2. Sheep farming: A CASE FOR PROMOTION
Rameshwar Singh Pande
(Published in “The Rising Nepal”, Daily National Newspaper, Kathmandu, Nepal, June 23, 1996)
WOOLEN carpet industries play an important role in Nepalese economy. Nepal exports about 3.7 million sq. m of woolen carpet over 37 countries including Germany, Italy\y, UK, Japan, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands, USA and others. The contribution of carpet industries in total overseas export is about 65 per cent.
Though sheep farming and woolen goods production are traditionally practiced by the Nepalese people, the export of woolen carpets in international market is a new intervention. Nepal exports Tibetan style carpets blended with Nepalese originality in design, pattern and dye.
When Tibetan refugees migrated to Nepal in 1960’s the traditional woolen carpet industries transformed into commercial, export oriented industries. Export of Nepalese carpet started almost from zero in around 1960’s to about 10 per cent of the total supplies in the world market, at present. Other major suppliers are India, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and turkey. Over 45 per cent of the international market is occupied by two big countries, namely India and China.
During the entire growth period of the woolen carpet industries, however, the traditional sheep farming remained stagnant. Almost all the wool needed for carpet industries international markets is imported. Imports account for about 16,000 mt of raw wool mainly coming from New Zealand and Tibet. The contribution of New Zealand wool in carpet industries is about 70 per cent while about 20 per cent is imported from Tibet. Use of local wool in carpet industries is not more than 5 per cent.
Nepal’s sheep farming and woolen industries have a long history. Sheep farming is a major part of livestock production. There are 0.9 million sheep distributed throughout the country. Over 84 per cent of the total sheep population is found in the Hills and Mountains while the rest is found in the Terai. The sheep are raised mainly for the production of meat and wool.
Woolen industries making Radi, Pakhi, Bakkhu, Kamlo, and local carpets for the domestic use have been there for a time long. However, the practice was confined at the subsistence level and only to fulfill the domestic needs.
The importance of sheep farming was well recognised by the Rana government and a Sheep Development Farm was established in Chitlang, Makawanpur in 2001 BS. After the establishment of the sheep farm various attempts have been made to improve the local production and productivity by upgrading the breeds and improving the feeding, health care and management practices.
Sheep are multipurpose animals which provide meat, milk, wool, hide, manure and pack. Besides their economical vale, sheep are also used for religious purposes. The wool production potential of the local sheep is, however, very low. On an average a sheep produces about 700 gm of coarse wool per year. The total production of raw wool is about 625 mt only. The local wool is of short staple length and coarse type, hence not suitable for quality carpet making. The total production of mutton was about 3067 mt in FY 1994/95 which is about 2 per cent out of the total meat production (0.16 million mt ) in Nepal.
The sheep manure is a valuable source of nutrients to the crops. The total production of manure from sheep was about 0.2 million mt in FY 1994/95. Most of the manure is wasted and only a small proportion is used as a manure and fuel. The castrated male sheep are good pack animals. A castrated sheep can carry 8-10 kgs and can walk continuously for about 2 weeks. Large flocks of pack sheep are seen along the Dang- Surkhet route to interior parts of Rukum, Jajarkot, Dolpa, Humla etc.
Major breeds are Lampucchre, Kage, Baruwal and Bhnglung. The Lampuchhre breed is raised in the Terai and its wool is used for making blanket (Kamlo). Lampuchhre breed comprises about 12 per cent (0.1 million) out of the total population. The Kage breed is raised in mid-hills mainly Kathmandu and Pokhara valleys. These Kage breeds are prolific and are reared mainly for meat and coarse wool production. Kage breed comprises about 21 per cent (0.19 million) out of the total sheep population, the Baruwal breeds is raised in high mountains. Wool production from Baruwal sheep is used for making various products such as clothing, Radi, Pakhi, Galaicha etc. Baruwal breed comprises about 63 per cent (0.6 million) out of the total population. The Bhangung breed is reared in trans- Himalayan region such as Mustang, Manang and Dolpa. Bhanglung breed comprises only 4 per cent (0.04 million). Its wool is of good quality for use in carpet industries.
