7. Livestock, Farmers and Environment
Rameshwar Singh Pande
(Published in: Environment (Batawaran) A Journal of the Environment, Vol. 1 No. 1, Special Issue on the Occasion of the World Environment Day 1996, Ministry of Population and Environment, Nepal 1996)
Livestock is closely associated with farmers in social contest and environment in global contest. Livestock sector serves human beings by providing animal protein, agricultural draught power, manure, wool, fur, hair, hide, bones, cash income and supports on social and religious work. However, mismanagement and over population of livestock are creating threat to environmental conservation. Livestock produces ammonia and methane gas which are responsible for the destruction of ozone layer and thus helps in causing global warming, acid rain and environmental degradation.
2. Livestock population and density:
Livestock sector contributes about 15 per cent to the GDP and 31 percent in agricultural GDP (FY 10994/95). The major livestock reared by the farmers are cattle, buffaloes, goats, sheep, pigs and horses. Besides the above animals farmers are raising poultry birds such as fowl, duck, pigeon etc. The numbers of livestock is higher in mountain compared to Terai and Hills. The total population of cattle, buffaloes, goats and sheep are 6.8, 3.3, 5.7 and 0.9 million respectively. Every farm families maintain few heads of livestock. Even the landless farmers keep some livestock. The average holding of ruminants per families is 4.6 heads.
The livestock density is highest in Nepal, there are 220 numbers of livestock and poultry birds per square kilometer compared with the human density 138.
3.0 Livestock products:
Total production of livestock products are 0.94 million Mt milk, 0.16 million Mt of meat, 383 million numbers of eggs and 624 Mt of wool in 1994/95. The per capita availability of milk, meat and eggs are 48 liters, 8 kg and 18 numbers respectively. The share in calories in total diet is about 16 percent from animal sources.
3.1 Source of farm energy:
Livestock are the major sources of farm energy. The energy provided by livestock is environmental friendly. Almost all the tillage works are performed by bullock power in Terai and hills. There are 27.9 million cattle oxen and 0.21 million heads of buffalo oxen in Nepal which are mainly used for tillage and pulling carts.
In mountain region, livestock are used for transportation of food grains and groceries. A castrated sheep or goat can carry 10-12 kgs/animal and large animals such as Jhopkyo can carry 6070 kgs. These animal can walk continuously for about 15-20 days with pack. In the high Himalayan areas yak is the only pack animal to carry goods of mountaineering people up to the base camp of altitude more than 7000 m. Transfrontier trade between Nepal and Tibet are mostly done by the pack animals in the remote areas.
For a developing nation like Nepal use of petroleum products are very expensive. Nepal uses 0.2 million TOE petroleum products each year. Use of imported petroleum products are not only expensive but are also causes air pollution and environmental degradation.
3.2 Source manure:
On of the major contribution of livestock is to provide manure’s a substitute to chemical fertilizers. In 1994/95 the consumption of chemical fertilizer was 181, 578 Mt. The use of chemical fertilizer is beneficial to improve the production of crops. However, or the sustainability of the fertility status of soil and productivity of crops the reliable sources is bio-fertilizer such as livestock manure. Furthermore, only 30 per cent of the used fertilizer is utilized by the crops and rest are wasted and pollute the river and water resources ultimately. Nepal produces 41.4 million Mt of livestock manure. Manure not only provides nutrients but also improves the texture and water holding capacity of the soil. Only a small percentage is properly used for composting.
In the rural areas, major sources of domestic energy are fuel wood, agricultural waste and dried dungs. These traditional sources of energy comprise over 94 percent. Per capita consumption of fuel wood is 656 kg/person/year.
Use of dung-cake as a fuel for cooking is a common practice in Terai and hills. About 8 percent of the energy comes from animal dung. Such a practice cause respiratory diseases and infection of eyes. The use of bio-gas could be an option of the dung cake. The gas produced in bio-gas plant is methane which could be an substitute of petroleum energy.
3.3 Source of income:
Livestock sector is the major sources of cash generation in rural areas, the sell of live animals and animal products are the major sources of cash income. In the last fiscal year, farmers of the rural areas has earned over Rs 10 million from the sell of milk only.
Livestock are regarded as an asset. The livestock are used as a live bank. In case of emergency the animals are sold to fulfill the needs of the farmers. Besides the live animals milk and milk products are major sources to generate cash income to the rural farmers.
