The officials of J&K Sheep Husbandry Department keep advising youth to set up sheep farms. Through TV and Radio programmes a lot of awareness is created on sheep farming, but very few people are aware about the challenges sheep farmers face especially when there is an outbreak of some disease. Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is one such disease that affects our sheep population. In science journals the FMD is attributed mostly to cattle, buffaloes and goats. They are highly susceptible to this disease.
Sheep are not much affected by this disease across other states in India, but in Kashmir FMD is not an uncommon disease in sheep. I believe sheep are highly susceptible to FMD in J&K. In the last three months I saw hundreds of FMD cases in pasturelands of Pir Panjal mountains in Budgam district. The disease is still not under control. It seems the Govt is not much concerned about our sheep and mutton industry ?
I was in Liddermud, a highland pasture only a few days back. I saw a large number of sheep suffering from FMD. The aggrieved sheep farmers from many villages in Surasyar Budgam had hiked all the way to Liddermud to see their ailing animals. Some of them were vaccinating the sheep themselves as only two officials were available on the ground. One was a newly recruited stock assistant , another a class IV employee of the sheep husbandry department.
Foot and Mouth disease is a severe, highly contagious viral disease of livestock that has a significant economic impact. The disease mostly affects cattle, sheep and goats and other cloven hoofed animals (feet divided into two parts). FMD is characterised by fever and blister-like sores on the tongue and lips, in the mouth, on the teats and between the hooves. The disease causes severe production losses, and while the majority of affected animals recover, the disease often leaves them weakened and debilitated. FMD is caused by aphthovirus of the family Picornaviridae. There are seven strains (A, O, C, SAT1, SAT2, SAT3, and Asia1) which are endemic in different countries worldwide. Each strain requires a specific vaccine to provide immunity to a vaccinated animal.Type A, O , C and Asia 1 strains are said to be seen in India.
National programme on FMD
Govt of India has been carrying out intensive Foot and Mouth Disease Control Programme (FMDCP) in a phased manner since 2003 and by 2017-2018 , all the districts across India were covered under this programme. The FMDCP intends to vaccinate all the susceptible animal populations such as cattle , buffalo , sheep , goats , pigs. To control foot and mouth disease (FMD) & brucellosis in India, Prime Minister Modi launched the National Animal Disease Control Programme (NADCP) in September, 2019. Modi Govt aims at vaccinating 100% cattle, buffalo, sheep, goat and pig population for FMD and 100% bovine female calves of 4-8 months of age for brucellosis with the total outlay of Rs.13, 343.00 crore for five years (2019-20 to 2023-24).
The aim of the National Animal Disease Control Programme for FMD and Brucellosis (NADCP) is to control FMD by 2025 with vaccination and its eventual eradication by 2030. This will result in increased domestic production and ultimately in increased exports of milk and livestock products like mutton.
FMD vaccination in J&K
NADCP is a centrally sponsored scheme wherein 100% funding is provided by the Union Government to the States / UTs. In Spite of 100 % funding authorities at helm have failed to procure enough anti FMD vaccines in J&K. There is a shortage of these vaccines in Kashmir especially . The sheep husbandry department officials say that the animal husbandry department is the nodal agency for NACDP implementation and they are supposed to procure the vaccines. The officers in animal husbandry departments claim that because of COVID 19 second wave the procurement got delayed, but this is not a satisfactory answer at all ? The second wave of COVID 19 has come down drastically since June and still there is a shortage of vaccines in Kashmir. The sheep farmers are buying FMD vaccines from the market which costs them Rs 25 to 35 per vaccine.
Vets not available in Bahaks
On one hand sheep husbandry department keeps advising educated young youth to opt for sheep farming as this is a “lucrative” business, but when these young entrepreneurs or sheep farmers need services of the department, especially their qualified vets, they are not even seen on the ground especially when the sheep are send to highland pastures with shepherds (chopans). From June to August this year and even last year I could not see even a single qualified veterinary doctor in pastures around upper reaches of Doodhpathri or Yusmarg. In June this year when FMD erupted, even the para-vets were not available and shepherds were being ridiculed by the sheep farmers as there were several deaths of sheep.The department got activated only after I posted the videos of FMD on social media and wrote about it as well. I brought the matter into the notice of the Technical Officer in the Directorate of Sheep Husbandry Dr Imran and District Chief of department in Budgam Dr Ashraf Baba. A massive vaccination drive was taken up around June end in Diskhal, Corag and surrounding bahaks (pasturelands) in Khansahib block of Budgam.
The job of the vets is not to sit in offices, especially at a time when sheep flocks are in the upper reaches during summer months. In fact a duty roaster is maintained for vets and para-vets who have to be available in pasturelands on rotational basis from mid June to August end, but many vets skip their duties. Pertinently Govt pays a good amount of TA , DA to these officers for their services in highland pastures, but the burden of this duty is thrusted on para vets and class IV employees. The poor shepherds or many sheep farmers visiting the bahaks believe that class IV employees or para-vets of the sheep department are the veterinary doctors (Vets). They are all all called doctor sahib. Unfortunately, the real doctor sahibs are absconding ?
If 100 % funding is given by the Govt of India to Union Territories why do our sheep farmers or shepherds buy FMD vaccines from the market? Sheep farming has indeed a great potential in J&K. We have more than 40 lakh sheep population in Jammu & Kashmir. This can be doubled in next 10 years which will boost our economy in view of great demand for mutton locally. That is only possible when our animals will be healthy and free from diseases like FMD. The Government needs to ensure enough Vets are posted in pasturelands from June to August every year. If there is dearth of veterinary officers in Govt, let services of qualified veterinary graduates who don’t have a Govt job be availed by authorities for three to four months every year. A qualified vet should be made available for at least 2000 sheep. Right now the ratio is much higher. From June to August at least 80 % of vets working in the sheep department should be posted in pasturelands on a rotational basis. Is it ironic that young vets appointed by the Govt only four to five years back are also not ready to be available in pasturelands ?
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is founder & Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement