MUZAFFARABAD, Kashmir (AlertNet) - Pakistani-administered Kashmir is promoting higher-yielding livestock cross-breeds to help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and curb the destruction of forest for grazing land.
Syed Raiz Hussain, director-general of the northern region’s Animal Husbandry Department, said animals obtained by breeding local cows or goats with exotic breeds are more productive than purely local species, enabling farmers to have smaller herds.
“Why would people keep three or four (animals) when one will meet their milk requirement, and also give them more than double (the amount of) meat?” he said.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has identified livestock farming as a major cause of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.
Methane gas released from animal dung is 72 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Local Kashmiri cows produce about 2 litres of milk a day, but a cross-breed of local and Jersey cows can produce at least 20 litres. They also start yielding milk one to three years earlier, and are more resistant to disease, Hussain added.
One recent morning, Rafique Qureshi and his father Abdul Qayyum were mixing fodder for their four Friesian hybrid cows, having just sold more than 100 litres of milk in a lush hill suburb of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
Qureshi, 30, said he had been getting 20 litres of milk a day from each cow even in the hot summer weather, and their yield could be as much as 35 litres if they were on cooler, higher land with better food.
“I would have to keep 40 local cows to obtain the milk I have been getting from these four,” he said.
Qayyum, who helps his son tend the cattle, explained that the advantages of exotic breeds go beyond milk output.
“Keeping a local-breed cow involves the same labour and expense as exotics, but there is a (huge) difference in milk production and meat, as locals give a maximum of 80 kg (of meat) and exotics 280 kg,” he said.
Crucially, hybrids can feed from a stall - unlike local cattle which are bred to graze pasture.
FORESTS UNDER PRESSURE
Kashmir is rich in forest and water, and serves as an important watershed. But its forests are coming under growing pressure for grazing, fodder, fuel, construction and other commercial purposes.
According to Abdul Raouf, project director in the Forest Department’s demarcation section, the area that now makes up Pakistani-administered Kashmir had 42 percent forest cover at the time of partition between Pakistan and India in 1947, a proportion that has since declined to 27 percent.
“Introduction of high-yielding farm animals will definitely ease the pressure on the forests and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
According to the Animal Husbandry Department’s Hussain, 88 percent of the region’s population lives in rural areas where the only source of income is livestock and agriculture.
Pakistani-administered Kashmir has around 1.7 million goats and sheep, 1.2 million cows and buffalo, and 4.2 million poultry, according to a 2011 census by the department. They produce almost 280,000 litres of milk per day, and more than 612 million kg of meat per year.
“Villagers dwelling close to forests have been setting forests on fire to convert the area into pasture for their cattle on the one hand, while goats and cattle inflict large damage to forests through grazing and erosion,” said Ghulam Mujataba Mughal, divisional forest officer for reforestation.
Under its breed improvement project, the Animal Husbandry Department has opened several artificial insemination centres for cross-breeding livestock in remote areas.
Hussain said higher milk yields from animals cross-bred with Jersey or Friesian stock means one cow could potentially replace five or six local animals, reducing the amount of feed required and the greenhouse gases the animals produce.
The department has also finalised plans to cross-breed high-yielding goats to boost milk production and cut grazing.
Exotic breeds are twice as expensive as local cattle, but the department is offering farmers loans and other financial incentives, Hussain explained.
In the Neelum valley, which has one of the highest densities of cattle in the region, the programme is offering exotic-breed semen to farmers for free to encourage them to adopt the new animals. It is also subsidising the introduction of high-yielding goats.
Besides being low in milk productivity and putting heavy pressure on grazing land, local goats take longer to mature than hybrid breeds and produce poorer-quality meat, Hussain said. They also transport weed seeds that can choke saplings, hindering tree-planting campaigns.
By contrast, European Toggenburg and Saanen goat breeds can yield four times as much milk as local animals, and feed in stalls, obviating the need for pasture.
“People dwelling in rural areas, which are mostly close to forests, are (currently) left with no option but to keep local species to meet their milk requirement,” Hussain said.
“When (they) have a good choice of hybrid animals which fulfil their milk needs, they will opt for one, instead of keeping four or more for the purpose,” he added.
A 2009 report published by the World Watch Institute argued that livestock and their by-products account for at least 32.56 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, or more than 51 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions – a much higher level than FAO estimates, which have put the figure at close to one fifth.
Reform of the livestock sector could make a large contribution to solving environmental problems, at a reasonable cost, the World Watch study added.
Roshan Din Shad is a freelance journalist based in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir. He has worked for national and international media, as well as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).