Though the livestock sector is the Nepalese socio-economy is an integral part, mismanagement and over population of livestock has created problems to environmental conservation.
4. Adverse affect of livestock:
4.1 Forest degradation:
Forest is considered as a common grazing ground for the livestock. Forest provides about 40 percent of the total livestock feed. Due to over use of forest every year about 25,000 ha of forest land is denuded. One of the main cause of the degradation of forest vegetation is due to grazing, browsing and trampling by livestock. It is reported that over 40 percent of the newly planted saplings are destroyed by livestock. Besides the grazing, forest is the major sources of foliage and bedding materials for livestock. Per capita consumption of bedding materials is 460 kg/person/year and fodder is 655 kg/person/year in hills of Nepal.
The degradation of vegetation has been accelerated also due to the improportion number of livestock species. For example, the goat’s population is 5 times higher than sheep. Goats are considered as a forest destructor. Goats prefers browsing on twigs and leaves of trees rather than grazing on ground vegetation, nibbling of main shoots, twigs are detrimental to the young plants. One main reason for the rapid desertification of trans-Himalayan vegetation of Mustang, Manang and Dolpa is due to the high population of goats/chyangra.
4.2 Overgrazing of rangelands vegetation:
Degradation in high mountains, pasture based livestock production system are found. Livestock are grazed on native pasturelands and forest moving from one place to another throughout the year. During the summer livestock go to high alpine pasture up to 5,000 m while in winter livestock remain in lower altitude zone of about 2,500 m. Due to continuous grazing without any renovation practices most of the available pasturelands are deteriorating. The native pasturelands are assumed to produce only 25 percent of its potential.
The main reason of low production and productivity of the pasture lands are over population and over stocking of grazing animals. When the number of livestock exceeds the carrying capacity of the grazing lands, over grazing occurs. Selective grazing, continuous grazing and over grazing are detrimental to the survival of vegetation and causing loss in top soil. Most of the livestock are selective in habit. They select most palatable grasses whenever available. Yak is observed to dig the ground in search of palatable species. When the palatable plant species are grazed completely than the animals graze on relatively unpalatable plants. Under the extreme feed deficit situation livestock graze on every chewable material to satisfy their hunger. In the Solukhumbu area and other parts of Nepal, the livestock are observed chewing toilet papers and cartoons of cigarette and/or other paper due to severe feed deficit situations.
Grazing/ walking of livestock on the fragile ground cause the compaction of soil. In such a compact soil the rain water flows at high velocity causing loss of top soil and landslide. Nepal loses about 240 million cubic meter of soil each year. The estimated soil loss from the unmanaged pasture is about 40-200 mt/ha.
4.3 Urban dairy farming:
Recently, dairy and poultry enterprises are mushrooming around the periphery of urban centres. the high milching dairy animals, and meat animals (poultry and pigs) require high quality feed mainly prepared from cereals and grain by-product which could be used for human consumption. In Nepal, presently 89 livestock feed industries have been established. These factories are producing about 0.4 million mt of animal feed. The major ingredients are maize, wheat, oil-cakes, molasses, fish meal, mineral mixtures and vitamins. If it is assumed only 25 per cent of cereal would be used in livestock the total amount which could be as human food would be 0.1 million mt.
These livestock industries are located in around the urban areas such as Kathmandu, Biratnagar, Pokhara etc and relatively raised on small shed with poor housing and poor disposal facilities of urine, dung and carcasses. Dumping of these waste materials in the common places and municipality drainage creates problems of pollution, disease outbreak and environmental degradation. Furthermore, toxic substance, used medicines, vaccines and insecticides are used haphazardly and thrown in the community places which causes pollution and environmental degradation.
Rapid urbanization, increasing number of tourist, improved living standard of people have created a high demand for food, fodder and fuel wood. Which has ultimately led an over exploitation of the available natural resources, which could be uneconomical in the long run. On the other hand, extreme poverty in the rural areas, less opportunities for alternative income generating sources, lack of infrastructures and lack of appropriate technologies has compelled the farmers to rely on traditional sources of income such as livestock production. As the crop farming is just not sufficient for subsistence, livestock are becoming major alternate income sources. We should not forget that the developmental works towards the fulfillment of the needs of human beings should be carried out without the destruction of environment. Effective measures should be taken to balance between the increased production and productivity of the livestock and the sustainable use of natural resources in environment friendly manner.