By Sher Wali Khan Aseer
I have been partially against the Persian proverb,’ Ghum ne dari buz bekher’(if you have no worry/tension, buy a goat), until I experienced and thoroughly observed it myself.
After an impartial study of this domestic animal, I am convinced to modify the maxim, with apology to our Persian composer, by replacing ‘ghum’ by ‘bomb’ and grafting it as, ‘ bum ne dari buz bekher’ (if you have no bomb to destroy yourself, buy a goat). In my childhood I had close friendship with this friendly foe. My parents kept a large number of goats with two shepherds for their grazing. I used to ride the he-goats when fetching on their return from the grazing fields, just to assist the shepherds who carried firewood on their backs. Entering the village cultivated and planted area, the goats would attack the greenery, like the khud-kush of today and would swallow every green plant coming in their way. They would never contend on leaves and tender branches of a plant, rather peel out the stem, its lifeline, leaving it only dead or half dead and that had been the hot point of my contempt of goats.
My parents were the new developer of a barren land, namely, Chargheri at the junction of villages, Bang and Patrangaz of Yarkhun Valley. We were anxiously planting saplings of fruit and wild plants to generate greenery in the barren, but two-third of which would become victims of our goats during winters when grazing on highland ceased due to snowfall. This valley had very few fruit and wild plantation, and cultivation on the small pieces of land was carried out in spring for the sake of free grazing in winters. Nearly all the population was dependent on livestock and small scale agriculture.
Goat farming was the major source of income of the people. This profession was beneficial and cost-effective. The pastures were laden with grass and forests. Beside dozens of indigenous plants and bushes, Juniper and birch were the major species of Northern-Chitral, and Pine and Oak of Lower-Chitral valleys. These mountain pastures provided free fodder for about eight months of a year and sheltered rich wildlife. Local shepherds were easily available and the people had a long history of animal husbandry couple with their total concentration on these two means of livelihood- livestock and agriculture. Livestock actively supplemented the small scale agriculture produce .It provided sweat meat, milk and butter round the year. The coarse wool was used to make rugs, carpets, ropes and other similar things of domestic use and for sale.. Goat’s hide was also of great utility. Flour and grain-bags ( burduki / burdiki), leather-shoes (kon/khon and bandages (kirkot/taching) and strips (zhikan) were made out of goat-skin. Goat’s manure, being the richest fertilizer, gave additional advantage to the poor farmers.
Thus advantages of goat keeping had been in abundance as compared to its disadvantages, and which was the strong reason to bother devastations of this friendly foe. With the passage of time shepherd system vanished when the locals made access to cities/towns for labour on cash payment. This was substituted with Soseri (grazing the village flock turn by turn by the Gram-households) and it also worked to some extent. When our old generation expired, the next one could not continue the system and fetched shepherd from the lower parts of Chitral and Upper- Dir who came with own their flocks and families, doubling the burden on the limited grazing highlands and the economy. The local tried to increase their livestock in utter disregard of the pastures ‘condition which had been plundered by then.
Today goat keeping is a business of total loss, but our traditional farmer has no idea of it. According to lowest cost estimate, a goat consumes fodder costing 6-7 thousand in a year and after spending 30000 to 35000 rupees, in five years of its rearing, it fetches Rs.6000/ only, if sold in the market. The farmers have abandoned their traditional handy-craft made out of the hide and wool of goat, and these raw materials are, either wasted or sold at very nominal price to street vendors. Instead, a fruit plant demands a nominal labour and expenditure and returns ten times more profit, annually, for 30 to 35 years. Maintaining both the professions alongside is like keeping wolf and lamb in the same barn.
The Land Commission’ declaration of pastures, mountains, game reserves and other natural resources as Government Property of mid-seventies, further worsened the situation. The previous owners ceased to look after these pastures and natural habitats of the wildlife and the illiterate villagers considered that their collective ownership as beneficiaries and the ancestral owner ship of some clans has come to end and thus shaved the remaining trees without check.
The traditional system of conservation and control of pastures and hunting fields ended, giving free hand to thieves and poachers .Our Ibex, Markhor, chakor partridge, pheasant and peacock began to disappear from the mountains. The last nail of the coffin of our mountain life was hammered by the imported shepherds, the Gujjars. Now, the lowlands, developed during the last three decades with the intervention of AKRSP and other NGOs and individuals are at the hit of hundreds of bomb-shells of floods, glaciers and land-sliding. Hundreds acres of cultivated and planted land is being flooded, annually, dragging the poor villagers in to the pit of poverty by making all the POVERTY REDUCTION STRATEGIES to be abortive. It is mainly the goats responsible for all this havoc. If we still ignored this serious imbalance of the natural ecology, we will not only fail to achieve the objectives of Poverty Alleviation, but would also be held responsible for the failure to safe guard the natural property of our coming generation. Preservation of our mountains is not only the life and death syndrome for Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan, but it has the same importance for the whole country.
Now, it is high time to be serious, addressing this alarming issue while making/ modifying strategies for poverty reduction in Chitral, in general, while in the Yarkhun Valley, in particular. The District Development Forum (might have been formed by now) must take in to consideration to evolve a viable plan for reforestation and preservation of our mountains and their life, as a compulsory component of the Poverty Alleviation Programme of the District.
By Sher Wali Khan Aseer