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Lead Review Article:

Buffalo Newsletter (Bulletin of the FAO Inter-Regional Cooperative Research Network on Buffalo, Rome for Europe- Near East), Number 14- March 2000 Page: 6-10  (Full text of the article is posted here with the acceptance by the publisher).


D. P. Rasali[1]
Nepal Agricultural Research Council
Agricultural Research Station, Lumle

P.O. Box 1, Pokhara, Kaski, Nepal.


Buffaloes have been raised under farming systems of Nepal throughout the known history. They are the traditional provider of milk, meat, hides, manure, draft power and also the reserve capital for the farm families. They are mainly raised by the smallholder farmers across all the physio-graphic agro-ecological (Agro-eco) zones of the country. Due to a key role played by buffalo in the farming systems of the country from the time immemorial to date, interest in this livestock species is ever growing as more systematic planning is adopted for growth of the country's agrarian economy.

This paper attempts to focus some of the trends evident in the production of this species of livestock and future prospects for further development.

Population trends

Official statistics (CBS, 1997) shows that Nepal has currently a population of 3.34 million buffalo which are distributed throughout the country's Agro-eco zones or the administrative development regions (See map) as presented in Table 1. The statistical figures indicate that the buffalo number is highest in Western Development Region (28.2%), followed by Central (24.3%) and Eastern (20.7%) regions. Overall across the Agro-eco zones, 57% of the buffalo population are found in the middle hills, followed by Terai plains (33.1%) in the South and Mountains (9.1%) in the North. Analyzing the 1993 data, Moioli (1996) reported that Nepal ranked seventh in total number of buffalo among the countries world over, while there has been the trend of increase in the population between 1979 and 1993 by 28%.

Table 1. Buffalo population distribution across the physio-graphic agro-ecological zones and development regions in Nepal (figures in ?000).
Agro-eco zones
Development Regions
Far-western Mid-western Western Central Eastern
Mountains 89.3 31.8 0.2 96.5 86.6 304.5
184.3 265.7 756.1 410.0 302.9 1918.7
Terai 136.0 192.8 193.2 311.2 306.0 1139.2
Total 3409.6 490.3 949.6 817.5 695.4 3362.4
Source: CBS, 1997.


Production and its contribution to the economy

The estimates of buffalo milk and meat production for the year 1996/97 are shown in table 2 showing that most of the milk and meat production was distributed in three of five development regions, Western, Central and Eastern, with their percentage of milk produced being 31.6, 27.6 and 18.9 respectively, and that of meat produced being 22.6, 31.4 and 21.7 respectively (CBS, 1997). The figures of buffalo products amounted to 69% of the total milk production and 65% of the total meat production in the country (Singh and Chapagain, 1999). The level of buffalo milk production also places Nepal among a few other countries, viz. India, Pakistan and Egypt where the buffalo milk has been evidently the main animal food (Moioli, 1996). National Planning Commission estimates for 1993 showed that the total livestock gross domestic product (GDP) amounted to the tune of NRs 11, 314 millions (currently, US$ 1 = NRs 68) which is 26.7% of the total agricultural GDP in the country, and buffalo is the key livestock species contributing about 53% of the total livestock GDP, mainly through the production of milk and meat (Singh and Chapagain, 1999).
Table 2. Buffalo milk and meat production across the development regions of Nepal (1996/97).
Development Regions Milking buffalo and milk production Buffalo meat produced 

(000 mt)

No. of milking cows

(000 Nos.)

Buffalo milk produced 
(000 mt)
Eastern 167.4 132.3 24.6
Central 207.3 194.0 37.9
Western 373.1 221.8 25.7
Mid-western 94.5 74.5 12.9
Far-western 115.0 79.4 12.5
Total 957.4 702.0 113.5
Source: CBS, 1997.
Contribution of buffalo to soil fertility management is an integral component of farming systems in Nepal (Rasali et al., 1996). The buffalo drought power is of particular importance to Terai plains and inner Terai valleys. Other bye-products from buffalo such as hides and bones, and also the use of buffalo as the reserve capital assets of the smallholder farm families have significant importance to the rural economy of the country. In addition, export of buffalo ghee (clarified butter oil) to India is a traditional foreign exchange earner for Nepal. The total ghee exported through the major customs points located in Bhairahawa, Nepalganj and Dhangadi areas amounted to NRs 44.2 millions in 1994/95 (Customs Dept., 1995). And, recently, an avenue of fluid milk export to India is also opened indicating the further potential contribution from the multipurpose buffalo production in the country. However, despite high economic importance of buffalo with their large domestic population, Nepal has also been importing buffaloes annually from India to the tune of 120 thousands (Shrestha et al 1998) mainly for meat supply in Kathmandu, the country's capital city and upgrading domestic herds with Indian Murrah breed.

