Bakarwals, the indigenous community in the Himalayas, have been depending on goats for their livelihoods. Their practices have not only sustained their livelihoods but have also sustained the ecology, in which they operate. With changing times, these local communities are adapting themselves to changing conditions and appropriate technologies.
Bakarwals are primarily pastoral nomads rearing goat and sheep in high-altitudes of Greater-Himalayas during summer and spend their winter in plains and foot hills of Shivaliks. They are special nomadic tribes mainly found in the Pirpanjal range of mountains located between the two states of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. Bakarwals derive their livelihood from goat rearing and this practice is embedded deep into their folklores and culture. Bakarwals pass this culture of rearing small ruminants from one generation to other and keeping intact the prejudice of their name Bakar-Wal. They earn by selling live goats, chevon, fiber, skins, goat milk, by sale of kaladis, a special fermented milk product.
Bakarwals do not have a fixed place and they keep moving all around the year. They are high altitude rangers and range naturally growing meadows and pastures along with their livestock. Bakarwals plan their activities into four major segments of time: winter, spring, summer and autumn. They stay in the outer hills from December to mid-April. They migrate with their flocks (goat and sheep) towards alpine pastures of the Greater Himalayas from the last quarter of April till the first week of July. During this time, they cross different topographic zones successively on the route of migration and their activities are controlled both by the passing of time as well as crossing over the space zones in regulating their daily marches according to environmental conditions. They again start returning to the winter bases in the month of October with the same route of migration and reach the outer hills zone by November every year.
Goats and ecology
Goats are very helpful in maintaining the ecological balance. Goats control the spread of noxious weeds as they consume majority of them without any severe ill effect on their body. These animals graze and trample the vegetation which help in penetration of water into the soil and also check soil erosion. The browsing habit of goats further aid in the development of wildlife as the surface grown grass and small shrubs are consumed by them and are preserved for the wild herbivores in the forest areas. Moreover, the areas for a herd are earmarked and the land gets enriched with the manure by the same herd. The seeds of the herbage are transported through feces from one range to another along with manure, thus facilitating expansion of natural pastures.
Reduction in the pastures due to floods, excessive conversion of farming lands have led to shrinkage in effective herbage area for the livestock.
Bakarwals in changing conditions
Though most of the community is transhumant with seasonal movement, Bakarwals are now settling in permanent settlements in and around the suburbs and villages. They are also getting in touch with the State Departments and learning modern husbandry practices. The Sheep Husbandry departments of both Jammu & Kashmir divisions have started letting bucks to the Bakarwals for cross breeding their parent stock, thus increasing the production potential. They are also receiving better remuneration from sale of chevon, fiber and skins.
With increasing literacy, Bakarwal youth is opting for employment into the government and private sector, thus leaving behind the occupation of goat rearing. This is on one hand shrinking the goat population of the state and on the other hand, mitigating the ethos of Bakarwal tribe. To address this situation, the State Agriculture University has been organizing entrepreneurial development programmes for the Bakarwal youth to take goat farming on a large scale.
Reduction in the pastures due to floods, excessive conversion of farming land into construction land have led to shrinkage in effective herbage area for the livestock. This has forced the communities to either stall feed their livestock or to trek more rigorous heights for pastures. Also, the changing climate has led to the development of certain diseases. However, with the support of Sheep Husbandry Department, effective vaccination and deworming of goats have been taken up, thereby keeping many diseases under check.
Goats can play a pivotal role in the management of natural resources, while at the same time, continuing to produce high-quality food and fiber. When managed properly, small ruminants have been shown to be effective tools to control noxious weeds, enhance rangelands and reforestation projects, improve wildlife habitat and accomplish riparian and watershed management objectives. Additionally, they can do all of this in a manner that is not only sustainable, but also profitable.
Final Year student, B.V.Sc. & A.H.
Assistant Professor, Division of Veterinary & Animal
Husbandry Extension Education,
Faculty of Veterinary Sciences & Animal Husbandry,
Sher-E-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences &
Technology of Jammu, R.S. Pura, Jammu,
Jammu & Kashmir, India – 181102.