The importance of research and authentic data cannot be denied, especially in the context of planning and forming short-term and long-term strategies. If the figures are not reliable, the policies devised to address different issues will be faulty and not evidence-based.
Unfortunately, in Pakistan the non-availability of authentic data is a major problem. Most of the times, outdated figures are quoted and updated on the basis of mere speculations and estimations. The level of neglect in this regard is evident from the fact that the country has not conducted any population census since 1998. The worst part of the story is that without making serious efforts to collect credible data, the staff of the concerned department comes out with fabricated figures just to justify their jobs and fulfill formalities.
What harm wrong figures and lack of research can afflict can be seen in the case of survey of livestock conducted by different government departments. While the figures carried by the Economic Survey of Pakistan shows a reasonable increase in the number of animals in Punjab, the provincial government has raised an alarm saying the animal population has plummeted by around 40 to 50 per cent since the last survey was conducted in 2006. It carried out surveys in different areas of the province to reach this conclusion. For example, it was discovered during a survey of four tribal union councils of Dera Ghazi Khan district that there were only 450,000 animals as compared to the 2.4 million announced by the federal departments.
It is due to this discovery that the Punjab government has taken drastic measures and imposed rather enforced a ban on female animal slaughtering in the province. This ban has been in place since the promulgation of the Animal Slaughtering Act 1963 but never taken seriously. The purpose of imposing this ban is to ensure that female animals are able to rear and slaughtered when they are not able to further procreate.
The federal government’s claim that livestock population has risen by about 2.5 per cent has surprised many, including experts. They question is why meat prices have been skyrocketing year after year and meat being imported if there is a regular increase in animal population. The fact that Punjab has lost 700,000 acres for fodder to other competitive crops also strengthens the impression that the federal figures are totally wrong.
Nasim Sadiq, Secretary Livestock Punjab, tells TNS that they had carried out animal population surveys in different provinces and found out that there is a major disconnect between the figures given by the federal departments and what actually existed on ground. In addition to cattle, buffaloes and goats, the number of equines (donkeys, horses, mules) had also come down drastically, by around 70 per cent since the last survey. He says keeping this situation in view, the Punjab government asked the federal government to announce a ban on export of donkey skin. As donkeys were being killed for their skins, there were fears that their population would shrink to alarming level if this practice was not checked. However, on the other hand, the Economic Survey of Pakistan claims that the population of donkeys has risen by 0.1 million in one year.
He adds that the Punjab livestock department has embarked upon a project to increase the livestock population through proper planning. Urine samples of animals have also been taken to know about the nature of diseases common among them to focus on their cure. Provision of vaccines and medicine will be ensured as a large number of these animals are owned by people living under subsistence level, he adds.
Sadiq’s assertion is supported by the Punjab policy on Livestock & Dairy Development (L&DD) that says 80 per cent of small holders, who constitute 90 per cent of the breeders, are landless. They need to be at the heart of any policy to exploit the livestock potential in the short term. Time has come to convert the challenge into an opportunity.
The policy states that for future planning, the database of animals will be maintained up to the mark for its credible and productive use. “The government has ordered a baseline survey for measuring the impact of proposed policy goals and to plan the corrective measures for attaining the stated objective of exportable surpluses,” it adds.
The Punjab Livestock Department has also decided to utilise Information Communication Technology (ICT) to collect, consolidate and share credible livestock figures. The policy announced for this purpose mentions that “The ICT intervention of L&DD will provide real time bulk data for major interventions for the livestock sector. The L&DD will develop analyses tools for the interpretation of the data. The government will provide this data to research institutions as well. Credible data is a pre-requisite to planning. Hence, L&DD will build standing capacity and capability to conduct a survey/census of the livestock in the province through the use of its ICT based platform of 9211 service.”
A senior officer in Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) shares it with TNS on conditions of anonymity that there is no scientific system to conduct animal surveys in Pakistan. So, he says, what happens is that the field officers visit a few places for sampling and announce these figures. “The resources are limited and staff extremely underpaid.” In this situation, it is next to impossible for them to reach distant areas of the province to count animals as their population is widely scattered.
Asif Sahi, a veterinary officer in Punjab Livestock Department, says the department is working on registration of livestock owners throughout the province and computerising the record. The department now has the Punjab Animal Registration & Identification System (PARIS). This will identify an animal with ear tag codes to build a traceability system.
Dr Abid Qayyum Suleri, Executive Director, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) says credibility has always been an issue in Pakistan. “In a country where we are unsure of either we are 190 million, 200 million, or 180 million; the figure of livestock would always have to be taken with a pinch of salt. The number of livestock is estimated through some proxy indicators, including the area under fodder crops which would always leave some margin of error,” he adds.
Suleri tells TNS the federal government is under an IMF programme and is forced to follow a fixed fiscal deficit figure. Likewise, he says, it has its political commitment to come up with a certain percentage of GDP growth. He says services, manufacturing, and agriculture are the three pillars of GDP and it is difficult to manoeuvre the data of manufacturing sector growth or crops growth. “Services sector growth is comparatively easy to manoeuvre, but still not safe. The best bet for any government is to show an increase in number of livestock. This is difficult to check, and also jacks up the aggregate number of growth,” he explains.
He says the Punjab government, on the other hand, has neither IMF pressure nor political pressure to jack up its growth in terms of livestock growth.
This difference of paradigm may be one of the reasons of conflicting claims coming from both the federal and punjab governments, he concludes.