  There is, however, an entirely different kind of migratory community that has simply not featured in these discussions, viz, the nomadic pastoralist communities present in many parts of the country. CfP is collaborating with the Indian School of Business to undertakie a survey across nine states to understand the technological, social and economic dimensions to Aadhar use by pastoral communities as well as the ways by which Aadhar has ended up excluding these communities from services they may formerly have had relatively easy access to.

Emerging trends in Maldhari pastoralism in Kutch: A long-term study is expected to generate learning on shifts in herd management amongst the buffalo herding Maldhari pastoralists of Kutch.  In 2008, Sahjeevan worked with NDDB to operationalize the centralized collection of milk, including the extensive use of bulk chillers that extends the shelf life of milk.  These developments have led to dramatic financial gains for the Maldharis.  They have also led to changes in the way pastoralists manage their herds, the most obvious being the trucking in of both water and feed, particularly to tide over seasonal periods of shortage.  Are there associated changes in herd size or composition?  Is there a noticeable shift in Maldhari breeding objectives, from one of resilience to drought to maximizing on milk production?  What are the ecological impacts of what appears to be an intensification of buffalo herding in the grassland? CfP is initiating research around these broad sets of questions, and welcomes an expression of interest from young researchers wishing to participate in the study.

Alongside the paucity of research on pastoralism in India, is a general absence of courses at the undergraduate or graduate level that provide students with a perspective on pastoralism.

CfP is working in collaboration with Srishti School of Design, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment and Ambedkar University Delhi, to develop course materials, including publications and films, as well as course outlines that might be used by faculty to offer courses in each of these institutions.

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