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Posted at: May 6, 2019, 7:08 AM; last updated: May 6, 2019, 7:08 AM (IST)

Milk, Meat and More

Tapping the potential of the livestock sub-sector can help to tackle agrarian distress, writes Major Gen PS Narwal (retd)
Milk, Meat and More

April 27, celebrated as World Veterinary Day, the veterinary community in India reiterated its resolve to seek transformational changes in the livestock sub-sector so as to enable it to attain its potential in the rural economy.

The agriculture sector provides food and livelihood security to 55 per cent of the population. In the dynamic economic scenario, input from this sector to the national GDP continues to decline, down from 12.1 per cent in 2011-12 to 9.2 per cent in 2016-17. This sector comprises three sub-sectors: crops, livestock and fisheries. Foodgrains,  the main component of the crops sub-sector that has contributed the maximum to the agricultural GDP (AGDP), have shown decelerated growth. The share of the livestock sub-sector to the AGDP, on the other hand, has grown from 21.8 per cent to 26.2 per cent during this period. A NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) survey shows a real income growth rate of 14.7 per cent in the livestock sub-sector from 2002-03 to 2012-13, against 3.8 per cent in the crops sub-sector.

The livestock sub-sector has witnessed an uptrend in the demand for food of animal origin. The rising population of the middle income group has undergone a change in its dietary habits, preferring animal-based protein. National surveys, comparing 2004-05 data with 1970-71, established a substantial increase in the expenditure on livestock products in rural and urban households. According to projected estimates, the domestic demand for milk and meat in 2050 is likely to be two and a half times and double the current production levels, respectively. Likewise, the global demand for these products, particularly from emerging economies, has also increased considerably in recent decades, providing a significant opportunity to India to boost its share in livestock products. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) estimates of 2010 project 70 and 58 per cent increase in global demand for meat and milk by 2050, respectively. The sub-sector, therefore, has the potential for steady, long-term growth.

Mitigating rural poverty

According to the 10th Agricultural Census, the proportion of small and marginal farmers (below 2 hectares) has gone up to 86.2 per cent. The average landholding in the country declined from 2.28 hectares in 1970-71 to 1.08 hectares in 2015-16. The size of landholding has reached a level where it is inadequate to produce surpluses which can sustain families. The livestock sub-sector has proved its worth in the sustenance of rural households under detrimental economic pressure. There is less rural poverty in states where livestock contributes more to the farm income. The distribution of livestock is egalitarian since small and marginal farmers own 47.3 per cent of the crop area, but they, combined with landless labour, own more than two-third of the livestock market in the country. Livestock-rearing also promotes women’s empowerment as three-fourth of its labour demand is met by female workers. The immense pro-poor possibilities of this sub-sector remain largely unharnessed as it is stifled in terms of budgetary allocations and structural mechanisms.

India has the largest livestock population in the world, according to FAO statistics of 2014. It ranks first in buffalo, second in cattle and goat, and third in sheep population. The country is the highest milk producer and the third highest egg producer in the world, thanks to an increased output in recent decades. As per NITI Aayog observations of 2017, the enhanced milk output is mainly attributed to the increase in the number of cattle. The key performance indicators for milch animals’ productivity — average birth weight, age at puberty, inter-parturition period, lactation period and average number of lactations — remain unfavourable. The indicators specific to meat animals also remain equally dismal. Abysmally low mean animal productivity per annum continues to be the biggest stumbling block in the sub-sector. The cattle milk yield is about 50 per cent of the world average and 12-15 per cent of that in developed countries like the US. Similarly, the average meat yield of sheep, goats and pigs is pegged at 60 per cent less than those of developed countries. It is due to inadequate progress in the adoption of new interventions in animal production systems.

