The negative connotations associated with sheep farming as the calling of backward class of society is fast changing as highly qualified youth see it as a business opportunity. Saima Bhat travels to some of the picturesque locations in Kashmir to meet entrepreneurs who are changing the trend.
Fazal Amin, who is in his late twenties, left his lucrative job in Mumbai to realize his childhood dream of rearing sheep in his native town Sopore in North Kashmir. It was not an easy decision for him as his father, a successful contractor, wished his son to join him in his business.
After completing his MBA from Pune in 2008, Fazal earned a job of HR manager in Patni computers in Mumbai but continued it for only two years before he returned home.
Back home he wished to work but didn’t find a suitable job. After researching for one year he decided to make a living out of his hobby of sheep rearing.
In a place like Sopore where people are mostly associated with horticulture business, and for which the town is known for, Fazal wished to do something different.
Fazal’s idea of sheep rearing began taking shape when he read an advertisement of JKEDI in 2011 about a course in entrepreneurship.
“After attending those classes my vision became clear and I decided to start a sheep farm,” says Fazal. Besides, EDI was providing soft loans to budding entrepreneurs at less interest rates under Seed capital fund loan scheme. Under this scheme one part of loan is given as subsidy and other part has to be returned to the J&K Bank after two years.
Fazal says to avail this loan, however, was a very hectic process. “Even after completing the course at EDI, a loan of only Rs two lakhs @ 9 % interest rate was sanctioned in July 2012, for which I had applied in January.”
“Loan amount was released in July but at that part of the year livestock is taken to pastures for grazing and I decided to go to these areas to buy the livestock. But I was asked by EDI to build infrastructure first which could have been done after that,” says Fazal.
The plan got changed and Fazal started building infrastructure. As decided earlier, he was going to build the infrastructure on modern and scientific method including wooden Batten flooring.
He started the infrastructure work from the money he had earned from his job and from the loan amount. “I had some saving as I had started earning from the first year of my college.”
Finally the infrastructure was build. Fazal says that it took him almost Rs 12 lakhs to build a farm on scientific method. He named it after his grandfather, Ramzaan Agro farms.
Spread over 04 kannals of land, Ramzan Agro farms is situated 15 kms away from Sopore town at Sagipora Sopore.
Fazal says that he had planned of starting a farm with 300 ewes but had to satisfy with only 100, since infrastructure had drained him financially.
“But when I consulted my friend Dr Faisal a veterinarian and my father, I was shocked to learn that out of the 100 ewes that I had selected, only two were of the set standard. The ewes were all aged,” says Fazal adding that it was a very tiresome exercise.
Then with the help of his friend and father, Fazal traveled to many places like Pattan, Ganderbal, Bandipora, Kishtwar to select his stock of 70 ewes. These 70 ewes cost him Rs 3 Lakhs and Fazal doesn’t hesitate in saying, “By then I had no money left and I had to take financial help from my father.”
All these 70 ewes are hybrid sheep -Kashmir Merino. The male sheep – rams are provided to farmers by state husbandry department for a limited period of time after which they have to be returned.
As per the department of sheep husbandry, Kashmir Merino breed was evolved around 1960 A.D. at government Sheep Breeding and Research Farm Reasi (Jammu) by crossing local Kashmiri ewe with Tasmanian Merino ram.
Kashmir Merino was bred for the production of fine wool used in garments. Dr Zahoor ul Haq, medical officer, Sheep husbandry department, Kashmir says, “In 1960 government of India permitted for the cross breeding of Kashmiri variety and Merino’s- Australian breeds so that India does not need to import it from other foreign countries. But after that government of India never gave permission for another cross breed.” He adds that there is a dire need for another cross breeding of sheep to tackle the extra demand for meat. “It is a good business and self sustainable. It might be more than 500 or 600 crores business,” he says.
Dr Zahoor says that the EDI promoted units start with 50 to 100 ewes only and so far they must have established 30 to 40 units. “The success rate for sheep farming is more than 90% because Kashmiris do take good care of these sheep.” Besides that sheep husbandry department have 10 farms across Valley which are controlled by government.
After a year in sheep business Fazal says the sheep in his farm are very dear to him. My great grandfather also used to do same business and most importantly our Prophet (PBUH) was into the same business so I also wished to do the same, but I didn’t know how,” says Fazal.
While speaking of his future plans, Fazal says that for three years he is not going to sell off any sheep. “I just want to increase their number up to 500 and will keep that as my level. In future I will extend my farm as well. I want it to be a complete farm which will include a dairy and orchards as well.”
In Kashmir more than 75 percent of sheep populations are cross breeds- Kashmir Merino, corriedale sheep- dual purpose breed for meat and wool, Hortipastoral breed- particularly for the areas where horticulture is developed, Down breed- limited to some farms only and the Rambouillet breed which is specific to Jammu only.
