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Gujarat's 70% high breed Kankrej cow "destroyed". Reason? Forest dept promoted a poisonous wild weed

Ramzanbhai: In black bandi
By Our Representative
Kankrej, one of the best cow breeds in the world originating in Kutch, Gujarat, has suffered a major decline by about 70% because of the environmental destruction caused by the state forest department's "faulty" policy to promote a wild weed called gando baval. Once sown, the wild weed spreads like wild fire, devouring all types of vegetation, one reason it is called gando or mad baval (tree) in Gujarat.
Talking to media ahead of the inauguration of a pastoralists' exhibition in Ahmedabad, Kutch pastoralists gathered there to promote their way of life and products, ranging from hand woven clothes to camel cheese, told news persons that gando baval "ate away" huge portions of one of Asia's best grasslands, Banni in Kutch, leading to "untimely death of more thanm70% of the Kankrej cows."
"There were more than one lakh Kankrej cows in the Banni area, which has 19 village panchayats, two decades ago. Currently, their numbers are down to about 30,000, and the main reason for this is that the cows began eating the little indigestible pods of gando baval in the absence of grass at several places. They just couldn't digest them and would die", said Ramzanbhai Isa Halenputra, a cow breeder for several decades.
"The result is", he said, "There are more buffaloes than cows in the area. The wild weed does not impact buffaloes, one reason why we have shifted to breeding them instead of the Kanjrej cow. The Banni buffaloes eat very little, and produce lots of milk, one reason why Kutchi pastoralists are depending on them for their livelihood." Currently, Brazil is said to be the saviour the highly valued cow breed, giving up to 50 litres of milk.
The "faulty" state forest department policy of promoting gando baval in Banni, introduced into the local ecosystem by the erstwhile rulers of Kutch and Saurashtra five decades ago, was partially rejected in 2005, when the state government reached the conclusion that it was not only attacking grasslands but also forest areas.
Imported from Mexico to arrest the advance of the desert and protect coastal crops from harmful saline winds, the state forest department found gando baval the easiest way to show that greenery was flourishing under its guidance and control.
To quote an expert observation, "Prosopis juliflora, which is the wild weed's generic name, turned out to be an environmental monster, growing at lightning speed, enveloping the farmlands and rendering them infertile. It deprived cattle of their sustenance, devastating the local economy. The groundwater table in Banni dropped, given that the gando baval guzzles enormous quantities of water as it spreads over dry terrain."
To fight gando baval, the state government legalised the business of making charcoal from wild babool. This charcoal is of high quality, and is much in demand as fuel by local industrial units. "The decision not only changed the economy of the region; it also positively impacted the Banni grassland", the expert observation said. Ramzanbhai agrees, "The spread of the gando baval has stopped as a result, but has not helped recover the lost ground."
Organized by the Centre for Pastoralism, the four-day exhibition, titled Living Lightly, has brought together pastoralists from different parts of the country to speak about their efforts, experiences, feats, and failures. It has seen the camel breeders enter into an agreement with Amul to distribute the highly nutritious camel milk for Rs 55 per litre.
To promote camel milk, which is known to fight diabetes, the Gujarat government, it was announced, has given Rs 2.75
crore to the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation to setup a separate chilling plant for camel milk to give a great fillip to the camel breeders who on an average will earn 2.5-3 lakhs every year by selling their milk.

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