GUWAHATI: Yak farmers can now afford a smile as the multi-purpose bovid living in the highlands of Himalayan region has been declared as a food animal by the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI).
Last year, Arunachal Pradesh-based ICAR-National Research Centre (ICARN) had written to FSSAI urging it to declare yak as a food animal. The agency then sought inputs from the Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying and it recommended that yak may be considered as a food animal under FSSAI.
ICARN Director Dr Mihir Sarkar was ecstatic. “I am thrilled,” he exclaimed. He said the FSSAI approval would boost the yak production system in the country through commercial rearing and consumption and by adopting the semi-confinement farming system developed by ICARN.
“The reason why the yak population is decreasing is that it is less remunerative. The animal’s milk and meat are not part of the conventional meat and dairy industry and consumed only locally. There was also no big market,” Dr Sarkar told this newspaper. He said the FSSAI approval would encourage a lot of people to rear yak for commercial purposes.
“It will open up several vistas of economic benefits for both yak farmers and food processors,” he added. Yak milk is highly nutritious. It is rich in fat, contains essential minerals and has 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% SNF. Traditional yak milk products are central to the cuisine of the highlanders but they have limitations to appeal to a wider palate. The meat of yak is considered very lean and better than beef.
India has some 58,000 yaks, found on the heights of Arunachal, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh. In Arunachal, their population is estimated to be around 24,000, found in Tawang, West Kameng and Shi Yomi districts.
The animal has intense socio-cultural importance for the pastoral rearing communities due to centuries-old transhumance practices. However, the past few decades witnessed an unprecedented decline in its population.
Although factors such as inbreeding, cross-hybridization and unscientific farming practices precipitated the worsening trend, disillusionment of younger generation due to the hardships of yak rearing stands out as one of the prime reasons for mass desertions from the occupation and the consequent declining population.
The animal is susceptible to harsh and inclement weather conditions due to climate change, diseases, attack by wild animals etc.