Approximately 65%-70% of Kashmir's terrain is characterized by hilly or semi-arid conditions, with the remaining 30%-35% comprising plains and irrigated land. The region grapples with the dual challenge of burgeoning population growth and the encroachment of agricultural land for residential and commercial purposes. This evolving dynamic poses a significant threat to fodder availability, potentially jeopardizing the expansion of the macro-livestock industry.
Amidst this conundrum, goats emerge as resilient agents of sustainability. Renowned for their adept browsing abilities, goats provide an environmentally friendly alternative in livestock farming. Their capacity to consume diverse vegetation, including shrubs and weeds, positions them as valuable contributors to ecological balance.
From a taxonomic perspective, goats belong to the kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata, Subphylum Vertebrata, Class Mammalia, Order Artiodactyl, Family Bovidae, Genus Capra, and Species Capra hircus. The genus Capra encompasses over 300 distinct goat breeds, varying in size and purpose.
The Neolithic Revolution marked the advent of various goat rearing systems, including nomadic pastoralism, transhumance, and settled farming. Goats, distinguished by their economic viability, require less land and feed compared to other ruminants. They exhibit heightened resistance to diseases, reach sexual maturity at a young age, and are known for their ability to have multiple births per year, earning them the title of the "Poor Man's Cow."
In India, goats constitute approximately 33% of the total livestock population, contributing substantially to the agricultural GDP with an annual turnover of around INR 55,000 crores. Engaging approximately 8.8 million households, goat husbandry assumes a pivotal role, particularly empowering women in rural areas.
While states like Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Rajasthan, and various tribal regions actively promote women empowerment through goat husbandry, Jammu and Kashmir, despite its 3.8 million goat population, lags behind, occupying the 15th position among states and union territories. The untapped potential for employment generation in goat husbandry faces obstacles due to the absence of centralized demand for goat meat and milk, diverting significant financial resources to other states for mutton and beef.
Beyond meat, goats contribute significantly through other avenues. Goat milk, praised for its curative properties, offers a nutritious alternative rich in calcium, proteins, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamins. The goat fibre industry, producing textiles like cashmere, pashmina, and mohair, plays a crucial role in India's textile sector.
However, unscientific cross-breeding of local goat breeds in Kashmir has led to non-descriptive output breeds, impacting productivity, compatibility, and recognition. To address this, the Department of Sheep Husbandry established a Dairy Goat Farm in Arindardpora village of Bandipora in 1994, housing superior breeds like Khagani Cross, Boer Cross, Alpine x Beetal, and Sannen x Beetal.
Innovative initiatives, such as artificial insemination at the Goat Farm Arindardpora, boasting a success rate exceeding 35%, and the establishment of a Frozen Semen Bank, underscore the commitment to genetic and socioeconomic development. Under the Holistic Agriculture Development Program, the Department aims to introduce new milch breeds and provide comprehensive breeding support.
The potential for goat husbandry in Kashmir to contribute to economic growth and rural empowerment is undeniable. Realizing this potential necessitates a paradigm shift in taste preferences, urging the youth, especially in hilly areas with limited land, to embrace goat farming as a profession. This shift can catalyse the socio-economic development of the region, aligning with the intrinsic harmony of the enthralling Kashmir Valley.
The intricate dance of nature and livelihood in this valley calls for a recalibration of priorities, positioning goat farming not merely as a commodity but as a beacon for socioeconomic progress. The allure of Kashmir's landscape, coupled with the scientifically validated contributions of goat husbandry, beckons towards a sustainable and prosperous future for the region.
By Aadil Akbar Baba