Meeting meat shortage

Meeting meat shortage

Consumers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa demand for a strict check on livestock smuggling

By Tahir Ali (The News 17-04-11)

The issue of livestock smuggling to Afghanistan and Iran and the resultant sharp increase in the prices of meat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has come into the limelight once again. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti told the Provincial Assembly recently he had received reports that animals were being smuggled to Afghanistan.

Conceding the issue of smuggling in the Provincial Assembly recently, Provincial Information Minister, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, informs that smugglers had set up a network to smuggle cattle to Afghanistan. “Cattle smugglers pay money to militants to help them in illegal transportation of cattle,” he discloses. “The matter has been taken up with federal government and the ministry has been asked to change mechanism for exporting cattle to Afghanistan as it was being misused,” he adds.

Meat and mutton prices have gone up to Rs200-250 and Rs350-500 respectively in different parts of the province as against Rs150 and Rs300 a few months ago. Prices of cattle and buffaloes have also risen by about 30-40 percent against last year for shortage of animals resulting from animal/meat export and smuggling to neighbouring countries, besides some other reasons.

Livestock farmers and dealers say the permission to export and the failure to check smuggling of animals and meat can trigger a crisis of meat across the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Pakistan in coming months. Mehmood Ali Khan, a livestock dealer, says the federal government should check export licenses. “Adequate supply of animals is imperative to stabilise and control prices. As animal exporters are exploiting the facility, it should be banned until the government makes full arrangements to stop illegal transportation of animals,” he argues. Another livestock farmer and dealer, Bashir Ahmad, says illegal smuggling of animals could be stopped through efficient checking.

Director General Livestock Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Dr Sher Muhammad, says the federal government had issued export licenses for 0.25 million animals and 25000 of these were to pass through the Pak-Afghan border at Torkham. “The government has made elaborate arrangements. Check posts have been established both in settled and tribal areas to allow only legal export of animals and to check smuggling. Proper record is being kept of all the animals that pass through the route,” he informs, adding “But one must remember that all animals going to federally administered tribal areas are not smuggled. The meat needs of the tribal belt have also to be met. Exporters of animals are also issued licences to export livestock to other foreign countries,” he adds.

“As far as our departments are concerned, we facilitate legal export and see that unnecessary hurdles are removed while sick, pregnant and breed-endangered animals are not exported or sent to Fata,” he informs. According to reports in the media, around a million animals are smuggled to Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asian States yearly. This has to be stopped or regulated.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for livestock, Hidayatullah Khan, says the government is working to stop illegal smuggling of animals to Afghanistan and Iran. But an official, who does not want to be identified, admits that the long and mountainous border and poor law and order situation in the militant-infested tribal belt makes the task difficult. Afghanistan shares around 2000 km border with Pakistan that spreads over seven tribal agencies and district of Chitral.

But smuggling is not the only reason behind shortage of animals and meat. Livestock losses in floods, high breeding/nourishing costs, increased transportation charges, the role of middlemen in the sale and supply of animals, and increased government/contractor levies are affecting livestock farmers as well as the common men. Last year, floods had killed 0.15 million animals, causing a loss of around Rs7 billion to the sector in the province.

The problem has been aggravated further by the absence of beef-breeds of cattle in the country. Pakistan has 25, 26, 25 and 57 million buffalo, sheep, and goat respectively. These animals belong to various breeds but none of those has been bred on a mass-scale to produce genetically superior beef and mutton breeds.

Meat production has remained mostly the same. No worthwhile investment has been made in beef and mutton production. Genetic improvement of local livestock species, fattening farms and reproductive efficiency of animals are some of the ways to meet the demand of mutton and beef in the country.

Hidayatullah Khan says one model beef farm would be established in every district of the province. But there is still no development on this count. The Policy Document Livestock Vision-2020 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa says the province is deficient in meat production. The average availability of red meat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is 31 grams/person/day (GPD) whereas the requirement is 56 GPD. So there is a gap of about 25GPD.

Dr Sher Mohammad says since there are no beef breeds of cattle in the country, working cattle, cows and buffaloes that are no longer able to work or produce milk are slaughtered and consumed as beef. “Beef cattle farms produce more than double the beef and mutton produced through common ways. By establishing beef farms, the gap between demand and availability can be bridged. These will improve the socio-economic status of the farmers through increasing meat production. It will also bring self sufficiency in meat and check spiraling meat prices,” he argues.

Sajjad Haider, another farmer, says the government should start a crash plan for the uplift of livestock farming. “It should import and use latest reproductive technology and breeding techniques to increase livestock population in the country. Steps to be taken include provision of fodder and feed to farmers on affordable rates, expansion of animal healthcare system, and improvement in breed and animal-fattening programmes. It should also provide soft loans for at least one year to help improve animal health and production,” he says.

“Cross-breeding of local and foreign cattle, buffalos, goat and sheep will help improve local low-productive breeds into highly producing ones. For example, weight at the time of maturity of local cattle is 300kg whereas in case of cross-bred it is 350kg or even more,” Sher adds.

But it also requires availability of semen for artificial insemination services. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, however, has only two semen production units, as many nitrogen-production plants at Peshawar that are vital to keep the semen safe and 361 artificial insemination centres (AICs). More such facilities are needed. Animal breeding and genetics experts should be involved in a campaign to increase meat production.

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

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