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Insights into Editorial: Chewing the cud
Dairying has become an important secondary source of income for millions of rural families and has assumed the most important role in providing employment and income generating opportunities particularly for marginal and women farmers.
- India ranks first among the world’s milk producing Nations since 1998 and has the largest bovine population in the World. Milk production in India during the period 1950-51 to 2014-15, has increased from 17 million tonnes to 146.3 million tonnes as compared to 137.7 million tonnes during 2013-14 recording a growth of 6.26 %.
- FAO reported 3.1% increase in world milk Production from 765 million tonnes in 2013 to 789 million tonnes in 2014.The per capita availability of milk in the country which was 130 gram per day during 1950-51 has increased to 322 gram per day in 2014-15 as against the world average of 293.7 grams per day during 2013. This represents sustained growth in the availability of milk and milk products for our growing population.
Significance of cow and cow based products:
The cow-based rural economy and the use of five key products from cow called Panchgavya — milk, curd, ghee, dung and urine — is a part of daily life in the Subcontinent. The use of Panchgavya in food, medicine, agriculture, etc. is already in practice in various parts of rural India.
- Worldwide, substantial research has been done highlighting the medicinal significance of A2 milk produced by indigenous cows, which prevents disorders like obesity, arthritis, type 1 diabetes among children, autism, etc. Curd and buttermilk have been found useful in many gastrointestinal disorders and are recommended as a food practice in ayurveda.
- Globally, scientists are facing the challenge of multiple drug resistance in micro-organisms, presence of antibiotic residues in the food chain, associated allergies, etc. It is been scientifically proven that most of the modern-day systems use antibiotics and steroids, leading to weakening of innate immune-efficiency. A WHO report mentions antibiotics will become almost ineffective over the next two decades. In the light of this, research into sustainable alternatives is being carried out globally. Two US patents on cow urine have been granted for its medicinal properties, particularly as a bioenhancer and as an antibiotic, antifungal and anticancer agent.
- It is traditionally believed that cow dung has antiseptic, anti-radioactive and anti-thermal properties. Only about 40% of the dung from cows is used as fuel in rural areas. The quantity of dung used annually in the existing 2.7 million family type biogas plants is estimated to be 22 tonnes. Traditionally, cow-dung cakes are used for food preparation and while burning these cakes, the temperature never rises beyond a certain point; ensuring overheating does not destroy the nutrients in the food. The use of cow-dung in biogas as a non-fossil fuel is being considered for vehicles and cooking.
What has the government done in this regard?
Government of India is making efforts for strengthening the dairy sector through various Central sector Schemes like “National Programme for Bovine Breeding and Dairy Development”, National Dairy Plan (Phase-I) and “Dairy Entrepreneurship Development Scheme”.
- The restructured Scheme National Programme for Bovine Breeding and Dairy Development (NPBBDD) was launched by merging four existing schemes i.e. Intensive Dairy Development Programme (IDDP), Strengthening Infrastructure for Quality & Clean Milk Production (SIQ&CMP), Assistant to Cooperatives and National Project for Cattle & Buffalo Breeding with the budget provision of Rs.1800 crores for implementation during 12th Plan.
- In order to meet the growing demand for milk with a focus to improve milch animal productivity and increase milk production, the Government has approved National Dairy Plan Phase-I (NDP-I) in February, 2012 with a total investment of about Rs.2242 crore to be implemented from 2011-12 to 2016-17. NDP-I will help to meet the projected national demand of 150 million tonnes of milk by 2016-17 from domestic production through productivity enhancement, strengthening and expanding village level infrastructure for milk procurement and provide producers with greater access to markets.
- ‘Rashritya Gokul Mission‘, aims to promote locally bred cows as they are better suited for the Indian climate and are even heat resistant. Thus, by switching to purely locally bred cows over cross-bred, it aims to increase the output of milk. This scheme aims to even maintain the cows after they have passed their milk producing stage, to be utilised for meat. Even the cow dung and cow urine will be utilised. It will be promoted as organic manure and for other purposes, such as for biogas to produce electricity. In order to make the farmers motivated towards the new scheme, those that maintain the best cow centres will be awarded “Gopal Ratna” awards. Each cow will be given a unique identity number and all the records will be maintained in a national database.
India’s indigenous cattle population has fallen by 8.9% between 2007 and 2012 even as the numbers of exotic/crossbred cows and female buffaloes have gone up by 28.8 and 8% respectively, according to the Agriculture Ministry’s latest Livestock Census. Disturbing though this may seem to some, the trend is a reflection of rational economic choices made by farmers.
- Traditionally, cattle and buffaloes were reared for the following purposes — draught power for agricultural operations, dung for manure and fuel, and milk. The advent of tractors, chemical fertilisers and LPG cylinders/kerosene has undermined the first two roles; as a result, farmers use bovines mainly as milch animals. This has resulted in a premium on female animals; not surprisingly, the decline in male animals between 2007 and 2012 is much sharper at 18.8% for cattle and 17.9% for buffaloes.
- Even within females, indigenous cattle lose out not only to their crossbred counterparts that yield more milk, but also to buffaloes that produce milk with higher fat content. So, farmers find it far more attractive to maintain buffaloes and cows containing genetic material of ‘western’ breeds such as Holstein Friesian and Jersey. The rising price of milk has only tilted the economics further in favour of these animals. Only a little over a fifth of the country’s milk now comes from indigenous or desi cows; at the current rate of decline, they are threatened with total marginalisation.
The Centre for Rural Development and Technology (CRDT) has identified five key topics of research: uniqueness of indigenous cows, Panchgavya in agriculture, medicine and health, food and nutrition and for utilities. The centre is considering various proposals with a pan-India presence to scientifically and technologically validate the existing beliefs about Panchgavya.
The only way to arrest marginalisation of desi cattle is to make them worthwhile to rear. Solutions such as strengthening laws against cattle slaughter aren’t going to work; if anything, these will further disincentivise farmers as they are left with no viable mechanism for disposing animals that have either stopped giving milk or are male. A more realistic approach is to undertake systematic breeding and genetic upgradation of our finest indigenous cattle. Some of these breeds — Sahiwal, Red Sindhi, Gir, Kankrej and Rathi — are, in fact, good milk producers. An organised effort at conservation and propagation of elite germplasm from nucleus breeding herds will go a long way in making rearing desi cattle more economical for farmers.