Yak farmers of Himalayan highlands have a reason to cheer after a scientific panel of the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India approved the recommendation of the Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying to declare Himalayan yak as a food animal.
The ‘food animal’ tag will become official once it is notified in the gazette after approval by a competent authority.
“The reason why the yak population is decreasing is yak farming is less remunerative. The animal’s milk and meat are not part of the conventional meat and dairy industry and are consumed only locally. Also, there is no big market,” Mihir Sarkar, director of ICAR-National Research Centre on Yak, Department of Agricultural Research and Education, Ministry of Agriculture said.
He said if yak is declared a food animal, the economic benefits it could bring may encourage more people to take up yak farming.
Yak milk is highly nutritious. It is rich in fat and protein and contains many essential minerals. It is also deemed to have medicinal value.
As per the nutritional analysis, yak milk contains 78-82% water, 7.5-8.5% fat, 4.9-5.3% protein, 4.5-5.0% lactose and 12.3-13.4% fat and solids-not-fat.
Traditional yak milk products are central to the cuisine of the highlanders.
Yak meat is considered lean and better than beef.
India has around 58,000 yaks, found on the heights of Arunachal, Sikkim, Himachal and Ladakh. In Arunachal, their population is estimated at 24,000, found in Tawang, West Kameng and Shi Yomi districts.
Though the animal has intense socio-cultural significance to the pastoral rearing communities, the past few decades witnessed a decline in its population. The decline is partly blamed on a lack of interest on the part of today’s youngsters to engage in yak rearing as it is a demanding job that offers very less in return.
The move is expected to help check decline in the population of the high-altitude bovine animal by making it a part of the conventional milk and meat industry, an official at the National Research Centre (NRC) on Yak at Dirang in West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh said.
Food Animals are those that are raised and used for food production or consumption by humans.
The NRC-Yak had in 2021 submitted a proposal to the FSSAI, for considering the yak as a food animal. However, The FSSAI responded with an official approval recently after a recommendation from the department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, NRC-Yak Director Dr Mihir Sarkar informed.
The animal play multi-dimensional socio-cultural-economic role for the pastoral nomads who rear yaks mainly for earning their nutritional and livelihood security due to virtual inexistence of other agricultural activity in the high reaches of Himalayan region.
Traditionally, yaks are reared under transhumance system which is primitive, unorganized and full of hardship.
“FSSAI’s recognition of Yak as food producing animal will help farmers benefit economically for rearing the animal and it will open up several vistas of economic benefits for both farmers and food processors,” Dr Sarkar said.
He said the Centre has developed a semi-intensive model of yak rearing in which yaks are maintained in open area as well as in paddock round the year. It is widely believed that declaration of yak as a food animal by FSSAI will pave the way for its commercial rearing and consumption by adopting the yak rearing model developed by NRC-Yak.
Dr Sarkar said that the Yak population in the country is decreasing at an alarming rate over the years.
As per the latest census carried out in 2019, India has 58,000 yaks which is around 25 per cent drop from last livestock census carried out in 2012.
“This drastic decline in yak population in India has become a cause of concern to the local users, government officials and those who promote conservation for animal genetic diversity,” Dr Sarkar said.
Yak milk is highly nutritious, rich in fat, contain essential minerals and have medicinal value.
Yak farmers produce various traditional meat products. These products are confined to local community level, produced and sold locally, the director said, adding that Yak meat is known to be very lean and it is better than beef.
“The decline in yak population could be attributed to less remuneration from yak and so the younger generations are reluctant to continue with nomadic yak rearing. It is mainly because yak milk and meat are not a part of the conventional dairy and meat industry; their sale is limited to local consumers,” he said.
However, commercialization of these milk and meat products will lead to entrepreneurship development. But for that it has to enter into conventional meat industry, Dr Sarkar said.