Centre's decision on NLM offers hope for Polo ponies
Source: Chronicle News Service

Imphal, February 22 2024: In a move that could serve as a beacon of hope in the effort of conservation of Manipuri polo pony, the union cabinet, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Wednesday, approved further modifications in the National Livestock Mission in response to the grave existential threat looming over the cherished breeds of horse, donkey and camel due to factors such as rapid urbanisation, habitat loss, and adverse environmental conditions.

The Manipuri polo pony, celebrated for its agility, endurance, and deep cultural roots, has faced a sharp decline in population due to various challenges, dwindling resources, and impact of climate change.

However, the decision of the union cabinet has raised hope for the breed's survival by incorporating horse breed conservation among its key objectives.

Under the modified National Livestock Mission, significant initiatives have been introduced to support horse breed conservation efforts.

These include establishment of entrepreneurship opportunities for horse, donkey, mule, and camel, with substantial capital subsidies to be provided to eligible individuals, FPO, SHG, JLG, FCO and Section 8 companies.

Furthermore, the state government will receive assistance for the conservation of horse, donkey, and camel breeds, with the Central government allocating funds for the establishment of semen Rations and nucleus breeding farms.

Moreover, the mission emphasises the development of infrastructure for fodder seed processing, with capital subsidies offered to private companies, start-ups, and farmers' cooperatives.

This initiative aims to enhance fodder cultivation areas, including non-forest lands, wastelands, and degraded forest lands, thereby increasing fodder availability across the country.

In addition to these measures, the Livestock Insurance programme has been simplified to facilitate greater participation among livestock farmers.

With reduced beneficiary premiums and increased number of animals eligible for insurance coverage, the programme aims to ensure financial security for livestock owners while minimising their financial burden.

Reports from the livestock census conducted by the Manipur government revealed a concerning trend.

According to the reports, over the past 16 years, 129 polo ponies perished, leaving just 1,089 of these iconic breeds in the northeastern state.

Despite earnest efforts by the state government to conserve, the population of Manipuri polo pony continues to decline, presenting formidable challenges for the struggling pony owners.

The polo pony, though diminutive in stature, holds immense significance as the cornerstone of the modern sport of polo, which originated from Manipur.

Ironically, the very ponies that evoke pride among the locals are now teetering on the brink of extinction, with an annual decline in number of at least eight ponies, as per the latest livestock census data.

In contrast to the perception of polo as a sport reserved for the wealthy elsewhere, it is predominantly played by commoners in Manipur, many of whom hail from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Unfortunately, most pony owners bear significant financial burdens, exacerbated by the absence of government schemes to support their upkeep.

The iconic Hapta Kangjeibung, once a vibrant polo racecourse and practice ground, has remained inaccessible to polo players since 2011, as it has been repurposed into a fairground and utilised for political gatherings.

Despite these challenges, Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association, established in 2005 with 34 ponies, has welcomed the state government's allocation of 32 acres of land at Lamphelpat in Imphal West district to be developed as grazing grounds.

However, the association underscored the need for additional areas to be designated as pony reserves for grazing purposes.

The pony farm boasts 152 ponies as of July 2023, sustained by funds from individual members and government fee incentives.

Since the declaration of ponies as an endangered species in 2013, their numbers have plummeted sharply from approximately 1,000 in 2007, according to the recent livestock census.

RK Khogendra, joint director of the directorate of veterinary' and animal husbandry, attributed this decline to the under-utilisation of ponies.

Notably, in 2007, the Tingkai Khunou breeding farm in Bishnupur district, established during 1985-86 as a pony farm for conservation efforts, housed a mere -13 ponies.

To bolster the status of polo ponies, the state government introduced the 'Manipur Pony Conservation and Development Policy' in 2016, offering incentives to polo clubs.

However, concerted efforts are required to reverse the decline and ensure the survival of these culturally significant animals.

In the recently conducted 20th livestock census by the state veterinary department, concerning figures have emerged regarding the population of ponies in the state.

The census provides a district-wise breakdown of pony numbers - Bishnupur (97), Chandel (14), Churachandpur (59), Imphal East (266), Imphal West (619), Senapati (4), Tamenglong (75), Thoubal (53), and Ukhrul (2) .

As per information, the livestock census in 2007 pointed out the district-wise pony numbers as Bishnupur (115), Chandel (64), Churachandpur (85), Imphal East (35), Imphal West (302), Senapati (229), Tamenglong (54), Thoubal (28), and Ukhrul (54) .

At that time, the overall count of ponies in the state was 1,218.Such a decline highlights the urgent need for concerted efforts to address the challenges being faced in pony conservation in the state.

Hopefully, the union cabinet decision gives some impact in the effort.

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