Foot And Mouth Disease Can Ruin Our Mutton Industry

Death & disease depressing farmers and shepherds. NADCP fails to keep our sheep healthy 

TO control foot and mouth disease (FMD) & brucellosis in India, Prime Minister Modi launched the National Animal Disease Control Programme (NADCP)  in September, 2019. Government of India aims at vaccinating 100% cattle, buffalo, sheep, goat and pig population for FMD and 100% bovine female calves of 4-8 months of age for brucellosis with the total outlay of Rs.13, 343.00 crore for five years (2019-20 to 2023-24). The aim of the National Animal Disease Control Programme for FMD and Brucellosis (NADCP) is to control FMD by 2025 with vaccination and its eventual eradication by 2030. This will result in increased domestic production and ultimately in increased exports of milk and livestock products. NADCP is a centrally sponsored scheme wherein 100% funding is  provided by the Union Government to the States / UTs. Inspite of 100 % funding, authorities at helm have failed to procure anti FMD vaccines in J&K. There is a huge shortage of these vaccines. The  sheep husbandry department officials say that the animal husbandry department is the nodal agency for NACDP implementation and they are supposed to procure the vaccines. The officers in animal husbandry departments claim that because of COVID 19 second wave the procurement got delayed, but this is not a satisfactory answer at all.

Recently, Abdul Rashid who lives in remote Basant Wodder village of Khansahib sub division in Budgam flagged an issue related to some disease, which showed all resemblance to FM disease, affecting the sheep population in Manzem Pather , Shongel Pall and Pal Maidan meadows. These are the designated pasturelands located in Raithan forest range near DoodhPathri where Kashmir shepherds halt for a month or so before moving to the upper reaches of Pir Panjaal by June 15th.

The issue was soon amplified online and the Technical Officer in District Sheep husbandry office Budgam, Dr Jan Mohammad responded quickly. In his comment on my facebook post , the officer said:

“We are on it and the whole staff of Budgam organization is working tirelessly round the clock reaching out to sheep farmers. By the timely action initiated by District Organization including strategic ring vaccination and on time symptomatic treatment , the situation is by and large under control with negligible to no mortalities of late” 

However, soon, locals flagged the issue of the death of 50-60 sheep in the last two weeks in the Dishkal area which was confirmed by sheep farmers as well. However, the matter is being underplayed and even dismissed as false.

Ghulam Mohammad Chopan, a shepherd,  had called the owner upon the death of a lamb from FMD, only to be told off. He said,  “Nobody trusts us. We are being labeled as liars. The owners who live in the villages around this pastureland, do come here to see dead bodies of their sheep but those who hail from far off villages neither come here nor they trust us “

Another shepherd, Bashir Ahmad Chopan from Lanilabb Mujpathri had requested some officials of the sheep husbandry department to come to his rescue. Instead,  they yelled, “I was threatened by some officials who told me that I would be sent behind bars” instead of redressing the matter.

Bashir’s elder brother alleged that officials of the sheep department were more concerned about their private practice rather than coming to treat their flock.

Foot and mouth disease also called FMD is a viral disease that affects cloven hoofed animals like cattle, deer, pigs, antelopes, gazelles, goats and sheep. The left hoof, divided hoof or split hoof is a hoof split into two toes. The FMD virus which belongs to the Picornaviridae family of viruses causes high fever which lasts for 2 to 6 days. This is followed by lingual blisters which affect the oral cavity as well. The feet also get affected causing lameness due to their rupture.

According to Dr Imran, Technical Officer to Director Sheep Husbandry Kashmir, FMD was most common in cattle (cows , bulls , buffaloes ) but this time there was a  sudden surge of this infectious disease in sheep. These complaints were brought to the attention of  District sheep husbandry officer Budgam Dr Ashraf Baba.

Additionally, a first aid camp which had to be set up on June 15th in the Diskhal area was non-functional until June 21st (12 noon). Those responsible must be made accountable. Atleast, awareness campaigns should be designed to enlighten shepherds so they can minimise mortality and limit the disease in their sheep.

Every year from May 15th onwards 80 % of the sheep population go to highland meadows  with shepherds. The shepherds are paid by sheep farmers @ Rs 350 to 450 per season. The season lasts between 4 to 6 months. If the majority of the sheep are in meadows , the adequate number of vets and para-vets need to be with them. These professionals are highly paid and they have no business sitting in their block or district offices. If there are 20 trained vets working for the sheep husbandry department in a district , at least 15 must be with the shepherds in pasturelands for at least 4 to 5 months on a rational basis. In fact,  there is a roaster maintained by the department of sheep husbandry for some professional vets. They are supposed to be available in meadows for a given period of time two weeks a month, but in some cases these veterinary doctors skip the duties and ask the para-vets like flock assistants , flock supervisors to run the show. On the other hand the officers (qualified vets) draw TA, DA as well from Government  treasury.This issue needs to be taken seriously and duty roaster should be maintained for all the vets and para vets so that they are available in the meadows all the time in summer months on a rotational basis.

The FMD cases were seen in Kashmir around April or May for the first time . The Govt should have procured the vaccines around the same time. How could COVID 19 be an impediment in making orders for medicine procurement by the sheep or animal husbandry department? Even after so many sheep mortalities, there is severe dearth of these vaccines. The Sheep husbandry department has procured some 50,000 to 60,000 vaccines from its own resources which will not suffice even 5 % of sheep population in J&K.

As per 20th livestock census of 2018-19 sheep population was estimated to be around 32 lakhs (3.2 million) in Jammu & Kashmir. Experts say that the population of sheep has been on rise in Kashmir valley for the last 10 years and now we have different varieties of sheep available, which not only produce good quality mutton but also are known for quality wool. Majority of the local sheep available in Kashmir is of Kashmir Marino variety which is the cross breed between Merino Ram and traditional Kashmiri eve. Educated young men and women are opting for sheep farming as they see it as a career in view of local mutton demand. Sheep husbandry department should work in such a way that more youth opt for sheep farming in the next 5 to 10 years. They need to guide the sheep farmers and shepherds constantly and work with full zeal and dedication.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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