Goats for DashainLet’s hope Nepalis will get to celebrate Dashain in the future with domestically produced goat meat
Anyone travelling on the Jomsom-Pokhara route would see how goats are transferred to Pokhara for Dashain. Hordes of goats are made to walk for seven to eight days and then sold during the Dashain period. This transfer of goats to Pokhara also reveals the importance given to Himalayan goats as a source of meat. Many people perceive that the meat of these goats has some medicinal property as these animals are assumed to consume plants with medicinal value like herbs, which grow in the mountain region. This perception also means that consumers in Pokhara are prepared to pay higher prices for these animals.
I happen to have seen these hordes of goats while walking on the Jomsom-Pokhara route just a week before Dashain. While in this trek, I also talked to many individuals who brought these goats down to Pokhara.
I was told that a large number of these goats come from the Tibet side. This, however, did not surprise me as I had read in a national newspaper that almost 85 to 90 percent of goats for Dashain are imported either from India or Tibet. Of the total demand of 50,000 goats in Kathmandu for this Dashain, 32,000 would come from India. The rest 18,000 were to be brought from Tibet and a few hill districts of Nepal. Import of 32,000 goats from India to meet Kathmandu’s demand means that about half a billion rupees go to India during this period alone. This also means that local production can meet only 10-15 percent of the demand.
This import of goats for Dashain begs a larger question about the agricultural situation in Nepal, especially food sovereignty and food self-sufficiency. Like in other agricultural products, local production of goats is just incapable of meeting the growing demand. The question then is why local production of goats has not kept pace with the increase in its demand. This is more disappointing when one considers the fact that Nepal’s hilly and mountain regions are perfectly suitable for
raising goats and that this enterprise is very lucrative. For example, the businessmen doing this business told me that a Himalayan goat
brought to Pokhara can fetch about Rs27,000 on average. This means that producing a goat for sale in a month would provide a reasonable level of livelihood for a family.
Looking at the constraints, people often say that it is the scarcity of labour that has caused a decline in the agriculture sector. In the countryside, one can see the farmlands being left fallow and an increase in forest cover. This
situation again means more possibilities for animal husbandry, especially goat farming.
Migration of young people to foreign countries is surely a reason for the shortage of labour. As an adult male migrates for work, his family leaves the rural areas to stay in the market centre or urban areas with full dependency on remittances. As a result, only old parents are left to look after the farm. Apart from this, there is also an attitudinal problem. There is a general perception that young and educated people should not do farm work. People try to escape from farm work as far as
possible. When I inquired about the fresh milk in places where livestock was a mainstay about two decades ago, I was told that only imported powder milk is used as a source of milk. The hotel-owners told me that domestic help they hire would not stay if they keep livestock at home.
Accordingly, the constraints in agricultural growth, including goat raising, are social too. Policy makers and the society in general have not paid much attention to these constraints. Out-migration has now affected farming, but it would not have affected it to such a high degree if there was some status symbol attached to farming.
If farming had retained its social prestige, migration would have helped farming; migrants would have invested their remittances and knowledge in agricultural production, at least in some profitable enterprises like goat raising. The fact that prices of meat, vegetables, milk and milk products have skyrocketed means farming can also be profitable, especially when a market is guaranteed. Given this situation, there is a kind of enigma about why migrants do not invest their earning in farm production or in other productive enterprises that could generate income and employment and improve the local economy. As of now, a large portion of remittances are invested in education and consumption, which are also equally important. But this consumption has basically triggered import of food and other consumables, as this is not matched with local production even if there are opportunities.
Short public memory
A few instances of migrants taking steps to invest remittances and skills in farming and other enterprises show that migrants have the potential to regenerate local economy. But they are too few as of now. If the society
gives value and status to such entrepreneurs, many potential as well as returned migrants would be involved in such enterprises.
The consequences of total dependence on imported food have long been discussed in Nepal, which culminated in making ‘food sovereignty’ a constitutional provision in the Interim Constitution 2007 as well as in the recent constitution formulated by the Constituent Assembly. But nothing
concrete has been done since then. On the other hand, dependency on imported food has phenomenally increased in the last decade. The recent Indian blockade showed that total dependence on import for essential commodity could have devastating impact on
the economy and society. But the import of goats to meet the demand of Kathmandu from India gives the impression that we have a very short public memory.
Given that Nepal is a country of small landholders with enough forests, animal husbandry is more suitable than crop production. Appropriate policies and changes in our value system recognising the importance of local enterprises are required to encourage these small landholders to raise goats. Let’s hope that Nepalis will have a chance to celebrate future Dashains with the goat meat produced in Nepal.
Adhikari is a human geographer with an interest in development planning