Arunachal Pradesh yak cheese gets a GI tag

Pankhi Sarma

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As domestic and global demand for yak cheese is seeing a gradual rise, Arunachal’s indigenous herders can benefit

Guwahati: The “Arunachal Pradesh Yak Churpi” or yak cheese is granted geographical indication (GI) tag, offering an economic opportunity for Brokpa yak herders in the highlands of the frontier state.

It comes at a time when yak population in India has seen a rapid decline owing to hardships and lack of economic benefits from the animal.

Churpi is a form of cheese often made from yak milk – in this case, the Arunachali yak milk - thatserves as a vital source of protein for tribal yak herders. It finds a place in meat and vegetable dishes and forms an integral part of the daily diet.

In Arunachal Pradesh it is a time-honoured dairy productof the Brokpa community, the pastoral nomads of the Monpa tribe primarily in high-altitude West Kameng and Tawang districts. Their relationship with yaks and horses who move at different altitudes with the changing seasons, is famed.

Thanks to the Dirang-headquartered ICAR-National Research Centre on Yak (NRCY), the tough life of these herders may get some relief. NRCY played a pivotal role in supporting the Brokpas, offering research and extension assistance to them.

“Till now the churpi has been popular in the Himalayan or trans-Himalayan region, but with the GI tag there can be a broader market,” feels Dr Mihir Sarkar, the director of ICAR-NRCY.

NRCY’s efforts are crucial in preserving the indigenous yak population and the rich cultural heritage linked to yak rearing in Arunachal Pradesh. Their initiative to register yak churpi for the GI tag, which commenced in December 2021, recognized the product's cultural and economic significance within the state.

The next step will be to register the producers of yak churpi. ICAR-NRCY director Mihir Sarkar is enthused.The tag guarantees that only registered producers can manufacture and label the product, following quality control measures.

“The GI tag will promote the demand for the product with assured quality and authenticity, particularly in the context of growing interest in nutritious foods and nutraceuticals.Better market potential for the GI-tagged product will improve incomes of those living in remote high-altitude regions, encouraging the continuation of traditional yak rearing,” Sarkar told Business North East.

The market potential for yak milk products like churpi is poised for growth, and this recognition is a significant step toward expanding opportunities for producers, allowing them to register as 'Authorized Users' of the GI tag, said Sarkar.

“This is going to help the Brokpas and the yak population,” said Vijay Paul, principal scientist at NRCY who played an important role in pushing the GI-tag application.

This GI tag provides an exceptional opportunity for Arunachal Pradesh to bolster its local economy, even export opportunities and enhance the livelihoods of yak herders and dairy producers. GI tag is indicative of traditional knowledge of the region and offers better prospects for income generation by assuring the authenticity and quality of products, said Sarkar.

A GI-tagged product adheres to specific quality standards and criteria, ensuring product authenticity.

Efforts are underway to promote Arunachal Pradesh Yak Churpi as a unique and premium product. Producers will receive training on quality production and suitable packaging, and market linkages will be established through product popularization and collaborations.

The global demand for unique and traditional dairy products, like Churpi, is on the rise.

This development aligns with broader goals of promoting sustainable and traditional agricultural practices in Arunachal Pradesh, offering a path to improve the livelihoods of those residing in remote high-altitude regions where traditional yak rearing is a way of life, according to Sarkar..

“The future for Arunachal Pradesh Yak Churpi is bright,” said Sarkar.

The recognition of Yak Churpi as a GI of Arunachal Pradesh is expected to not only bring economic benefits but also conserve cultural heritage, offering an example of how traditional knowledge and practices can be harnessed for contemporary success.

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Pankhi Sarma