SRINAGAR: Last week’s six-day closure of the Srinagar-Jammu highway once again exposed the insufficiency of mutton production in Kashmir. Had the government’s efforts in boosting production been a success, they could not only have prevented the drain of nearly Rs 2,000 crore annually in the import of mutton but also provided sustainable employment to the people of the state. During the six days of closure, according to Mehraj-ud-Din, general secretary of All Kashmir Wholesale Mutton Dealers Association, 90 percent of mutton markets in Kashmir were without supply.
“We sell whatever we get from outside. It comes through the Srinagar-Jammu highway. If it gets blocked for any reason, the supply is impeded here. Our supply had been extinguished during the six days of closure. We could not procure anything from the local markets,” Mehraj told Kashmir Reader.
The Directorate of the sheep husbandry department, which was carved out from the animal husbandry department to give full attention to sheep, has in JK shot up production to 323.57 lakh kilograms of mutton from a few lakh in 1950s. But this, according to the state government, falls short by more than 35 percent of what is required.
“As per livestock breeding policy of the state, the focus till date has been on production of fine quality wool. The department had imported a special breed of rams– called Merino from US and Australia – which had improved fineness of wool to 21- 22 microns, and also enhanced wool production to 38 lakh kg presently, from the less than 1 lakh kg it was when the department started to function, said Dr Imran Khawaja (Technical Officer).
“We produced Marino quality of wool, which is considered to be one of best in the world. This was achieved by cross breeding with imported rams, which also helped in increasing production. The increase, though, was not sufficient to meet the market demand,” he said.
However, the production of quality wool has not met concurrent wool processing industry in our state. Most of the wool goes outside the state, despite the state having its own full-fledged mills which are close to shutdown. According to government’s information, the woollen mills today have a turnover of less than Rs 4 crore, on investment that was more than Rs 20 crore. They have only 2,000 employees on rolls, and sit on more than Rs 375 crore of debt.
Mutton industry, according to Mehraj, has vast potential in the valley due to availability of vast pastures. The state could have utilised the resources better, he said, achieving even surplus production.
An insider at the animal husbandry department told Kashmir Reader that a team of Government of India had found resemblance between Kashmir and New Zealand in terms of scope for breeding sheep.
Director Sheep Husbandry Department, Mehraj-ud-Din Rather told Kashmir Reader to collect details from Dr Imran who is working as Technical Officer to the department.
Imran said the department has already taken necessary steps to enhance mutton production in state, and latest being by starting importing of dual-purpose quality breeds from the Australia. The breeds, according to Imran, would give a boost to mutton production and at the same time would not compromise on gains made in achieving fineness of wool. He said a bar of 23 microns has been established for regulating the wool fineness achievements till date.
“Since we have achieved our targets in wool, now the department will import breeds which will not only produce quality wool, but high quantity of mutton as well. This enhancement will come not only in number of sheep but in their weights per sheep too. With introduction of new blood in our gene pool we will be able to increase the carcass dressing percentage from current 45% to 55-60%- a step towards vertical expansion of our livestock resources,” Imran added,
Besides, he told Kashmir Reader that the department has a project of increasing fecundity of our sheep so as to make twinning a regular feature in our livestock. A project regarding which is running at Government sheep farm Goabal Kangan. Carcass weight is the what remain after removing hide, head and legs of a butchered sheep, he said.
Imran said the state has lost a vast variety of pastures due to various factors including denudation due to overgrazing, deforestation, climatic changes etc. He said the new intervention will try to bridge the gap of demand and supply by a significant measure.