Production systems

As the buffaloes are reared by most of the farmers who are by and large the smallholders in the mixed farming systems in Nepal, their production systems vary greatly across the Agro-eco zones. In Southern Terai belt, inner Terai and mid-hill river valleys, buffaloes are mainly kept under complete stall feeding during seasons of crop cultivation and are occasionally tethered or allowed to graze freely in the crop fields whenever there are no standing crops. Stall feeding is more permanent for the higher yielding animals. In the Himalayan foot hills, grazing of buffalo in the village pasture, forests and recently harvested crop fields is more frequently seen, although there is a tendency to keep the milking buffalo within the fence of the homesteads. In the high hills and mountains, they are even reared under migratory herds which are taken up to the high altitude of alpine pasture, sometimes beyond 3500m asl, crossing the tree line in the Southern face of the Himalayas. Thus, environments in which buffalo are reared are diverse depending upon their physio-graphic locations.
Buffaloes in Nepal are well known for their ability to thrive on low quality forage, as they utilize crop residues- straws of rice, millet, wheat and legumes across all agro-ecozones, but are also fed on green forage. It is usually a milking buffalo which is offered with high quality green fodder and some supplemental grains on regular basis. In Terai, inner Terai and the lower hills, buffalo are usually given a permanent housing either separate from or attached to the house of the owner farmers. As the altitude increases towards North, the buffalo housing tends to be increasingly temporary and poorly built, exposing the animals to increasingly cold climate.

Breed types and their genetic improvement

The buffalo population in Nepal can be broadly classified into three groups based on their breed characteristics- Hill buffalo, Terai buffalo and Indian breeds. Lime, Parkote and Gaddi are the three breeds of Hill buffalo reported in the literature (Rasali et al 1999). Lime and Parkote buffaloes have been characterised to the extent of being phenotypically recognisable.
Lime are found in greater number in the northern areas of high hills and mountains, Parkote are found more towards the southern mid hills. Recently, Rasali et al (1998b) reported four distinct clusters of hill buffaloes in the Western Hills- viz. Lime breed type, Parkote breed type, Lime dominant intermediate type and Parkote dominant intermediate type. These four clusters of Hill buffalo types which form majority of the buffalo population, are found to have karyotype of riverine buffalo, leaving probably no possibility that there could be any swamp buffalo in the country (Rasali et al, 1998b). Gaddi buffaloes are found in the Far-western Development Region. Due to lack of systematic study on the population and breed characterisation, Terai buffalo are largely considered as the non-descript type. Apart from these indigenous buffalo, about 10 % in the hills and little over 10% in Terai, of the total buffalo population, are said to be of Indian Murrah breed or their crosses which have come into existent in the various pocket areas of the country as a result of crossbreeding programme and occasional imports of buffaloes from India. There has been also introduction of Nili Ravi breed into Nepal, but their number is negligible. There has been some increase in milk production in the country as the result of the national programme of crossbreeding the indigenous buffalo with the Indian Murrah breed for more than 40 years. However, the trend of mongrelisation of buffalo due to indiscriminate breeding practices among the indigenous breeds, and also haphazard crossbreeding of indigenous breeds with Indian Murrah blood has been evident in the recent times.
In the efforts of genetic improvement, Animal Breeding and Artificial Insemination Section of Department of Livestock Services has been using Murrah frozen semen produced locally or imported from India for their insemination services provided through 132 outlets in some 42 accessible districts. The section has recently spelled out the policy of the unrestricted artificial insemination of buffaloes with Murrah bull semen in Terai and maintaining 62.5% of the Murrah breed blood level in the middle hills (ABAIS, 1997) as against the past blanket policy of indiscriminate crossbreeding with Murrah breed. Based on the studies carried out at Lumle Agricultural Research Centre of Nepal Agricultural Research Council, crossbreeding of indigenous buffaloes with Murrah breed in the Western hills for past four decades has not caused much impact on the buffalo population of the western hills and mountains (Rasali and Crow, 1999), as the combined adoption of crossbred cattle and buffalo the area was only 14.2% (Floyd et al, 1999).
Herds size and performance recording.
A Murrah buffalo herd is maintained at Livestock Development Farm of Department of Livestock Services at Pokhara. This is the largest institutional herd which was comprised of 6 breeding bulls, 88 milking cows, 33 young bulls, 68 heifers, 19 male calves and 21 female calves by the end of 1995/96 (Singh, 1996). This herd serves as a resource centre for supply of most of the Murrah buffalo bulls distributed annually to the farmers through buffalo breeding programme. There are other smaller herds of less than 50 breeding buffaloes which are established mainly for experimental purpose. These include a herd of Western Hill buffaloes kept at Lumle Station, a mixed herd of Terai buffalo and Murrah buffalo at both of Tarahara Station and Rampur Campus. Performance recording involving traits such as lactation yields, age at calving and calving intervals are routine records kept in these stations. The average performance of Murrah buffaloes at Lampatan Farm are presented at Table 3.
Table 3. The production and reproduction performance records of Murrah buffalo herd at Lampatan Livestock development Farm in 1996.
Traits Number of records Mean±SD
Milk yield, kg/lactation 54 1265.9±380.7
Calving interval, days 60 587.6±151.5
Calving to conception, days 49 300.4±146.0
Days dry, days 57 333.3±62.7
Source: Singh (1997).


