4. Livestock development IN SEARCH O GREENER PASTURES
Rameshwar Singh Pande
(Published in “The Rising Nepal”, Daily National Newspaper, Kathmandu, Nepal October 4, 1996)
PASTURELANDS are naturally occurring areas dominated by herbaceous vegetation with or without trees. They are major seed resources of livestock and wild ungulates. Natural pasturelands are extensive in the Himalayan region.
Nepal has about 1.7 million ha of natural pasturelands, out of which about 78.7 per cent is located in the northern belt.
Livestock production in Nepal is closely integrated with subsistence farming. Every farm family maintains a few heads of livestock for agricultural, nutritional, economic and social needs. The livestock sector contributes about 18 per cent to the national GDP and about 31 per cent to agricultural GDP.
Livestock production is a major economic activity in the northern belt. Animals are raised on a migratory system, moving herds from one pasturelands to another throughout the year.
Due to centuries old continuous grazing, the physical conditions and productivity of pasturelands are deteriorating. Severe feed deficit occurs especially during the winter. It is reported that productivity of natural pasturelands is only 25 per cent of its potential. Pasturelands provide about 70 per cent of total feed supply in the northern belt. As most of the natural pasturelands are situated in the major watershed areas of the main rivers, contribution of pasturelands is important from the soil-water conservation point of view as well.
The number of livestock per household is higher in the northern belt. The average holding of livestock in the northern belt. The average holding of livestock in Nepal is 4.6, whereas in the northern belt the average holding is 8.0 per household. Total ruminants reared in the northern belt are 3.2 m heads, which is 20 per cent of national population. out of total ruminants, yak and sheep play important role.
The northern region is famous for yak cheese. About 18 cheese factory under the dairy development Corporation and private sector are functioning in Nepal. Most of these cheese factories are situated in Rasuwa, Solukhumbu and Dolkha. The total cheese production is about 115,000 kg. The northern region contributes 14 per cent of Nepal’s total milk, 15 per cent of meat and 54 per cent of the wool production.
Depending on vegetation type, the pasturelands of north could be divided into temperate vegetation (altitude between 2,000-3,000 m), sub-alpine vegetation (between 3,000-4,000m), alpine vegetation (above 4,000 m altitude) and steppe vegetation (trans-Himalayan region of Mustang, Manang, Mugu and Dolpa).
Much of the northern region lacks infrastructure, education, health and economic activities. Most of the accessible pasturelands are overgrazed, infested with unwanted weeds and poisonous plants and wearied with erosion and land slides. There is a lack of leguminous species of the pasture vegetation. The productivity of the native pasturelands is too low compared to its potential. The livestock population is too high to sustain its carrying capacity. Livestock graze throughout the year which prevents reproduction and propagation of the vegetation.
Shortage of pastures have tremendously affected livestock feed supply. due to low productivity of pastures, the livestock is forced to consume whatever vegetation is available. Feed deficit is crucial during the winter. ground vegetation and tree foliage are heavily lopped for livestock feed. Severe feed deficit had led to low productivity and poor animal health, which ultimately affects socio-economic life of the northern belt. Deteriorating pasturelands have led to degradation of environmental conditions and soil water conservation. Most of the useful species such as legume components and medicinal plants has been destroyed and the survival is threatened to its existence. Barren and deteriorated natural pasture resources significantly affected on increasing landslide, soil erosion, flooding and loss of soil fertility of the region.
The Department of Livestock Services and Nepal Agricultural Research Council have been implementing a pasture development programme. However, pasture development is a new intervention in Nepal. After the study carried out by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in 1952 various activities on livestock development and feed/fodder improvement have been carried out. Between 1960 to 1970 different livestock development farms in Pokhara, Jiri and Rasuwa were established. Similarly,, various cheese factories were established in high altitude regions such as Rasuwa and Jiri. Fodder and pasture development activities were carried out as a part of farms activities and around cheese factories.
To develop pasture and feed resources the government, USAID, UNDP and FAO have implemented various programmes. The Northern Belt Pasture Development Programme (1980 to 1991) was implemented by the Department of Livestock Services in ten districts, Taplejung, Sankhuwasabha, Dolkha, Sindhupalchok, Gorkha, Manang, Mustang, Humala, Dolpa and Mugu. Over 4,000 ha of indigenous pasturelands were improved through promotion of improved species; over 120,000 saplings of fodder trees were distributed and approximately 100 ha of degraded forest land were brought under silvi-pasture development.
Pasturelands are national property utilised by the people since time immemorial, but there is a lack of responsibility towards their production and conservation. Occupation and invasion of pasturelands for personal use has been increasing recently. People are reluctant to invest time and money for improvement of government or community pasturelands even for their own use. The pasture development programme should be carried out through the use’s group. management of the pasturelands should be handed to the community.
Technology and inputs (such as seeds and planting materials) should be provided by the concerned agency at the initial stage.
Improving pasturelands is expensive and time consuming. Due to scarce resources, pasture improvement has received low priority. Most of the pasturelands are difficult and inaccessible due to lack of proper trails, bridges for the livestock and herders. Mule trails and bridges should be constructed to facilitate grazing for migratory herds. Due to lack of drinking water animals have to walk for up to four hours a day. in such a situation, the animals have developed a camel like habit, they drink water as much as they can before they go for grazing. Usually, the major water sources are rivers. Most of the vegetation has been destroyed around the water sources. Drinking water tanks should be erected to help the livestock as well as to protect the local vegetation.
There is a shortage of technical staff in pasture and fodder development activities. Whatever staff is available, they are reluctant to serve in remote districts. Special steps should be taken to motivate people to work in remote areas.
The number of animals is beyond the carrying capacity of pasturelands. On the other hand, livestock are not proportionately distributed. For example, the number of goats is five times greater than sheep. Goats are considered a destroyer of vegetation. proper grazing practices should be followed for the optimal use of natural pasturelands. They should be grazed on a rotational basis, leaving about 25 per cent of the vegetation for re-growth.
The native pasture species are low productive and less palatable compared to exotic pastures. Pasture improvement programmes such as over sowing with potential pasture legumes, grasses should be carried out. Unwanted plants should be eliminated. The most potential species suitable for over sowing into the natural pasturelands are: white clover, cocksfoot, perennial rye grass and other. Theses species are performing well in Rasuwa, Sindhupalchok, Dolkha, Mustang and Dolpa.
Frequent training on pasture production, management and livestock production should be conducted to create awareness towards the feeding management and environmental conservation. Proper research work on native pasture production and management system should be carried out.
Pasture improvement programmes should be carried out by the Department of Livestock Services through effective peoples’ participation. Strong coordination and working linkages should be established with Nepal Agricultural Research Council for technology generation with Department of Forest, Ministry of Population and Environment and local authorities for pasturelands development in a sustainable manner.