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5. Breeds

Sahjeevan has been working with mainstream scientific establishments, agricultural universities and pastoral communities to identify distinct breeds that are managed by pastoralists across Gujarat. Identifying and registering such breeds plays an important role in maintaining the rich breed diversity of India.

  • Over the past decade, Sahjeevan’s efforts have resulted in eight pastoral breeds in Gujarat being registered as distinct breeds. These include the Banni Buffalo, Kharai Camel, Kahami Goat, Kachchhi-Sindhi Horse, Panchali Sheep, Kachchhi Donkey, Nari Cattle and the Halari Donkey. Recognition has come following year-round monitoring of productivity, reproduction, morphology and genetic parameters mandated by the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR). Sahjeevan has worked closely with NBAGR, regional agricultural universities and varied pastoral communities in Gujarat to generate the requisite data. These are the first community-developed breeds to be recognised since Indian independence.
  • Mainstream government livestock breeding programmes maintain and breed animals largely to maximise milk or meat production. In contrast, pastoralists across the Indian subcontinent have bred animals from multiple perspectives, attempting to increase productivity and the animal’s capacity to adapt to the climatically challenging environments they inhabit. Such intensely focused breeding is responsible for the vast biodiversity of India’s cattle, buffaloes, pigs, donkeys and camels.

While large numbers of breeds developed by pastoralists have been inducted into mainstream dairying, several populations maintained by them continue to be characterised as nondescript and are not accorded formal recognition. Since government support for breeds and breeding programmes is contingent on official recognition of breeds, the bulk of the populations that have been nourished and developed by pastoralist communities have little support within the mainstream. Sahjeevan works closely with pastoralist communities, civil society, the academic community and government agencies to secure broader mainstream recognition and registration of pastoral breeds as being distinct.

Such recognition is important. At a fundamental level, the acknowledgement that this is distinct genetic material changes the narrative on pastoralists. From being seen as simple-minded animal herders, they are more legitimately described as animal breeders or the ‘keepers of genes.’ Not surprisingly, many of India’s well-known cattle breeds – such as the Gir, Tharparkar, Rathi and Sahiwal – have emerged from pastoral systems. Secondly, such breeding is particularly crucial in light of a changing climate regime, given that pastoral breeds have been developed under varying and often stressed environments. But perhaps most critically, from an advocacy perspective, mainstream interest in conserving animal diversity has the potential to convince the government of the need to preserve the system responsible for its production and not just the breed that has come from it.

In 2008, Sahjeevan collaborated with the NBAGR, Sardarkrushinagar Dantewada Agricultural University (SDAU) and BPMUS to understand whether the Banni Buffalo is a distinct breed. For a year, 100 buffaloes were monitored on a range of productivity, reproduction, morphology and genetic parameters, as mandated by the NBAGR. Based on this data, BPUMS submitted a community claim regarding the uniqueness of the Banni breed and the role of the Banni Maldhari community in its development. In 2009, the Banni breed was formally recognised as India’s 11th buffalo breed.