The decline in number of yaks grazing by the patch of pastureland at the base of snow-capped mountains has been a cause of concern for the livestock department under Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF).
With increasing members of the nomadic community moving to urban centers, only few are left at home to carry on the tradition of yak-rearing. The department attributes such decline in yak farming to the increased incomes of the nomads due to the Cordyceps and more education the youths are receiving.
In the past, the wealth of a household was measured by the number of yaks they owned but this trend has now reversed.
The government has also realized that besides keeping the tradition of yak husbandry alive, these highlanders also play critical role to safeguard the country’s sovereignty. Their presence in the high altitude mountain ranges in the borders, often considered hostile for living has prevented encroachments.
With decreased yaks, the amount of yak products like chugo (hard cheese) and butter have started to become less and less in the market. Hence, the product is losing its popularity making it difficult for the herders who are already lack-luster about the sale of such products.
But, all hope is not lost. The livestock department will make a much called-for intervention through numerous initiatives which include diversifying the nomads’ products and put-up value addition to the existing products.
The yak cheese production at Haa which started last year is one such initiative.
Dzongkhag Livestock Officer (DLO) in Haa, Loden Jimba who is closely involved with the study, said the cheese production was meant for substituting chugo with high value products. He said that the nomads didn’t have such support from government to venture out with such schemes till date but now with the full support the nomads are able to venture into good business.
He said the officials from the Department made herd-to-herd visits and trained 20 nomads to boost their potential for dairy products.
However the DLO said that the nomads are still in need of the department’s assistance. Once they are confident, they will venture on their own.
“The cheese production encourages herders to rear more yaks and reduces the need to sell yaks,” said Livestock Extension supervisor, Sangay Dorji.
The program was implemented at Layna and Nubri herds where seven herders of Talung village and three herders of Nubri, Paro engaged the herds at Gomthang, Sep, Nubri, Gep, Layna, Judula, Larey and Kerela.
The production of Gouda rather than hard cheese was chosen since it fetched more returns. In addition, it is known that Gouda cheese has a safer shelf life compared to other types of cheese.
The cheese was produced by individual herds and stored at the cellar at Layna where curing and fermentation takes place. The cheese are then transported to Haa main cellar Chumpa where curing continues till the product is marketed and consumed.
“After having proven that it pays them better to produce Gouda cheese, the herders were convinced of many comparative advantages,” Dairy focal person, Tandin Wangchuk said. “Now, they are willing to continue the technology.”
Most of the herders are ready to take up the technology without the technical backstopping from the experts.
The program will be further strengthened and permeated to other herds in the gewog and to Eusu and Katsho gewogs as well. The product diversification like pasteurization of cream, production of soft cheeses and modification of improved cheeses with taste and flavors will be continued. Officials said there are lots of scope for herders to link with the tourism council to have yak shows and product marketing.
The products will be marketed to the hotels at Thimphu and Paro due to lack of market in local areas. The dzongkhag livestock sector of Haa has seemingly discussed with Tashi-Taj Hotel in Thimphu. “The hotel management has promised to take minimum of three kgs of cheese per week throughout the year,” said dzongkhag livestock officer, Loden Jimba said.
In addition the markets are also being explored in other places by taking the cheese samples.