Haa Summer Festival: Platform for Regional cooperation for sustainable yak production in Kangchenjunga Landscape

14-15 July 2018: The Kangchenjunga Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KLCDI) partners from India, Nepal and Bhutan participated in the Haa Summer Festival from 14th to 15th July 2018 at Haa, Bhutan. The KLCDI is a transboundary conservation and development programme jointly implemented by the government of Bhutan, India and Nepal. It is facilitated and supported by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) based in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The festival brought together more than 500 visitors and it was graced by His Excellency, Dasho Tshering Tobgay, Prime Minister of Bhutan and other dignitaries. The objectives of festival were to celebrate rich traditions of Bhutan’s nomadic herders, its living-culture, unique Bhutanese cuisine, traditional sports and religious performances.

In the two days event, the KCLDI team showcased conservation and development activities, awareness materials, and demonstrated good practices on yak farming from all three countries. Mr. Palzang Lanchenpa, yak herder from North Sikkim and Mr. Chandra Nepal, yak herder from East Nepal shared their experiences on yak farming from their country perspectives. Innovative value chain products such as such as dog chew produced from yak milk was also demonstrated.

Alongside the festival, a consultative meeting was organized among yak herders, livestock officials and forestry partners for transboundary cooperation on yak. Individual country presentation highlighted status of current trends in yak farming. Inaccessibility has largely lead to marginalization of yak herding in the landscape. The younger generation herders are losing interest in yak herding due to hardships, impacts of climate chance and limited returns. Yak herders as well as yak population are on a declining trend. However, national governments are making efforts to revitalize yak farming in the landscape. Mr. Sonam Wangdi, coordinator, KLCDI Bhutan stated that government has prioritized highland development as one of flagship programme in its 12 FYP. This programme is expected to bring immense benefit to socio-economic development of yak herders. Similarly, Dr. Kailash Gaira, Coordinator, KLCDI India mentioned about the India’s National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem that can provide opportunities for sustaining yak system. Mr. Chandra Dangol, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Forest and Environment, Nepal reiterated the importance of yak farming in the Nepal and shared about recent rangeland policy that are in support of yak production.

Interaction among herders and livestock officials indicated common issues such as breed deterioration, winter fodder shortage, limited value chains development and less interest for yak farming by younger generation herders. Mr. Kipchu, yak herder from Haa submitted that there has not been any satisfactory technological innovation in yak product value addition. Some of these local products such as hard cheese are not able to compete in the modern markets. He also noted that Nepal’s experience in making yak cheese, dog chew, cosmetics and woolen handicrafts can benefit other herders in region. Also, herders voiced their desire to benefit from tremendous progress made in yak industry development from PR China.

Dr. Karma Bhutia, Joint Director from Sikkim Livestock Department stated that “Our common challenges can best be addressed efficiently through regional cooperation and partnerships”. According to Mr. Towchu Rabgay, Department of Livestock, Bhutan, “There is an urgent need to cooperate in areas of yak breed development”. He suggested collaboration and exchange of yak germplasm and reproductive biotechnologies among the Yak Breeding Stations of Nepal, India and Bhutan.

The meeting recommended working towards a regional grass root level institution such as “Kangchenjunga Landscape Yak Herders Association”. This could be an aggregation of existing herder’s groups/associations in the KLCDI pilot sites of respective country. For instance, Falelung Chauri Palak Krishak Samuha, Panchthar, eastern Nepal, traditional yak herders group (Zhumsa) of North Sikkim and yak herders group of Haa, Bhutan which is currently in the formative stage. Some common activity that the association could deliver are organizing annual yak festivals, exchange of good quality breeding bulls, exchange of knowledge and experience on yak value chains and relevant technologies.

Herder and KLCDI partner stated that the festival and interactive session has facilitated cross learning on conservation and development issues in the landscape. It provided platform for discussing regional cooperation using yak as an entry point. Participants highlighted that establishing herder’s network through regional yak association is a positive step towards conservation and development of yak in Kangchenjunga transboundary landscape.

Contributed by Towchu Rabgay, KLCDI Bhutan team, Department of Livestock, MoAF, Thimphu

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