With our population of cattle among the largest in the world, India is in the best position today to turn organic. This would improve the health of our own people and increase our profits on the export of agricultural and horticultural products. This will also save our indigenous breed of cows that give only A2 milk and are perfect for farm work
Today India is the largest exporter of beef in Asia amounting to 85 per cent of the beef exported in Asia and is the second largest exporter of beef in the world amounting to 1.4 million metric tonnes as of 31st March 2020. But do you know that India sells more quantities of beef at a price which is less than half of what it actually was worth. In 2019 the country with the highest price for beef, received in Asia was Pakistan at $3,815 per tonne, while India at $2,831 per tonne was amongst the lowest. The beef import price in Asia stood at $5,039 per tonne in 2019. Also note that while export of beef stood at 1.4 million metric tonnes in 2020, up from 1.2 million metric tonnes in 2018, the corresponding receipt was down from 4 billion USD to 3.1 billion USD.
While the above figures give us a good reason to demand the complete stoppage on the export of beef, there are other reasons why it makes sense to protect our cattle – agriculture, health and water conservation. About 60 per cent of our population are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture in India. But not all of our farmers own large, cultivable areas. In fact a majority of our farmers and horticulturists own less than five acres of land under cultivation. Most of them in fact have less than 2 acres under cultivation. With such small plots of land, the traditional form of farming as against mechanised farming is actually a blessing because this promotes organic and natural farming, which in turn increases the incomes of the farmers.
The organic food export realisation in 2016 was around 298 million USD. Organic products are exported to European Union, US, Canada, Switzerland, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, South East Asian countries, Middle East, South Africa etc., all countries where our balance of payments is not in our favour. A very beneficial result of the use of natural fertilizers is crops and fruit grown organically, something which increases the value of the produce by at least 20 per cent. As the world becomes more aware of the dangers of the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, they prefer organically grown crops, fruits and flowers. With our population of cattle (among the largest in the world) India is in the best position today to turn organic. This would not just help in improving the health of our own people, but we could also increase our profits on the export of agricultural and horticultural products. By making Sikkim a 100 per cent organic state, we have proved to ourselves the economic viability of doing this and we could extend this to the whole of India. And for this, we need cows and cattle now, more than ever. Even domestic consumption of organic foodgrains and vegetables has seen a steady increase.
It is time now for the Government along with Zilla Parishads and Gram Panchayats to work towards increasing Gou-char Bhoomi (waste lands for grazing), providing shelter to old and abandoned cattle, and finding ways to utilise their dung and urine in a more effective manner
One of the most misleading arguments given in favour of killing cattle is that once they stop giving milk, they become a burden on the farmers. In fact in India our farmers get into the “Debt Trap” because they are encouraged to sell their cattle during the lean months when the land is lying fallow. They are forced then to shell out more money to buy a pair of bullocks when it is time for ploughing and sowing, thus increasing their debts. India imports fertilizers to the tune of at least USD 2 billion per annum in urea alone. While fertilizers are necessary for maintaining productivity, it is a well-known fact that repeated use of artificial fertilizers only make the soil increasingly infertile and such soil requires more water. In contrast, use of natural fertilizers like cow dung and urine, improves the quality of the soil and the soil retains its natural moisture, thus reducing the requirement of water pumped to the fields. It is time now for the Government along with Zilla Parishads and Gram Panchayats to work towards increasing Gou-char Bhoomi (waste lands for grazing), providing shelter to old and abandoned cattle, and finding ways to utilise their dung and urine in a more effective manner. This would reduce the need for fertilizers to be imported. That apart, cattle dung can also be used for a variety of other purposes like making natural pesticides, joss sticks (agarbattis), fuel and cremation logs. Thus the farmers would not be burdened and villages could even make profits from the sale of such natural fertilizers and fuel. In fact, use of cattle dung to make cremation logs is one of the best ideas because this itself will save a lot of our trees from being felled. This would increase our forest cover and water conservation, and at the same time it would help the farmer earn some money from cattle dung.
Health of the soil depends on the cattle to a very great extent. Did you know that repeated use of heavy machines like the tractor can kill the microorganisms in the soil and also make it less porous? When the bull is used in ploughing, the soil becomes loose and porous because of the way it kicks the soil and urinates while walking. Also, farmers let cattle into the fields to graze on the stubble left after harvesting. This helps in two ways – weeds and stubbles are cleaned off without any costs and secondly, the soil becomes more porous and fertile. In Punjab, they burn the stubble because their Jersey cows are fed only in their own cowsheds. Punjab also uses more fertilizers, pesticides and irrigated water to make the land more fertile and then uses mechanised methods for farming. It is not a surprise hence that there are train services from Punjab to Delhi which are nicknamed as “Cancer Express”. Air pollution too increases because of stubble burning. Also, though crop stubble (paddy / jowar / etc) is one of the major feeds for bovines, we neglect this and import cattle feed in crores.
China Benefits at India’s Expense
Nature is interconnected … a simple example of this is the killing of sparrows in China. Sparrows were killed during the reign of Mao because it was believed that sparrows ate up crops. But the killing of sparrows meant that the crops were completely destroyed because of locusts and other insects. This caused a severe famine in China which resulted in people killing their domesticated animals to fill their stomachs. For years China did not have any cow milk to drink. It was only about 20 years back that they imported exotic cow breeds from Australia and New Zealand to cater to their demand for milk. Today one of the main importers of beef from India is China. They import our beef via Vietnam. So should we also destroy our own health by killing our cows?
Russia today stands at the 15th position in importing beef from India and we earn about Rs.188 crore per annum. from this. But experts have estimated that India could export about $400 million worth of dairy products to Russia because they have a perennial shortage of milk and milk products in their country. While India’s share in global beef exports is above 17 per cent of the total share of world exports, our share of global milk exports is just 0.68 per cent that is Rs.754 crores. This shows us that if we tried to increase our share in the global milk exports and organically grown grains and fruits we could easily earn the same amount as through the sale of beef. In fact, India has a special advantage as compared to the rest of the world because our indigenous breed of cows give only A2 milk and they are perfect for farm work. Not just that, our indigenous breeds can subsist on grazing and kitchen waste as their main feed.
The link between cattle and agriculture is that of good health, economics and survival of our civilization. It is a link which cannot be ignored any more.
(The writer is a Mumbai-based columnist)