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Economics of yak farming with relation to tourism in Nepal

B.K.P. Shaha

Directorate of Livestock Production, Department of Livestock Services, Ministry of Agriculture, Kathmandu, Nepal

Summary

Traditional yak farming in Nepal is declining at an alarming rate, characterised by a measured shift from traditional butter and hard cheese (Chhurpi) to modern Swedish style hard cheese, yak steak and as pack animals for tourism. Also there has been a positive shift in number of animals/herd due to economic reasons such as economic return per herd and per animal. It has been noticed that small herds (15 heads) show positive but very low gross margins compared to that of economically viable sized herds (55 heads). The economic return of a household running a hotel business in a yak raising area is five times higher than that of a household with an average herd size of 55 animals. However, yak, as a pack animal in the tourism sector, is essential to carry the loads of tourists in the Himalayan region of Nepal. Without yak and their crosses, it is impossible to strengthen the growing tourism industry in this remote and rugged terrain. In addition to this, the meat value of yak steak in these areas is another major reason closely associated with tourism development. To develop tourism in Nepal, there is an urgent need to readdress policies that affect yak husbandry for the mutual benefit of farmers as well as for rural-urban migration and employment. A slow transition policy has been prescribed in this paper to resolve the current issues related with yak husbandry and need for tourism.

Keywords: economy, Nepal, tourism, yak farming

Introduction

Yak husbandry is one of the important and indispensable aspects of the Sherpa's life in the high altitude rangelands of Nepal. Currently, about 56,488 yak and yak-cattle hybrids are present in Nepal and are distributed in the highlands of the 14 northern districts. Yak population in Nepal is declining (about 200 thousand yak and hybrids in 1961) at an alarming rate (Paudel 1993) due to lower economic benefits derived from yak husbandry. In addition, the more educated youth of the Sherpa community is unwilling to remain in traditional yak husbandry because of more lucrative opportunities in the trekking industry. Yak is one of a few domesticated animals that can survive in a cold and low oxygen environment that result in a low input feeding system. They have strong limbs, small solid hooves with hard edges and a narrow hoof fork that make them ideal for carrying heavy loads to supply both local and tourism demands in the rugged and snowy terrains of the Himalayas (Cai and Wiener 1995). As there is no suitable substitute animal for carrying such loads, yak and its hybrids remain an indispensable part of the trekking industry above 2500 metres above sea level (masl) (Joshi et al. 1994).

An attempt has been made in this study to highlight the usefulness of yak in the Himalayan rangeland of Nepal with special reference to the socio-economic relationship of the Sherpa community with tourism and yak husbandry. The constraints and potentials of yak husbandry in Nepal have also been identified and relevant policy implications have been suggested.

Materials and methods

The author visited Manang, Mustang, Solukhumbu and Rasuwa Districts of Nepal and interviewed yak farmers of Chame (Manang), Muktinath (Mustang), Tyangboche, Junubeshi villages and the government yak farm, Syangboche, in Solukhumbu district, and Chandanbari and Chilime villages of Rasuwa districts. Different types of participatory rural appraisal (PRA) tools were used to extract relevant data for this study. Other relevant data were collected from published and unpublished sources. Thus collected data were grouped into two categories of different herd sizes for comparative performance analyses. The major limitation of this study is data deficiency. Hence, this paper should be considered as a case study rather than a detailed survey.

Tourism and yak population

There are about 56,488 heads of yak and its hybrids in the country distributed over 14 Himalayan districts in the kingdom (Table 1). The highest yak population is present in Solukhumbu District, followed by Dolpa, Mustang, Rasuwa, Manang, Dolakha and Taplejung. The population distribution of yak and its hybrids in various districts of Nepal is directly related with the relative importance of the tourism sector in these areas. It is quite obvious to note that Mount Everest area attracts more high paying tourists than other trekking routes of Nepal. Hence, the yak population is the highest in Mount Everest trekking area compared to other trekking areas (Dolpa, Mustang, Manang, Helambu and Langtang). During 1996, the total trekking permits issued by the National Authority of Nepal were 6752, 4944, 15,562 and 1728 for Everest, the Helumbu and Langtang areas, Annapurna (Manang, Mustang) and other trekking routes, respectively (NRAN 1999). The yak and its hybrid population and flow of tourists clearly show a positive correlation both in terms of pack animal needs and its products such as raw milk and hard cheese for consumption by tourists.

