As a first secretary of Ministry of Livestock, how do you see the challenges?
As a Ministry of Livestock, we have sectoral responsibility to improve the livestock resources. We have to produce the required milk, meat and poultry. By another three years, we would have to be self sufficient in milk, meat and poultry projects. Of course, this is a major challenge as the goal needs a lot of resources and investment for capacity building. There is the need to have a lot of facilitating activities on the ground with the people and livestock herds.
How difficult will it be to work?
Communicating with cows, buffalos and chicken is not an easy. We want to be a good friend of farmers and we want to take care of their needs. I also come from a farmer's family. Most farmers in Nepal have cows, buffaloes and goats. Some even have chicken and pigs. What we have seen recently is that there is a tremendous shift in livelihood in hills as many young people intend to migrate elsewhere. Since the agriculture and livestock is not profitable, people are shifting to other professions. Most of the young population has already fled the country. In this context, what we want to do is to make agriculture back home is more profitable. Livestock are main sources of nutrition and sources of money.
How do you see livestock and agriculture?
Actually, agriculture and livestock are inseparable. There is an entrenched link between agriculture and livestock and forestry because our agriculture system basically relies on the quality of soil. Livestock make a factory to convert leaves and fodders into manures that go back to the agriculture farming. Soil belongs to ministry. Farmers require all forest, soil and livestock. Once these links are understood, it will be easy to work in the sector.
How does Nepal need to formulate the livestock policy in the Himalaya region in the context of climate change?
First of all Himalayan mountains in particular are very important and climatically very vulnerable and geologically very sensitive that is why we have to very sensibly act upon these areas whether this is agriculture, forestry or livestock or whatever other kind of intervention. In this regard, we must understand how climate is changing, particularly in the Himalayan mountain region. We must understand how hydrological and meteorological cycles are changing in this region and how population migration is taking place.
Why is this happening?
Simply because lifestyle in the mountain region used to be difficult and due to climate change it is getting more difficult these days and will be so in the days ahead. This is happening, one, because of climate change and, two, communication and human expectations and political and economic changes. The challenges in the Himalayan region at the present moment are how to sustain agriculture, forestry and livestock. Most importantly, how to sustain the mountain ecosystem in totality. There is the need to retain the population in the mountain so that they won't be the burden to the cities, valleys and towns. For this reason, the Ministry of Livestock together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and local people have conducted the survey and designed the project.
What is the state of Himali Project?
Himali Project is a flagship project of Ministry of Livestock as the project was implemented in 10 districts with the support from Asian Development Bank. Just a few weeks back, the Ministry hosted an exhibition of mountain agriculture products, which include non-timber forest products, medical plants, vegetables, fruits, livestock and other crops of mountain. These are in totality mountain diversity. Sustainability of mountain lives is dependent upon the biological resources, conservation and sustainable use. And there, commercialization is very important for livelihood improvement as well as human well-being in the mountain region.
What have you learnt from the work?
What we have learnt from this exhibition in Kathmandu was that the mountain products are very precious. They deserve premium value because they are grown in organic fashion, there is no pollution and they don’t use pesticides and chemical fertilizers. These mountain products are not easily available in the low land areas including cities. They are not grown artificially in plastic tunnels. Many products from High Mountain like Jammu grass, cardamom and Silajit cannot be produced in other areas. The Yak cheese comes from Manang, Mustang, Dolakha and other Himalayan region. The tale of Yak has a very spiritual value for Buddhists. These products are not produced and available in lowlands. Some of these products are very essential for our culture and religion. Medicinal plants are brilliant as they are pure and they are not adulterated. They are original so there is confidence among the people about the mountain products.
What else is there about the recent exhibition of Himalayan products?
As we launched the first exhibition of Himalayan Products in Kathmandu, people are curious about the products. People from mountain region produced caps, coats and bags from Alau. There were so many unique items people were willing to buy. Due to overcrowded stalls, the products displayed at the exhibition were finished just on the second day. The first two days saw hectic buying and selling. After the second day, the market phenomenon was changed as business negotiations to make a deal on Himali products. Leading Nepalese merchants and business persons such as Upendra Mahato came to make a deal. There was a demand for such products in metric tons. However, limitation of mountain region is that they cannot supply that big now. Instead they can improve the technology and expand the cultivation areas in appropriate places and increase the production of such products in commercial manner.
How can benefits from herbs go to the mountain people since you cannot produce things in a mass scale?
We can start putting premium value in these products so that the products are precious as gems they deserve. Once again there is a limitation of mountain ecosystem as we cannot grow such products more. There is a limitation of moisture and soil nutrition and human population to produce more. There is also a limitation of mechanization in these areas. Whatever products the mountain community has produced from pre-historic times to the present is precious and we must communicate this message to the low land people.
How can people living in the mountain region know that there is a lot of scope?
We must communicate this message with the mountain people that there is a huge market for their products not only in Kathmandu but in foreign countries as well. Once we could link mountain people and products, the livelihood of the people of mountain region will change drastically. There is a tremendous scope for livelihood and economic improvement in the mountain region through the mountain products. This is not only improvement of livelihood and economic prosperity of the people living in the mountain region, the genetic resources of these biological materials grown in the mountain could be artificially produced in the laboratory for mass cultivation and to commercialize globally. There are things like Yarsa Gumba and other various medical plants which are good for cancer and nutrition, drinks and cosmetic. As these mountain products have high value, they can be produced commercially to bring economic prosperity in the Himalaya region.
As Himali Project is going to expire next year, what plans does the ministry have for future?
Projects keep coming and going. That is why they are known as projects. They come with fixed resources and fixed time. However, looking at the success and appreciation from local communities, the demonstrated outcome of this project is very high. We have already started talking with donor communities to continue this project. We want to continue to see this project as it is a special project implemented in a special location targeting the most vulnerable communities of the mountain region. Given the success of the project, I am optimistic that the Himali II is coming for which we have already started homework and we have already started preliminary dialogue with donor agencies such as Asian Development Bank which supported the Himali phase one. I found that the ADB is also quite positive to continue the project given its outcome and success.