The sub-sector has encountered continued apathy, evident from its declining share in public expenditure from 1.5 per cent of the total outlay during 1967-72 to 0.14 per cent during 2012-17. Most strikingly, despite substantive growth and continued rise in contributions to the AGDP, its share in the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare (MoAFW) allocations has remained capped at 10-12 per cent. The plea often given for the disproportionate allocation is lack of absorption capacity in the sub-sector, ignoring the prolonged indifference towards its capacity and capability building.

Picture of neglect

Non-availability of quality animal feed and fodder, and sub-optimal genetic pool of livestock continue to hinder animal productivity. The cross-breeding programmes have been able to cover only a small population of cattle and buffaloes. These programmes are said to be implemented haphazardly, failing to attain the desired goals. The artificial insemination services need qualitative upgrade for their reliability and efficiency. Effective and prompt delivery of veterinary services, the control of economically important trans-boundary diseases like FMD (foot-and-mouth disease), and the availability of long-acting heat-resistant vaccines remain a distant dream. The facilities for treatment, disease reporting, epidemiology, surveillance and forecasting are insufficient. As per Basic Animal Husbandry and Fisheries Statistics of 2018, India has 64,990 veterinary institutions, far short of the requirement. The accredited diagnostic veterinary laboratories, the backbone of the veterinary support system, are less than half a dozen in the country. The existing infrastructure of veterinary institutions also requires restructuring and extensive strengthening for providing optimal services.

The scope of export from the meat industry, particularly buffalo meat, remains untapped to a large extent. Buffaloes account for more than one-third of India’s bovine population. As per Livestock Census 2012, their population increased by 3.19 per cent over the previous census, whereas the cattle population decreased during this period. Buffalo-rearing is overtaking cattle-rearing in several parts of the country due to higher milk productivity, higher market price for milk, hardiness in adaptability to local conditions and higher disease-resistance capabilities. Buffalo meat has recently gained prominence in the international market, generating a great demand from Asian countries. Buffalo meat worth $4,037 million was exported during 2017-18, accounting for 54 per cent of the entire revenue from the export of livestock and livestock products during the fiscal. Its growth potential is estimated at 8 per cent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) for five years from 2016-17. At the livestock keeper’s level, it translates into additional income from the culled animals and employment generation in the related value chains. However, growth in this industry has been unstable due to socio-political factors and paucity of infrastructure.

The livestock sub-sector is deficient of highly specialised manpower comprising veterinary and animal science experts, as well as para-veterinarians and the support staff. Their role extends far beyond than being livestock health providers. Veterinarians are also researchers and advisers on all aspects of animal sciences: management, breeding, feeding and animal welfare. They also have key responsibilities to tackle the rising threat of climatic change impacting animal productivity and the emerging infectious diseases spreading from animals to men. According to the report of the Working Group on Animal Husbandry and Dairying, 12th Five-Year Plan, the country has about 52 and 20 per cent availability against the requirement of 67,000 veterinarians and 2,59,000 para-veterinarians and support staff, respectively. Even their training needs substantial quality upgrade by incorporating extensive practical aspects and continued education programmes. The veterinary colleges needed to produce the required manpower are also far short in number, lacking requisite infrastructure and incapable of meeting the qualitative and quantitative requirements.

Unorganised sector

Livestock production in the country is dominated by small-holder livestock farms whose contribution is over 70 per cent. They are in the unorganised sector and largely continue to operate with a traditional knowledge base, following inefficient animal production systems. They lack crucial knowledge and information of appropriate animal husbandry practices and techniques. The sub-sector depends on existing crop-centric, agriculture extension services for livestock extension and technology transfer. These services, which played a vital role in the Green Revolution, are inadequate for the livestock sub-sector. They lack resources and have limited capacities to respond to the unique needs of the sub-sector, encompassing integrated service packages for the delivery of animal health interventions together with feed and breed interventions. This can be achieved by a specialised cadre of livestock extension experts comprising veterinarians, who can disseminate latest technologies, blended with indigenous knowledge and ICT (information and communications technology), to the livestock keeper’s doorstep for improving production and processing practices.

