During my recent series of articles on Chopans, I highlighted the plight of this nomadic Kashmiri shepherd community. I tried my best to impress upon the authorities to look into their socio economic condition and address the same by entitling them under various social security schemes. Highlighting the stressful lifestyle of Chopans doesn’t mean that the condition of sheep farmers or even nomadic Bakerwals is better. For the last two consecutive Bakr Eids, people associated with sheep farming have suffered tremendous losses. Last year the sales of sacrificial animals was minimal because Article 370 was abrogated around the Bakr Eid and there was a massive lockdown across Jammu & Kashmir. An estimated 70 to 80 % sales of animals were affected during the 2019 Bakr Eid and this season it has again been badly hit due to COVID 19 lockdown and the worst economic situation.
Ghulam Nabi, a progressive sheep farmer from Wathoora, Chadoora, who owns almost 700 sheep, told me that year 2019 was the worst season for sheep farmers and young entrepreneurs who had set up new sheep farms across J&K. Most of the sheep farmers which includes these budding entrepreneurs and some local Chopans as well could not sell even 20 % of their sacrificial animals. The reason was massive lockdown and communication blockade during the Bakr Eid time.
“Sheep farmers were not even able to make a phone call as authorities had blocked all modes of communication around August 5th 2019. It proved to be disastrous. This season farmers, bakerwals, Chopans and entrepreneurs have had some hope, but they didn’t even imagine there would be a pandemic called COVID 19. Even during this pandemic people would still have purchased some sacrificial animals (sheep and goat) , but the purchasing power of Kashmiri people has diminished significantly during last one year and that had a direct impact on Jammu & Kashmir’s sheep farmers, Chopans and nomadic Bakerwals”
Sheep farms rely on Bakr Eid
Kashmir’s sheep industry is completely dependant on Bark Eid. Majority of the animals are purchased during this festival for sacrifices. This sacrifice (qurbani) is obligatory upon Muslims. Every year in the Islamic month of Zil Hajj (10th to 12th), Muslims around the world slaughter an animal – a goat, sheep, cow or camel – to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s (PBUH) willingness to sacrifice his son, Ismail, for the sake of Almighty God. At least one third of the meat from the animal goes to the poor.
“In Budgam district on an average 60,000 sheep (which includes 5 % goat as well) are sacrificed on Bakr Eid. Out of this 35,000 to 40,000 are the local sheep, and rest are Bakerwali and some Rajasthani breed (Delhi wala) as well. This number came down drastically last Eid and this Bakr Eid also the number would be by and large similar to 2019. Kashmir’s sheep industry is directly dependent on Bakr Eid as the local breed sheep (Kashmir Marino) or even Bakerwali are not used by butchers for regular sale. So when there has been lockdown during last eid and this eid as well, one can imagine the kind of losses local sheep breeders are facing” said Dr Basharat Kuthoo Joint Director (Farms) Sheep Husbandry Department Kashmir who was Budgam District head of the department until recently.
As per 20th livestock census of 2018-19 sheep population was estimated to be around 32 lakhs (3.2 million) in Jammu & Kashmir. Experts say that the population of sheep is on rise in Kashmir valley from last 10 years and now we have different varieties of sheep available, which not only produce good quality mutton but also are known for quality wool. Majority of the local sheep available in Kashmir is of Kashmir Marino variety which is the cross breed between Merino Ram and traditional Kashmiri eve. Some other local sheep breeds of J&K are Bakerwali, Karnahi breed, available in Karnah side, Gurezi breed available in Gurez valley. We have Corriedale cross breed available as well. Very recently 400 plus indigenous Australian Merino Rams have been imported from Australia by the Government. We hope after a few years there will be a new variety of sheep available in the market. Jammu & Kashmir has a potential to increase the number of sheep population from 32 lakhs to 60 lakhs in next 5 to 10 years as we have huge pasturelands which needs to be developed more on modern lines. Forest , agriculture and sheep husbandry departments under the guidance of SK University of Agricultural Sciences (SKUAST) Kashmir / Jammu need to work on Rangeland Development so that a better variety of forest fodder seeds are imported and sown in the rangelands / pastures of J&K. As of now everything grown in the highland pastures is wild in nature, but why not take up some pilot projects in meadows and pastures of J&K to grow new varieties of forest fodder?
On an average 5500 to 6000 sheep are used for daily consumption in Kashmir. Out of these, 60 % sheep are Rajasthani (Delhi wala). Reputed Kashmiri Chefs (waza), especially from Srinagar, prefer Rajasthani Sheep for preparing Kashmiri Wazwan during marriage functions? If Rajasthani sheep have low fat content, why can’t local sheep farmers be able to fulfil the requirements of the Wazas or wholesale mutton dealers? Why can’t Kashmir Marinos be reared in a way that they have less fat in the body? Some research has to be done by experts in this direction. Our mutton industry can become self-sufficient if the locally produced mutton is used in marriage functions and sold in mutton shops routinely. I believe Kashmiri mutton dealers (Kothdars) get more profit from Rajasthani sheep breeds and that is why they are not ready to promote local sheep breeds. If we are able to address these issues and fill the gaps and make rigorous use of local breeds, I am sure sheep farmers would not have to only rely on Bakr Eid only. The sales would continue 365 days a year and this will make our mutton industry self-sufficient.