By the way

Effects of cow slaughter ban show up in livestock census

Farmers should not be burdened with maintaining animals past their productive life.

That the government policies for the protection of cattle and restrictions on its trade, combined with vigilantism by self-appointed cow protection groups, has taken a toll on the population growth of indigenous breeds of bovines in the belt stretching from Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh, is evident from the provisional 2019 Livestock Census data released recently. The cattle population in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra has declined six per cent between 2012 and 2019, with farmers preferring to keep buffaloes. The population of buffaloes rose over 10 per cent in these three states during this period, with Madhya Pradesh reporting as much as a 26 per cent rise. The higher milk yield of buffaloes as a factor, cannot be ruled out. Rajasthan bucked the trend despite its anti-slaughter stance – the cattle population rose over 4.4 per cent and buffalo numbers by more than 5.5 per cent – as the dairy sector boomed in recent years, led by young professionals starting up fresh milk ventures to supply to the NCR region. Significantly, the restrictions and bans have altered the proportion of exotic and indigenous breeds in the cattle population - the population of the exotic and cross-bred cattle rose 27 per cent, while that of the indigenous breeds fell six per cent between 2012 and 2019. The indigenous breeds are revered and worshipped.

The continuing strident stance of the cow protection lobby would lead to further changes in the mix of cattle and buffaloes, exotic, crossbred and indigenous in the years ahead, as farmers look for ways to protect their income and cut their losses in an environment that has become difficult, particularly in the northern and western parts of the country. The disruptions in established ways of disposing of end of productive-life cattle has increased distress among dairy farmers. They are left with no option but to maintain such animals or find ways to surreptitiously get rid of them by abandoning them in forests or pushing them into city roads under the cover of darkness, late night.

The Union and state government need to recognise that the current policies help no one – and certainly not the small and marginal farmers who use earnings from selling off their old cattle, to invest in new productive ones. These farmers, as well as the dairies, need to be provided a solution to dispose of cattle that have reached the end of their productive life.

The Livestock Census also throws up some curious trends that need examination. For instance, among the indigenous breeds, the population of in-milk cattle has increased 7.9 per cent, while those reported as dry have declined by 10.5 per cent, even as the population of milch rose by less than a per cent. Also, the proportion of dry cows in the indigenous milch stock declined to 34 per cent in 2019 from 38 per cent in 2012. However, in the case of cross-bred and exotic ones, the population of in-milk cows rose by nearly 40 per cent and those dry by about 11 per cent, even as the milch population expanded by a little over 32 per cent.

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