Inadequate representation

The MoAFW’s focus has been on the crops sub-sector; the existing governance mechanisms and implementation systems favour this sub-sector. Animal science and veterinary professionals have inadequate representation, holding comparatively junior positions; their voice on important policy decisions is muffled in the hierarchical system. Even in a technical institution like the World Organisation for Animal Health, where all countries, including neighbouring Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, are represented by veterinary professionals, India is represented by a non-veterinarian. The apex Inter-Sectoral Coordination Committee on addressing Antimicrobial Resistance in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, too, has no veterinarian representative on its board, contrary to the WHO guidelines, as mandated by the ‘One Health’ charter. Other apex policy decision-making bodies relevant to the livestock sub-sector are also bereft of domain-specific experts. The Indian Council of Veterinary and Animal Science Education and Research, recommended in the 11th Plan, is yet to be established.

Appreciating the potential of this sub-sector, the government has initiated measures for its promotion in recent years. The National Livestock Policy, formulated in 2013, aims to enhance productivity with sustainability. The National Livestock Mission was launched in 2014-15 for qualitative and quantitative improvements in the livestock production systems. The National Dairy Plan has been initiated to enhance the productivity of milch animals. The Rashtriya Gokul Mission has been started for the conservation and development of indigenous cattle breeds in a focused and scientific manner. These programmes are now clubbed under Rashtriya Pashudhan Vikas Yojana for concerted efforts for implementation and monitoring. Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog has been set up for the conservation, protection and development of cows and their progeny. 

The inter-ministerial committee on Doubling Farmers’ Income by 2022 has endorsed dairying, livestock and poultry, along with fisheries and horticulture, as engines of growth in the farm sector. The committee has recommended ‘a sharp policy with concomitant support system to achieve higher productivity’ in these components. The generic factors impacting the agriculture sector, applicable to the livestock sub-sector, such as value chain creation, marketing reforms and privatisation, have been addressed adequately. The panel has recommended a paradigm shift in the existing governance mechanism, necessitating specific institutional systems. These recommendations are likely to lead to transformational changes in the sub-sector, making it an optimal enabler in addressing agrarian distress. When implemented earnestly, these will pave the way for veterinary and animal science experts in the highest echelons of policy decision-making and can facilitate realisation of the potential of the livestock sub-sector.

National Livestock Mission

The National Livestock Mission (NLM) was launched in 2014-15. It is designed to cover all activities required to ensure quantitative and qualitative improvement in livestock production systems and capacity building of all stakeholders. The mission also covers the improvement of livestock productivity, besides support projects and initiatives. It is aimed at sustainable development of the livestock sub-sector, focusing on improving availability of quality feed and fodder. 

The mission has four sub-missions:

  • Sub-Mission on Fodder and Feed Development: It addresses the problems of scarcity of animal feed resources in order to give a push to the livestock sub-sector, making it a competitive enterprise for India, and also to harness its export potential. The major objective is to reduce the deficit to nil.

  • Sub-Mission on Livestock Development: There are provisions for productivity enhancement, entrepreneurship development and employment generation (bankable projects), strengthening of infrastructure of state farms with respect to modernisation, automation and biosecurity, conservation of threatened breeds, minor livestock development, rural slaughter houses and livestock insurance.

  • Sub-Mission on Pig Development in North-Eastern Region: The Union Government supports state piggery farms, besides the import of germplasm. It is linked to livelihood and contributes to providing protein-rich food in eight states of the north-eastern region.

  • Sub-Mission on Skill Development, Technology Transfer and Extension: The extension machinery at the field level for livestock activities is not up to the mark. As a result, farmers are not able to adopt the technologies developed by research institutions. The emergence of new technologies and practices requires linkages between stakeholders. This sub-mission enables a wider outreach to the farmers. All states can avail the benefits of the multiple components and the flexibility of choosing them under the NLM for sustainable livestock development.

The author is former Addl Director General, Remount Veterinary Services

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