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Strengthening the role of traditional livestock keeping communities towards conservation and development of breeds, practices and rights

P. Vivekanandan, SEVA*, D.K. Sadana, NBAGR, Anil Gupta,IIMA, PK Singh,NBAGR & IlseKöhlerRollefson,LPPS


Indigenous breeds habituated in different agro climatic zone of India have evolved over several generations of natural selection and domestication and are welladapted to their habitat and environment and are often a livelihood bastion forpoor households because they are easier to rearthan exotic breeds. They are capable of withstanding harsh climatic conditions, diseases and scarcity of feed, fodder and drinking water. In a world threatened by climate change, breeds that are resistant to drought, extreme climatic conditions or diseases are of major potential importance for the livelihood of rural poor.

Traditional pastoral communities in India such as raikas, maldharis, gaddis, gujjars, yadavas, gawlis, todas, konars,etc., play important role in the society by rearing avariety of livestock through nomadic or seminomadic way of life. They conserve local livestock breeds, which provide draught power, manure and valuable animal products such as meat, milk and wool to the society, and contribute to the economy of our nation. Over the last1½ decades, pastoral communities have been deprived of their grazing rights and they are marginalized, leading to loss of local knowledge, breeds and livelihoods. In order to protect their lifestyle and animal production system, there is need for policylevel intervention.

India has a rich repository of animal genetic resources with 144 registered breeds along with several populations not yet recognized, which needs characterization andrecognition.Government policy for intensive agriculture and commercial livestock keeping discourages rearingof native livestock breeds and it is therefore replaced with highyielding dairy animals or fast growing exotic species,in order to maximize profit through productionof meat, dairy products, eggs, fibre, etc. Closing of forests/traditional grazing lands under the policy of “protected areas/sanctuaries/national parks”poses major threats tocustomary practices of village poor/nomadic pastoralists, who depend upon them for grazing animals for their livelihoods.

Gaining the government’s attention and creating awareness among those who actually conserve local breeds and attempting capacity building of such communities and livestockkeepers will be the starting point in stopping decline of livestock genetic diversity. Improving knowledge of breeds and their production environments and developing suitable policies that support community level conservation for native breeds is very important. SEVA,a NGO registered in 1992, has initiated focused activities by working withlivestock keepers and share their accumulated experience working at grassroots over the last two decades.


SEVA has promoted pastoralists/herders/tribals (todas – Nilgiris)groups/associations oflivestock keepers to conserve Umbalacherry cattle, Toda buffalo, Kachakatti black sheep, Pulikulam cattle, Malaimadu cattle and Vembur sheep breeds and “Korangadu” pasture land in Nagapattinam, Ooty, Madurai, Virudhunagar, Sivagangai, Thoothukudi and Thiruppur districts of Tamil Nadu. SEVA facilitated local Panchayats to renovate common property resources (viz. animal drinking water ponds, tanks, bore wells in 14 places in Nagapattinam, Thoothukudi districts ), arranged animal health camps, supplied breeding bulls and prepared action plan for conservation of 10 native animal breeds by involving all the stakeholders. In several cases, notably for Umbalachery cattle in Nagapattinam district, there has been a significant increase in population of the breed as an outcome.

The members of the association are breed keepers and they take part in regular savings programmes. The association convenes regular meetings and few workshops by collaborating with government for addressing their local issues related to grazing land, drinking water, animal disease, supply of bulls and construction of animal sheds. SEVA has provided small revolving fund to extend micro credit programme to the members.


SEVA has organized farmers training programmes (2–3 days) to popularizelowcost herbal treatment for animals in Tamil Nadu (70 villages), Karnataka (2 villages ) andKerala (3 villages), in which more than 5,000 farmers/livestock keepers were benefitted. SEVA has trained 120 youths in herbal treatment for animals through a 4week training module and now they are becoming expert community animal healers in villages. Recently, the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease was devastating and more than 10,000 cattle and small ruminants in Tamil Nadu died and more than 500 animals were saved through lowcost herbal treatment (based on traditional knowledge),which any farmer can adopt.


LIFE Network members have developed the concept ofLivestock Keepers Rights and it is being articulated in many national and international fora and it is to be implemented by governments in order to realize the benefits for those who conserve native breeds of animals. It includesthree principles and six rights.

Principle 1: Livestock keepers are creators of breeds and they are the practical custodians of animal genetic resources for food and agriculture to the society.

Principle 2: Livestock keepers and the sustainable use of traditional breeds and their productsare dependent on the conservation of their respective ecosystems and their continued access to such naturals sources.

Principle 3: Traditional breeds represent collective property, products of social culture or indigenous knowledge, and innovation andpractices developed bylivestock keepers.

    1. Livestock keepers have the right to make breeding decisions and breed the breeds they maintain including keepingbulls oflocal breedfor natural mating.

    2. Livestock keepers shall have the right to participate in any policy formulation and implementation processes (on animal genetic resources for food and agriculture/joint forest management/forest working plan, etc.),which affect their life style, customary practices, access tograzing land and breeds they maintain.

    3. Livestock keepers shall have the right to graze their animals in traditional grazing lands including forests or protected areas as per Forest Rights Act 2006/NationalPolicy for Farmers (2007), their migratory routes recognized and accessible to veterinary services during migration.

    4. Livestock keepers shall have the right to appropriate training and capacity building and equal access to relevant services, enabling and supporting them to raise livestock and to better process and market their products to enable their status and income.

    5. Livestock keepers shall have the right to be rewardedfor their efforts in keeping the localbreedsas provider ofservices to the societyandcompensated, if their animals/animal materials are takenforbreedmultiplicationor commercializationpurpose with their prior informed consent.

    6. Livestock keepers shall have the right to participatein the identification of research needs and research design with respect to their genetic resources and access information, onissues related to their local breeds and livestock diversity.

Traditional pastoral communities in our country are known for keeping indigenous livestock breeds. These breeds are maintained in herds under migratory or seminomadic transhuman system. During rainy season, the customary practice of pastoralists grazing their livestock in forests has been officially permitted from preindependence times. However, once the Joint Forest Management programme was implemented during the 1990s, grazing in the forest areas has been withdrawn and the pastoralists are excluded in participatory planning. In association with LIFE Network,NGOs and volunteers,SEVA lobbied for their grazing rights in forests and it has been successfully incorporated in “The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006” (refer to Section 3(1)(d)). In this regard,they have prepared case studies/community protocols of Vangujjar pastoralists in Himalayan forests, Lingayat communities in Bargur forests (Erode), Malaimadu cattle pastoralists in Western Ghatsand working for their animal grazing rights in forests.SEVA has filed a petition with Central Empowered Committee of Supreme Court of India for restoring grazing rights of Raikacamel pastoralists and Malaimadu cattle herders during 2009. National Policy for Farmers, 2007 has incorporated pastoralists rights under section 6 of special categories of farmers.

Agicultural Biodiversity Community