'By 2030, we want to grow the livestock sector by 7-8 per cent: an interview with Aijaz Ahmed Mahesar, Secretary Livestock & Fisheries Department, Sindh
Aijaz Ahmed Mahesar boasts of a vast experience in the government sector. He has worked in various capacities in the Excise, Taxation and Control Narcotics Department, Public Health Engineering and Rural Development Department (Government of Sindh), Industries and Commerce Department (Government of Sindh), among many others. He was appointed Secretary Livestock and Fisheries department, Sindh in November 2018. BR Research recently sat down with him to understand the livestock and fisheries sector, challenges and the way forward. Following are the edited excerpts of the discussion:
BRR: What is the progress on the livestock tagging project?
Aijaz Mahesar: It is not currently on our agenda. We initiated it and developed a framework a few years ago. However, we have not arrived at a decision about its mode of implementation. Originally it was to be financed through the Annual Development Plan (ADP) which did not have sufficient funds so we explored the option of Public Private Partnership (PPP). Under this, the cost of implementation exceeded our estimates; hence it will be reviewed further.
BRR: But commercial farms are tagging their animals. Why can this not be scaled up to materialise export potential. What is the budget required to do it full scale?
AM: We do not have sufficient funds. Sindh has a livestock population of 18.5 million. In order to tag a population that large, we need a lot of money. And tagging is only the beginning- we have to vaccinate and provide medicines. Currently we have the financial capacity to vaccinate only 20 percent of our livestock population; we will need substantial raise in our budget to provide for the whole of livestock population.
BRR: Is it not possible for the private sector to undertake this task? If we deregulate domestic meat prices and create a price incentive for private sector, then that will help both in exports and also ensure quality meat in the domestic market.
AM: In our public private partnership mode,l we recommended a similar option. However, it is not possible for one firm or authority to do it. The commercial farms are already maintaining traceability themselves, but the question is to bring the individual farmer owning 2-3 animals into the net so that their animals are traceable, yield better quality and hence become exportable.
BRR: Why do we not see a similar modernisation in livestock as we have seen in poultry industry?
AM: Pakistan government has always supported industries whereas agriculture is our backbone. Moreover, proper investment is required. There should be a banking system for livestock insurance. But they obviously require collateral. A live animal cannot be offered as collateral whereas these farmers either reside in mud houses or otherwise they cannot provide documentation for ownership too. If we don’t invest capital here, they will continue to function in their old ways.
BRR: With growing urbanization, do you see the trend tilting towards bigger farms?
AM: In Punjab, livestock population is mostly with the small farmer. However, in Sindh we have cattle colonies and we are trying to tap this potential. We have decided that the buses which will operate on the BRT line will run on bio-methane gas produced from cow dung collected from Karachi’s cattle colonies. The gas which we can make from cow dung has the potential to fulfill the gas needs of the entire province. But unfortunately it is currently being dumped into the sea and adding to oceanic pollution.
BRR: Can you shed light on some of the broad aspects of Sindh’s livestock policy?
AM: The government intends to grow this sector to a certain level. If our growth is 2.5 percent right now, by 2030 we want to take it to 4-5 percent per annum to achieve an overall growth rate of 7-8 percent. Then again, the implementation of the policy requires funds which we currently do not have.
The biggest problem with our livestock is that it is nondescript. Red Sindhi cow, for example, used to be a nice local breed. The Brazilians took this breed several years ago and today through continuous breed development they are able to get 28-30 litres from that breed whereas in Pakistan that breeds yields only 3-5 litres per day. They spent a lot on R&D to discover which fodder yields better results or which diseases commonly attack the livestock and how to prevent it.
To make non-descript animals productive today, with the current resources it'll take 30-50 years. We need more resources to reduce this time. We will also need to import certain exotic bovine semen for which we require the federal government’s permission.
Our artificial insemination regime is inefficient. The vets conduct it without checking compatibility; hence our breeds have been mixed up in a negative sense because their production capacity has decreased. We cannot reverse the process, but we can control which types of bovine semen can be used to increase the production. For this, we got the Sindh Breeding Authority Act passed whose function is to control the regime of artificial insemination. But again, we do not have the necessary funds to establish the authority and to make it function to its full throttle; so we have taken small steps to move forward on this very important regulatory regime.
BRR: To what degree can artificial insemination improve meat and milk yield considering that other aspects such as feed, environment, clean in place and mother side genetic remain the same.
AM: It will improve considerably between 3-6 generations but a noticeable difference will be seen in the first generation.
BRR: What is currently being done for becoming FMD-free and how much time is required?