Farmers herds are largely small holdings with most of the herds comprising less than 5 breedable buffaloes. There are only a very few number of large herds belonging to more resourceful farmers in Terai and a few migratory herds in the high hills, but their exact data are not available. There is a great lack of information on the production and reproduction performance in the farmers herds across the country. A few studies to compare the performance of indigenous and Murrah crossbred buffaloes involving milk recording activity in the farmers reared buffaloes have been reported for the hill buffaloes (Rasali et al, 1998a). The performance of the buffaloes across various exotic blood level reported from the third round of milk recording study conducted in the Western Hills are given in Table 4 which showed that the performance of the Hill buffaloes except for the milk yield was comparable to Murrah crossbreds. However, apart from these comparative studies, regular milk recording as a tool for genetic improvement through selective breeding is lacking.

Table 4. The least-squares means of performance traits of buffaloes across breed blood levels in the western hills of Nepal (Rasali et al 1998a)
Performance traits
Buffalo breed blood
Hill buffalo 50% Murrah crossbreds 75% Murrah crossbreds
1. 305-day lactation yield, litres
2. Milk fat content, % 7.0± 0.2 (234) 7.0± 0.2 (90) 6.7± 0.3 (61)
3. Lactation length, days
351.3± 9.8 (223)
354.9±14.4 (88) 379.9±17.6 (57)
4. Age at first calving, months 52.9± 0.8 (215) 56.6± 1.2 (86) 55.5± 1.6 (53)
5. Calving to first service, days 197.8±14.0 (202) 189.1±20.8 (76) 201.9± 3.0 (45)
6. Calving interval, days
495.9±16.4 (188)
446.4±25.4 (63) 500.6±29.7 (47)
Figures in the parentheses indicate the number of records.


Development prospects

The long term Agricultural Perspective Plan (1995-2015) of Nepal had envisaged that the milk and meat production in the country would grow during the plan period at the annual rate of 4.5 % and 5.4 % respectively with increases by 2.8 and 1.5 times respectively from the growth rates at the base year 1993 to meet the demands of these demand led commodities (Singh and Chapagain, 1998). As these growth are expected to be largely achieved through the increase in buffalo production, the development prospects for this livestock have been highly emphasized in the plan.