A major institute for the promotion of sheep is the Department of Livestock Services (DLS). The DLS is promoting sheep farming and wool production through its various district level offices and farms. At present, there are four sheep development farms under DLS; in Makawanpur (Chitlang), Nuwakot (Panchasaykhola), Kaski (Pokhara) and Jumla (Guthichaur).
Presently, research on sheep production is carried out by Nepal Agricultural Research council (NARC) in Jumla Sheep Development Farm. Research work on sheep has also been conducted at Lumle and Pakhribas Agricultural Centres run with the financial assistance of ODA, UK.
Under DLS various programmes are launched to improve the production potential of the local breed. The improved breed like Merino, Polwarth, Rambouilet and Romney are introduced and used for upgrading the local breed. The performance of the progeny with blood level 50 per cent was better and yielded twice in terms of wool and meat production compared to the local breed. Recently, to initiate carpet wool type sheep farming 9 Romney male sheep have been air lifted from New Zealand and are being reared at the Department of Livestock Farm Pokhara and Pansaykhola Nuwakot.
Experiences shows that the use of exotic pure breeds in the Nepalese conditions, and introduction of pasture species into the existing native breeds are not very successful. It requires high level of management practices and ideal condition for their normal performance.
Various studies have been conducted by the government, UNDP and others regarding the sheep farming and wool production potential in Nepal.
For the sustainability of woolen carpet industries, it is necessary to explore the possibilities for the import substitute of the carpet wool within the country itself. It we look at the present sheep farming situations, the scenario is frustrating. Major limiting factors to enhanced wool production are small sheep population with low quality wool, scattered production and severe feeds and fodder deficit situations. Such a situation foretells continued dependency on importation of wool for carpet industries.
If initiatives are taken to replace all available sheep population with cross to enhance the productivity of wool, the total wool production would be tripled (i.e. 1,875 mt) compared to the present level of production which is about 12 per cent of the total wool import. Furthermore, in Nepal goats are much preferred species compared to sheep. The population of goats is 5 times more than that of the sheep. If the goat population is replaced with the sheep population (which is neither possible nor practicable) still the population of sheep will be 6.5 million; about half of the Tibet’s sheep population, which would not meet the required quantity of carpet wool in terms of quantity and quality. To sustain the woolen carpet industries, Nepal has to depend continuously on the importation of wool.
One major limitation to increasing the sheep population is the lack of adequate availability of pasture lands. Nepal has 1.7 million ha of natural pastures. The production in terms of quantity and quality is very low. The available pastures are already over grazed and are in deteriorating conditions. There is a very little room to expand the area and increase the productivity mainly due to soil moisture conditions, altitude, snow fall etc.
Wool producing countries like New Zealand have over 50 million sheep producing about 0.5 million mt wool per annum. New Zealand exports raw wool to more than 50 countries in the world. Presently, sheep population in New Zealand is decreasing by 2.3 per cent per annum. Such a negative trend of sheep population could limit the steady supply of raw wool in the future. Similarly, in Tibet the sheep population is only about 12 million and China is itself the largest carpet wool supplier in the world markets.
Since the last three years, carpet export has remained stagnant mainly due to low standard of its products, use of child labour and use of harmful dyes. During the same period the export of the locally produced woolen goods such as shawls, jackets, coats, pullover, blankets, vests and many other products is showing an increasing trend. This also reveals the importance of woolen products other than carpet in the Nepalese economy. The existing markets of woolen products should be diversified. Therefore the use of local wool and similar products such as jute fibre, Angora wool, pasmina, fur should be widely popularised and quality should be assured. Measures should be taken to ensure the continuing supply of raw wool from the overseas countries as well as initiatives should be taken to promote sheep farming geared to producing wool substitute for carpet weaving in the potential areas of Nepal on a large scale basis.