Economics of yak husbandry

The following assumptions were made for the estimation of the gross margins of two prevailing yak herd sizes that are commonly observed in Nepal.

Table 1. Yak and hybrids population in Nepal.

District/village

No. of population

Taplejung

4036

Shankhuwasabha

3024

Solukhumbu

12,059

Sindhupalchowk

321

Ramechhap

1229

Dolakha

4470

Rasuwa

5027

Gorkha

3641

Manang

4709

Mustang

5037

Dolpa

6605

Mugu

2250

Humla

2029

Jumla

2051

Total

56,488

Source: DLSO (1999).

In a herd of 15 (A) adult animals the percentage composition of the gross income is highest from meat sale; followed by pack load income, milk sale, Chirpa (undercoat) sale and Pu (hair) sale (Table 2). On the variable cost structure side, the percentage composition of hay feeding cost/year (milking), hay feeding cost/year (draft), hay feeding cost/year (dry), grain/potato feeding (milking), herdsmen cost/year and food transportation cost/year are estimated to be 16, 30, 11, 18, 24 and 1.8%, respectively. The gross income from meat sale is the highest because of the popularity of yak steak among tourists. The gross return from pack animals arising from tourism (meat and pack animal value) is the biggest monetary attraction for the Sherpa community to rear yak. When these yak are culled, they become valuable as yak steak. Both meat and pack animal commodities are major incentives for modern yak husbandry in Nepal. Without the tourism source of income generated by yak husbandry, the positive but very low gross margin (Nepalese Rupee (NR) 30,825 of small herd size A), clearly signifies that traditional yak husbandry for milk and butter is no longer a profitable and sustainable enterprise, especially among the younger Sherpa population.1

Table 2. Gross margin estimation of a herd of 15 adult animals (5 lactating cows, 5 dry cows, 5 castrated males and 4 calves).

A

Gross income

Unit

Yield/animal

Nos.

Rate

Amount NR1

Share (%)

 

Milk sale (180 days lactation)

litre

225

5

30

33,750

9.07

 

Chirpa sale/year

kg

1.5

15

250

5625

1.51

 

Pu sale/year

kg

1.2

15

150

2700

0.73

 

Meat sale/year

kg

150

3

400

180,000

48.38

 

Off-farm income as load/year

day

150

5

200

150,000

40.31

 

Total

       

372,075

100.00

B

Variable cost

Unit

Concentrates

Nos.

Rate

Amount

Share (%)

 

Hay feeding cost/year (milking)

kg

240

5

45

54,000

15.82

 

Hay feeding cost/year (draft)

kg

450

5

45

101,250

29.67

 

Hay feeding cost/year (dry)

kg

160

5

45

36,000

10.55

 

Grain/potato feeding (milking)

kg

120

15

35

63,000

18.46

 

Herdsmen cost/year

day

270

2

150

81,000

23.74

 

Food transportation cost

day

30

1

200

6000

1.76

 

Total

       

341,250

100.00

C

Gross margin (A B)

       

30,825

 

1. US$ 1 = 73 Nepalese Rupee (NR) in September 2000.

In the herd of 55 (B) adult animals, the percentage composition of the gross income is once again the highest from meat sale (55%), followed by pack load income (34%), milk sale (7.8%), Chirpa sale (1.6%) and Pu sale (0.8%). On the variable cost structure side, the percentage composition of hay feeding cost/year for milking Nak (female yak), hay feeding cost/year for pack yak, hay feeding cost/year for dry Nak, grain or potato winter feeding for milking Nak, herdsmen cost/year and food transportation cost for herdsmen are estimated to be 17, 32, 12, 25, 13 and 1.3%, respectively (Table 3).

Table 3. Gross margin estimation of the herd of 55 adult animals (15 lactating cows, 15 dry cows, 15 castrated and 10 steers along with 12 calves).

A

Gross income

Unit

Yield/animal

Nos.

