Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia (REU)

Yak Meat Tasting

30 August 2013, Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Yak tasting event in DushanbeIn July, we wrote about a project of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to support the development of the yak breeding industry in the Murghab district of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province (GBAO) of Tajikistan. Autumn has come, the ideal time for slaughtering yak, and it is thus the right moment to sum up the work completed over the summer and find out if breeders are ready for their first deliveries to the capital city.

The results achieved with the help of FAO are inspiring, a sentiment that was expressed by potential customers who participated in a yak meat tasting event on August 30 at the Dushanbe Serena Hotel. The event was attended by the Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Livestock, Mr Sirodjiddin Isroilov; the Head of the Animal Husbandry Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Mr Mirzoev Muzaffar; the Director General of the National Center for Veterinary Diagnosis, Mr Abdurahmon Mahmadshoev; as well as by representatives of the restaurant business in the capital.

During the event, seven types of premium meat cuts were evaluated in terms of taste, texture and juiciness of the seven parts of the back of the carcass. The maximum score was attributed to the last three lots: striploin, tenderloin and knuckle - very tender, juicy steaks with a unique bouquet of pristine high mountain pastures - the choice of true gourmets and connoisseurs of meat. Currently, some of the restaurants in the region source import premium meat from New Zealand and Australia at high prices. Without competition on the market, this trend could remain for quite some time. The meat of the Pamiri yaks cannot replace the imported products as its potential volume is not significant (up to one tonne of premium cuts a year), but local producers can definitely find a niche on the market, offering a unique product to consumers willing to pay premium prices. The main requirements for the local meat supplier have been determined along the following lines: proper slaughter of animals (Halal), certified food safety and, of course, adequate cold chain. Local yak meat prices will be more affordable than imported alternatives, while the quality - as confirmed at the tasting - will not stand down.

During the Yak Meat Tasting, the Deputy Head of the Sanitary Service within the Ministry of Health, Mr Navruz Djafarov, provided an overview of the nutritional value of yak meat. Yak meat is unique because it contains lots of easily digestible iron in the form of hemoglobin synthesized by animals in large quantities in order to breath the rarefied air of the high mountains. That is why consuming yak meat is a proven way to prevent anemia, which has become a common disease in the country. Yak is also a dietetic meat because it has low fat and cholesterol content.

The project brought together a group of motivated entrepreneurs who are about to create a Limited Liability Company (LLC) that will supply premium cuts of yak meat to the elite restaurants of the capital, adopting the new business model developed by FAO experts. The model was designed to ensure food safety and product quality at each stage of the value chain, from the selection of animals for slaughter to labeling of the final product. A team of highly qualified experts from the Russian Federation and Mongolia have worked in the Murghab district this summer delivering hands-on training to local butchers on professional meat handling. Groups of women were trained on cured-meat production (basturma) and yak milk cheese-making.

The Officer in charge of the project, Ms Inna Punda, Agribusiness Specialist from the FAO Investment Centre, explained: "We focus on the premium segment of the Dushanbe market and we know that it dictates its own rules. That is why at the core of our project we have put traceability and food safety assurance of the product. We work closely with the Association of Veterinarians of Tajikistan (TVA), which has conducted a series of seminars in each jamoat of the district updating the knowledge of local veterinarians and explaining farmers the economical benefits of preventive measures. TVA will continue working on animal health fronts to establish a system of traceability of a product, from farm to fork.”

To keep the livestock producer group busy year-round, in parallel with the development of the meat production, milk processing is also being advanced: "Our ultimate goal is to take everything from an animal to increase the profitability of livestock production, reducing the pressure on fragile ecosystems of the Eastern Pamirs," remarked Ms Punda. Yak milk, like yak meat, has high nutritional value: it is rich in protein, fat, minerals and vitamins. This balanced natural product has significantly higher content of solid matter than cow milk does. A group of women from the Murghab district has successfully completed a training course on cheese-making and dairy product technology. At the beginning of the next lactation period of yaks (in May), the newly-established company will begin selling aged yak milk cheese, yogurt, sour cream, low-fat cottage cheese and butter. Yak milk cheese was also well represented at the tasting and its sweet taste and fragrance of alpine meadow pastures was very much appreciated by participants.

The FAO Investment Centre is currently exploring different options to mobilize funding for a full-fledged investment operation in this remote region of the country to establish a full-cycle meat processing line.