For Fazal his farm business is still at its infancy where he is investing without any return. He says it has been possible for him to continue with it because he had already some savings and his father is continuously supporting him financially. Besides that, it has been easier for him as he had the orchard land in which he started his farm and in addition to that he had the grazing land also available, for which others have to pay.
So far Fazal says the total investment must be around Rs 25 lakhs. He says that his father is also interested in continuing with his farm.
Fazal suggests that it is very important that shepherd must be known to you. A shepherd along with his family are employees of Fazal.
The only care these animals need is they must be protected from foot rots and need vaccination at proper time. He further says that the months of December, January and February remain tough and need special attention against chilly weather. “That is why this year I have already sown turnips, carrots and other eatables in my orchard. I want to remain prepared for winters.”
After a year with Kashmir Merino sheep what Fazal earns from them is wool and their manure. “We used to get fertilizers for Rs 30, 000 to 40, 000 but for this year I used the manure from sheep and saved that much amount. And for wool we sell it off at Rs 60 to 80 per Kg and we get wool twice from them annually. In March one sheep gives about 2 kgs of wool and in September, after returning from mountains 4 Kgs of wool are harvested from each.”
Fazal says that the mortality rate of these animals depend upon the care one provides them.
Dressed in branded outfits Fazal says that he feels honoured if his friends call him a pohol (Shepherd). “I don’t care if anybody says that I returned from Pune and couldn’t get a job and that is why I am doing this. I am quite satisfied with my decision.”
But he says that if he hadn’t the financial support from his family he would have never achieved the position where he is presently. “EDI says that you will have to return the loan amount after two years but the Bank starts charging interest from day one and the loans are not provided at the promised rate of interest. Besides the government departments are to be blamed too. “Under NABARD each district has Rs 25 lakhs funds but when I approached Chief Office Baramulla, they didn’t approve my papers and at the end I heard this year the funds under NABARD have lapsed.”
While elaborating more on the funds available under different state and centrally sponsored schemes, Dr Zahoor says that there are three main schemes. Mini sheep farm in private sector is a state sponsored scheme for 50 ewes unit and for it Bank provides financial assistance of Rs 2.38 lakhs, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) a centrally sponsored scheme for 25 ewes unit in participatory mode and Intensive Development for Small Rabbits and Ruminants (IDSSR) under NABARD for 25 ewes and 500 ewes (centrally sponsored scheme). The 25 ewe’s unit is particularly meant for the Chopan families, who possess sheep but under this scheme their unit is upgraded up to 25 ewe’s unit. Under all these schemes the sheep farmers have to return the ewes and rams back to the sheep husbandry department.
But a sheep farmer from Shivpora Srinagar, Mohammad Aslam Bhat has a different story to narrate.
Bhat a B.com graduate from a middle class family, was interested in sheep rearing for a long time and owned 15 sheep but one day his father, informed him about the course in EDI. Bhat got excited as he wished to make his career with sheep rearing.
After completing with all the formalities, Bhat’s loan of Rs 8 lakhs got sanctioned and he started with 50 ewe’s unit at Eidgah. He got separated from his family and then started living with his sheep in his farm named Allah’s sheep. But destiny had something else in store for Allah’s sheep and in the very first year most of the sheep got infected with foot rot and Bhat received a major setback.
“Besides that I once went to a J&K Bank for some work but there I saw that the loan repayment which was to start after a year had already started after three months only. And I was amazed to see that the interest rate was at 11% when EDI had promised us it for 9% only,” says Bhat.
Bhat adds that the approved rate for buying was Rs 5, 000 but when one goes into market the cost of Kashmir Merino is Rs 8, 000 to 12, 000. “For a person based in Srinagar, Sheep Farming is not a good option because a Srinagar based person has to manage from hay stack to infrastructure for hard cash. And for the people living in rural areas at least they have their own land.”
After the setback in first year Bhat is still in business with sheep but what he does currently is he buys sheep in March and then keeps them with shepherd for summer months and then sells them off once they return in October. “Presently I am working on no profit, no loss basis Bhat even suggests that “if anyone is interested in sheep farming, he/she should keep it as his secondary job and not primary.”
Mukhtar Ahmad, Project Coordinator-SKYE of Mercy Corps is also of the same opinion. He says that under the scheme of Mercy Corps they don’t allow people from Srinagar to go for sheep farming. “It is not viable for the people in Srinagar and that is why it is preferably given to the rural people who at least have free grazing land.”
Mercy Corps also provides loan @ 6% interest rate since 2013 but they don’t give any money as subsidy. Presently 15 sheep farmers are associated with them in the outskirts of Srinagar or in rural areas.