The main challenges with yak farming are youth migrating to cities, annual population decline of yaks, conflicts with wild animals, natural disasters and feed shortages
Although rearing yaks and depending on yak farming is essential to the survival of the highlanders, it does not come without problems and difficulties.
This was stated during the Bhutan country consultation meeting with the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) on 11 August, by Kinley Rinchen, the Deputy Chief Livestock Production Officer, Department of Livestock, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF).
The MoAF and ICIMOD co-organised the ‘Bhutan–ICIMOD Country Consultation on co-designing ICIMOD’s Medium-Term Action Plan (MTAP)-V (2023–2026)’. Over 55 participants from 33 organisations – government agencies, non-governmental organisations, academic and research organisations, civil societies, and private sector entities – participated in the consultation.
According to him, the main problems with yak farming are youth migrating to cities, annual population decline of yaks, conflicts with wild animals, natural disasters, feed shortages during lean seasons, and marketing difficulties for yak products.
Additionally, it refers to a lack of knowledge and awareness of federation ideals as well as a lack of local experience in building the Bhutan Yak Federation (BYF).
He claimed that although people have always been aware of religious and other significant issues since ancient times, they were unable to learn about the institution due to a lack of local knowledge.
The department recommended the formation of the federation in 2005 to address those problems. However, the farmers did not fully understand the federation’s objectives.
According to him, the formation of the federation was done to promote yak farming as a thriving, economically viable, and sustainable industry to ensure the aggregation, standardization, quality assurance, and cooperative marketing of yak products.
It was also envisaged to give the group more power over governance and the decision-making process, and give yak farming communities a platform on which to represent their interests on a national, regional, and international scale.
According to Kinley Rinchen, the Kanchenjunga Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KLCDI) and Resilient Mountain Solution (RMS) programs received support from ICIMOD to enhance the BYF.
A few of the interventions made possible by KLCDI projects include yak genetic improvement of trans boundary cooperation, consultation with yak cooperative office holders on BYF strategy document and drafting, training in artificial insemination, and technology dissemination.
In addition, among the interventions received through RMS, were yak product diversification and marketing, capacity development for herders and officials in milk processing, first trainings in wool processing, knowledge exchange programs for highland officials, and the completion and printing of BYF strategy documents.
He added that the nation has three yak groups in three highland districts and 12 yak cooperatives in seven highland Dzongkhags with a total of 470 members, including 202 women.
In the meantime, he suggested some priorities for additional interventions, such as the construction of a yak wool processing plant for wool textiles and the development of high-value yak products for export.
The improvement of rangelands and yak breeds through artificial insemination and strengthening of yak cooperatives, the eradication of gids, and the establishment of institutional links and collaboration were other priorities.
Director General for ICIMOD, Dr Pema Gyamtsho, said, “Bhutan has been a founding member of ICIMOD since 1983. We are grateful to the Royal Government of Bhutan for their continuous engagement with us and, in the context of ICIMOD’s raised ambitions for the MTAP.”
Through its MTAP V, ICIMOD is charting its path forward for the next four years in close collaboration with its regional member countries. The consultation in Bhutan was the seventh in a series of country consultations held across its eight regional member countries.
These consultations are meant to help ICIMOD share and invite inputs into its plans for the next four years, translate them into feasible actions plans that can yield tangible results and benefits to the RMCs, and foster regional cooperation among the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) nations.
Furthermore, ICIMOD will actively work to attract investment that will enable the diverse countries and communities of the HKH to transition to greener, more inclusive, and climate-resilient development.
The Secretary for MoAF, also a member of the ICIMOD Board of Governors, Thinley Namgyel, said, “The long-term partnership between ICIMOD and the MoAF is testament to how Bhutan values this cooperation and to our interest in deeper engagement and collaboration with ICIMOD in the coming years.”