By Gem Tshering
I happened to meet a cattle herder, on my tour to Sektena village under Gakiling gewog in Haa District on 30 September 2013. This is the life style of the herder and his family as narrated by the herder on my journey. As summer ends and autumn rolls by, Ap Tshering Dorji,( 43) and Aum Dago Lham, (39) pack their belongings and check their cattle for their long winter migration. They are accompanied by their son, Peldhen Norbu, (2 years) and daughter, Dechen Dema, (4). Ap Tshering’s elder daughter, Tshering Lham, studies in Jenkena Lower secondary School and is left behind, as education is highly important for their child’s future career. The family travel down to extreme south till Sektena village. This is an annual phenomenon of theirs and it usually starts from late September. “I began helping my father with the cattle, when i was just 12 years old.” Said, Ap Tshering. The cattle roam and grazed around Sektena till May every year. The journey begins from Shari village in Samar gewog. The cattle and the family travel and reach above Lamjigang village on the first day. On the second day, they reach to Mobayna grazing ground for the night halt, after a tiring walk up and down the mountains for seven to eight hours every day.
Ap Tshering and Aum Dago Lham have 25 cattle. There were eight milking cows with calves. Two strong oxen carry all the family’s belongings on their back. They include rations, clothing, tents and cooking utensils. Magom, a cow leads all other herds throughout the trail. She is also closely followed by her newly born calf and Dema, the watch dog. Unfortunately, Bjegham, a sick cow missed her usual journey with her fellow mates. However, her calf tried her best to follow others in the herd along the route.
The cattle migrate to such a long distance for a good cause. As winter approaches in Haa, the grass become scarce. They wander to Sektena, where the sub tropical green fodder trees, flush of green and fresh water awaits them. Due to the availability of nutritious fodder trees like ficus roxburghii, scientific name) (bakhushing, dzongkha) (Nebaro, Lhotsham), ficus semicordata, scientific name) (Kushing, dzongkha) (khanew, Lhotsham) sauruaia nepalensis, scientific name) (mangmadom, dzongkha) (gogun, Lhotsham). Because of this the milk production is high. As such, the cheese and butter production is subsequently quite high too. “I earn Nu.40,000.00 – Nu.50,000.00 in a year from the sale of cheese and butter.” said, Tshering. 30 households from Shari take their cattle down to south with 1200 – 1500 cattle population on annual basis. Some herders make even more than Nu. 200,000.00 from the livestock products. These particular livestock products are the main sources of living for the highlanders. As an intervention, I advised them neither to over lop nor fell down any fodder trees on the way. They said, fodder trees are taken utmost care as their cattle entirely depend upon them. “My daily work is to collect 3–4 backloads of fodder for the calves,” Dago Lham said.
Finally, on the third day, they arrive at their destination- Sektena. Unfortunately, it is a big nightmare for the people out there. The cattle raid the winter crop such as beans, chilly, millet and rice mercilessly. The herders hardly look after their cattle and they freely roam around in the field. It was learnt that the poor farmers have been silently suffering this pain since decades. They never raised any complaint till date on this issue. “You can voice this matter through the Gewog Yargey Tshokchung and if required further in Dzongkhag Yargey Tshokdu.” I said. “We will look into this issue very soon,” replied the Sektena Tshokpa. As per my interview with the community it was considered a severe problem. It must be negotiated and solved for the mutual benefit of Sektena community as well as the cattle herders. Furthermore, it was noticed that there was a medium degree of soil erosion due to grazing and trampling cattle feet along the trail. Some young and older cattle do not make their way back home after the migration and sacrifice their life on the way. These sweet and bitter memories will always linger in my mind for ever. It was worth going on this trip, in addition to my task to initiate Remote Rural Community Development Project activities, under the forestry sector to support the most disadvantaged societies in Sektena.
Tshering is Sr. Dzongkhag Forestry Officer of Haa District