AM: The requirement for FMD is that each animal requires two doses per year. One dose costs Rs 550, which means Rs1,100 per animal that the farmer mostly has to pay himself every year.
The journey to become FMD free has stages. We are currently at level-2, where research-based vaccination is going on. To reach out to complete elimination we need to reach level 7. However, in between these levels we have to move forward from developing and manufacturing our own vaccines to cut costs and continue mass vaccination for years. Mass vaccination for FMD would roughly cost Rs 50 billion per annum if we include small ruminants as well because they also run the risk of catching the disease.
BRR: What is the percentage of Sindh’s animals affected by FMD right now?
AM: We have very few outbreaks. Last year there was only one outbreak reported from Landhi Cattle Colony. But because we are not FMD free, foreign buyer will refuse to buy from Pakistan, regardless of fewer outbreaks.
BRR: Can the cattle colonies not be declared as FMD-free zones?
AM: To declare an FMD-free zone, it has some geographical requirements. Tharparkar has the potential here. There is India on one side of Tharparkar, which is fenced so animals cannot move from there. Since it is a desert, a desert animal is trained to stay in the desert, so they will stay inside an isolated place. There are only three roads to Tharparkar that lead out where we can install check posts to ensure no animal from outside joins the herd. Now we can vaccinate the livestock population of Tharparkar which is about 1.1 million. After 3-5 years it will reach level 3. In cattle colonies, however, new animals join the herd regularly from outside so it cannot be certified as FMD-free zone.
BRR: What is your view about price regulation by DMG official? Do you think this is a disincentive for this industry to grow?
AM: Yes, but this is not livestock department’s domain. It is under the local government. It should be allowed to function as a free market but when agriculture related products become expensive, the public does not accept it, unlike, for example, when petrol prices increase.
BRR: As the livestock department can you not push for such reforms since pricing cannot be divorced from other aspects of sectoral management. Is there no platform to discuss this on one table?
AM: No, pricing is the local government’s domain. We do give feedback but decision making is not with the department.
BRR: Let’s pivot to fisheries. What’s keeping the sector from growing?
AM: Let’s talk about inland water first. Prior to 2007-8, we used to have an auction system in which we auctioned fresh waters. In this, the contractors would buy licenses from us, and we would directly get the money which we gave to the finance department. But under that model, the fishermen felt exploited; they would catch the fish but the middlemen would receive remuneration. Eventually, the license system began whereby a fisherman certified by the community would receive a license to fish the whole year round.
BRR: Did this not create a problem of over fishing?
AM: Yes. Moreover, with the licensing system done away with, our revenues reduced drastically which reduced our capacity to develop or restock after the fishing season. With licensing, cooperatives must be developed to protect the interests of the fishermen, ensure that there is no over-fishing, etc. The whole system was marred by the absence of cooperative.
BRR: Why were cooperatives not developed?
AM: With our revenues dipping, the usual reinvestments in the sector got severely restricted and the morale went down. This is why moving forward to create smaller and localised cooperatives was out of focus. Besides, there is one larger cooperative in the fish harbor whose performance and welfare activities are much below expectations.
BRR: What is the situation at marine fisheries?
AM: Sindh coastline is about 350km. Of this, majority of the fish is coming from Karachi’s coast. But because of overfishing, in addition to industrial and municipal waste being dumped along Karachi’s coastline, 80 to 90 percent of the marine life at the coast has been depleted. Moreover, between 2004 and 2007, some foreign trawlers conducted bottom trawling covering an area of 10-15kms and threw back the unwanted dead fish in the sea knowing fully well that a fish that is living will never come in the area where it sees dead fish. Due to this activity, fish do not come in this area.
Another element is the ban during breeding season. The trawlers use illegal undersized nets to catch juvenile fish so we are unable to get maximum economic value out of them. Last year, I forcefully implemented the ban during June and July. Last year our fish exports were lesser than the year before that. This year I hope to exceed that number.
BRR: Why are we inefficient and unable to control such activities?
AM: In 1999, during Pervez Musharraf’s regime our policing powers were taken away and given to Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) on the basis that the provincial government does not have the capacity to implement Turtle Exclusive Device (TED) - a new international requirement. In 2019, we decided to get our policing powers back, but we no longer have sufficient human capital or physical equipment required to control the activities. We hope to move forward and take over the function very soon.
BRR: What are the platforms to coordinate between federal and provincial governments regarding livestock and fisheries?
AM: Platforms exist but due to difference in governance, there is a lack of cooperation. For example, if we want to import bovine semen, the animal husbandry commissioner has to give the NOC. And we have to keep chasing them for it.