The recent development in the national policy relating to the livestock sector focuses on promoting buffalo as the animal of choice for both milk and meat production, largely on the consideration that buffalo is the multipurpose species of livestock with lesser requirement of health care and high ability to convert low quality roughage into high quality food as compared to exotic dairy cattle breeds. The species has also an advantage over the cattle which are protected by religion and law of the land from culling and slaughtering.
The nation wide network of Department of Livestock Services has been improved greatly in recent years through the inputs of development projects including an Asian Development Bank funded Livestock Development Project and an European Union grant funded project for strengthening of veterinary services. Livestock research has been institutionalised by Nepal Agricultural Research Council during the recent years. The Tribhuvan University has initiated program for Veterinary and animal husbandry education in the country. However, these three sectors which are in place now should be directly linked to address the manifold constraints of buffalo production (Rasali et al 1999) and alleviate them for improving the production, as there are ample opportunities for achieving the production targets set out in the Agricultural Perspective Plan through an integrated research and development programme for buffalo.


ABAIS. 1997. Annual Report -1996-97: Animal Breeding and Artificial Insemination Section, Department of Livestock Services, P.O. Box 8814, Kathmandu, Nepal.

CBS. 1997. Agricultural statistics Nepal -1996-97 Central Bureau of Statistics, National Planning Commission Secretariat, Kathmandu, Nepal. pp. 17-21.

Customs Dept.1995. Customs records for 1994/95. Department of Customs, His Majesty?s Government of Nepal.

Floyd, C.N., Harding, A.H., Paudel, K.C., Rasali, D.P., Subedi, K.D. and Subedi, P.P. 1999. the adoption and associated impact of technologies in the western hills of Nepal. Overseas Development Institute, London, UK. AgREN Network Paper No. 90.

Moioli, B.M. 1996. An analysis of recent statistics on buffalo milk production and use in the world. Buffalo Journal. 2:115-126.

Rasali, D.P. and Crow, G.H. 1999. Production of buffaloes (Bubalus bubalis) in the mountains and hills of Nepal: Constraints and opportunities. FAO/ILRI/ICIMOD/CIP Livestock in Mountain/Highland Production Systems E-Conference (Nov.-Dec. 1999) Highlands-L@mailserv.fao.org .

Rasali, D.P. Gurung, D.B. and Yadav, E.R. 1998a. Performance recording of lactating local and crossbred cows and buffaloes of various exotic breed blood levels under farmers? management in the Western Hills (1995-97). Lumle Agricultural Research Centre, Pokhara, Nepal. Working Paper No. 98/39:14 pp.

Rasali, D.P., Joshi, H.D., Patel, R.K. and Harding, A.H. 1998b. Phenotypic clusters and karyotypes of indigenous buffaloes in the Western Hills of Nepal. Lumle Agricultural Research Station, Pokhara, Nepal. Technical Paper No. 98/2: 24 pp.

Rasali, D.P., Suwal, M.R.S., Vaidya, A.K. and Joshi, K.D. 1996. Contribution of livestock to soil fertility management system in the western mountains of Nepal. Proc. Workshop on formulating a strategy for soil fertility research in the hills of Nepal 17-18 August, 1995. (Ed. Joshi et al.). Lumle Agricultural Research Centre, Pokhara, Nepal/ Natural Resource Institute, London, UK. pp. 43-52.

Singh, D.B. 1997. Buffalo Production Unit. In: Annual Report- Livestock Development Farm, Lampatan, Pokhara, Nepal-1995/96.

Singh, S.B. and Chapagain, D.P. 1998. Livestock sector in the Agriculture Perspective Plan. In: Proceedings of the first national workshop on animal genetic resources conservation and genetic improvement of domestic animals in Nepal- April 11-13, 1994 (Ed. J.N.B. Shrestha). Nepal Agricultural Research Council, Khumaltar, Nepal. pp. 117-128.

Shrestha, H.R., Kunwar, B.S., Mandal, P., Thapa, M.S. and Pandey, S.B. 1998. Effect of feeding urea and molasses treated rice and wheat straw diet on the body weight gain and carcass characteristics of male buffalo calves. Proc. 8th World Conf. Anim. Prod., Seol, Korea, pp. 70-71.

[1] Present Address: Department of Animal Science, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, R3T 2N2, Canada.

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