Shepherds and farmers in Balochistan’s Zhob are more worried for their animals than their own lives.
They need medicines because their livestock is at risk of diseases such as the Congo virus, say people in Garda Babar, Kibzai, Khosti, Kakar Khurasan, Badinzai. The animals are rapidly falling prey.
“I have not seen a doctor come to the veterinary hospital for years,” said Qutab Khan, a 70-year-old resident of Garda Babar, who owns a farm where he keeps sheep on the rangeland. He has reason to keep track as in one single year his stock of sheep went from 366 to 228.
“We slaughter them when the sheep get weaker and thinner,” he said. “We don’t know how to cure them and we cannot take them all from the village to the city to be treated.” He complained that the City Vet Hospital in Zhob did not do lab tests. The farmers are frightened as the Congo virus has scared people off from eating the meat, which has been leading to food insecurity.
Officially, there are supposed to be six veterinary hospitals and 70 vet dispensaries across Zhob district but that is just on paper much like the budget. The funding for livestock in 2015-16 was amplified from Rs243 billion to Rs328 billion but more money doesn’t mean that the system is working.
The Zhob livestock department, for example, has 98 employees on the books. They include 19 veterinary officers and two senior vets. They cost the government Rs3.9 million a month in salaries.
But Livestock EDO Dad Khan Babar said that their problem is that many staffers who are retiring needed to be replaced. They have also repeatedly put in requests for desperate repairs and their 2% medicine quota for the dispensaries. He has not heard back from the higher authorities.
Independent expert Syed Mohammad Sherani says that, “There are deficiencies in data, untrained staff and a lack of coordination between the livestock keepers and the experts, which are big constraints for livestock development in Balochistan.”
Small ruminants depend on the rangelands or a natural landscape where goats and sheep can find the right vegetation to graze on. These lands not only serve as a habitat for most wildlife, but small flocks are completely dependent on them for their food.
Zhob and its neighbouring areas had rich rangelands, except perhaps for Tehsil Kakar Khurasan located on the Pak-Afghan frontier.
One of the reasons why the government has not been able to get its act together is because it has made policies without asking the farmers. Usually, the extension workers are from the cities and don’t know how to talk to the people in the countryside
The Forest & Wildlife department started many projects to cultivate plants to make artificial rangelands to beat the drought. Zhob was hit from 1995 to 2005. Work was undertaken in Gosa, Kakhao, Murgha Kibzai, Sur Kach, Gustoi from 2006 to 2017 but for some strange reason tehsil Kakar Khurasan was ignored. This is an area which is especially vulnerable as it lies on the Pak-Afghan frontier. Its people have no access to the media and because they have no rangeland, their food supplies are in bad shape. Most people in Balochistan have no idea of fodder storage programmes, which use silos to keep surplus for bad seasons.
This area was not part of the Balochistan Agriculture Project that recently wrapped up. The FAO and USAID funded development of agriculture and rangelands under it. The project covered district Killa Saifullah, Loralai, Mustang, Quetta, Zhob, Musakhel, Pishin, and Sherani. BAP data claims it turned around barren lands but it couldn’t change the fate of Khurasan.
Another option, say experts, is to earmark suitable chunks of land in command areas of newly built dams such as Mirani and Subakzai dams and Kachhi canal for livestock farming.
Animal breeding is the main driving factor of livestock policy. But weak animal production extension programmes mean that livestock production does not happen at the rate that is needed.
One of the reasons why the government has not been able to get its act together is because it has made policies without asking the farmers. Usually, the extension workers are from the cities and don’t know how to talk to the people in the countryside. There is a certain snobbery as well; most of the time they consider livestock producers third grade citizens with poor knowledge about livestock.
It does not help that there is no institution in Balochistan to do research on breeding or local breeds. Farmer training facilities are rare and institutes for technicians don’t work on production. The technical staff is trained only in animal health services.
All of this means that if Balochistan could earn from animal products such as milk, meat and eggs is not happening. Farm operations and transportation are needed especially in the infrastructure-weak parts of the province.
Farmers can earn from wool, hair, hides, skins and even manure. On the higher end, by-products such as wool, carpets and leather products could be major livelihood avenues. Animals are considered financial security and can be converted into cash by selling a few in the case of crop failure. Animals are used in dowries and to pay debts.
Experts are proposing setting up a cottage industry on new lines so to attract investment.
Balochistan is home to many colored sheep breeds. The preference for naturally colored wool products is increasing in international markets.
Camel wool produced in north-east Balochistan is high quality but has never been used in the cottage industry. New products such as camel wool yarn, wall hangings and other rugs made from naturally coloured wool are popular in international markets but Balochistan’s farmers have not been able to tap into them.
The province is also well-placed to be a corridor for skins and hides from southern Afghanistan and southeastern parts of Iranian Balochistan via the Taftan gateway. This industry can be a good source of earning for investors in the raw material of leather.
But none of this can ever happen if there are no animals to earn from.