Rate

Amount NR

Share (%)

 

Milk sale (180 days lactation)

litre

225

15

30

101,250

7.78

 

Chirpa sale/year

kg

1.5

55

250

20,625

1.58

 

Pu sale/year

kg

1.2

55

150

9900

0.76

 

Meat sale/year

kg

150

12

400

720,000

55.31

 

Off-farm income as load/year

day

150

15

200

450,000

34.57

 

Total

       

1,301,775

100.00

B

Variable cost

 

Concentrates

Nos.

Rate

Amount

Share (%)

 

Hay feeding cost/year (milking)

kg

240

15

45

162,000

17.27

 

Hay feeding cost/year (draft)

kg

450

15

45

303,750

32.37

 

Hay feeding cost/year (dry)

kg

160

15

45

108,000

11.51

 

Grain/potato feeding (milking)

kg

120

55

35

231,000

24.62

 

Herdsmen cost/year

day

270

3

150

121,500

12.95

 

Food transportation cost

day

30

2

200

12,000

1.28

 

Total

       

938,250

100.00

C

Gross margin (A - B)

       

363,525

 

The gross income from meat sale is even higher in herd B than herd A because of the larger herd size (Joshi 1982). In addition to this, the gross return from pack animals used for trekking is the biggest monetary incentive to raise yak for the Sherpa community. After culling these yak are also valuable for local consumption. Both of these economic activities (meat and transportation) are the major incentives for modern yak husbandry associated with tourism in Nepal. However, the positive gross margin (NR 363,525) of herd B clearly signifies that the large share of income from meat and pack yak generated by tourism sector (NR 1.17 million) outweighs the income generated by traditional yak husbandry for milk, hard cheese and butter. Therefore, traditional yak husbandry is not a profitable enterprise.

The income generated from hotel operations and pack animals associated with the trekking business along the most popular trekking routes of Nepal is about five times higher than that of traditional yak husbandry in Nepal, all in the short period of about five months in a year. Without yak as pack and meat animals, there is a remote chance that the growing demand for food and transportation need for tourism and trekking sector in Nepal can thrive in the future.

Despite the lucrative incentives from yak husbandry of larger herd sizes, younger people in Sherpa are attracted toward more rewarding means of making money such as working as guides and porters for trekking and mountaineering expeditions. These people are aware of the hardship of yak husbandry in remote and inaccessible areas and the low return on investment as compared to the hotel and trekking businesses. For this reason and the cheap availability and accessibility of Tibetan yak, they prefer instead to import them as pack animals. This along with the high labour cost in the mountain region is major setback for traditional yak husbandry in Nepal. Therefore, there is an urgent need to find incentives to support traditional yak husbandry in Nepal.

Problems of yak husbandry

The major problems of the yak husbandry are:

Solutions

So far as solutions to the above mentioned problems are concerned, the following policy prescriptions are suggested:

Acknowledgements

The author is grateful to the yak herders of Solukhumbu, Rasuwa and Upper Mustang districts for their valuable information for this study. The author also would like to acknowledge the help of Mr Ramchandra Devkota, Farm Manager of Livestock Farm, Syanboche, for his valuable help during this study.

References

Cai L. and Wiener G. 1995. The yak. FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand. 237 pp.

DLSO (District Livestock Service Offices). 1999. Annual Progress Reports 1998/99. District Livestock Service Offices, Kathmandu, Nepal. 146 pp.

Joshi D.D. 1982. Yak and chauri husbandry in Nepal. HMG Press, Singhdarbar, Kathmandu, Nepal, XVII. 145 pp.

Joshi D.D., Lund P.N., Miller D.J. and Shrestha S.K. 1994. Yak production in Nepal. In: Rongchang Zh., Jianlin H. and Jianping W. (eds), Proceedings of the 1st international congress on yak held in Lanzhou, P.R. China, 49 September 1994. Supplement of Journal of Gansu Agricultural University, Lanzhou, P.R. China. pp. 105112.

Khan O. 1995. Forward speech. In: Cai L. and Wiener G. (eds), The yak. FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand. 3 pp.

NRAN (National Research Associates of Nepal). 1999. Nepal District Profile. Fourth edition. Kathmandu, Nepal. 38 pp.

Paudel R.M. 1993. The yak and its importance in central Asia and particularly Nepal. MSc. thesis, Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK. 67 pp.

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