India has the world’s largest livestock population — 58 per cent of buffaloes and 15 per cent of cattle. Owing to this huge bovine stock, though India has managed to attain numero uno position in milk production, the full potential of Indian milch herd remains unattained.

Over the last three decades (1982 to 2012), average productivity of Indian cattle and buffaloes has grown from 1.9 to 3.9 kg per day, and from 3.7 to 6.2 kg per day, respectively.

The average daily milk yield for crossbred cattle is better at 7.1 kg per day, but still significantly lesser than the best of global standards — UK, US and Israel are at 25.6, 32.8 and 38.6 kg per day, respectively.

The major causes of low productivity in India are both intrinsic (low genetic potential) and extrinsic (poor nutrition/feed management, inferior farm management practices, ineffective veterinary and extension services and inefficient implementation of breed improvement programmes).

Breeding initiatives

Government initiatives such as the National Project on Cattle & Buffalo Breeding (NPCBB) have contributed significantly to strengthening artificial insemination (AI) services.

But lack of focus on progeny testing due to unavailability of technical manpower, small herd size and inefficient implementation has been an impediment.

AI services cover only 25 per cent of dairy animals. Further, over the years, emphasis has been on crossbreeding, with limited attention to improvement of indigenous breeds.

For developing sustainable breeding strategies it is also necessary to have comprehensive national level mapping and database development on number of species of livestock and their breeds, available animal genetic resources, breeding infrastructure and development facilities.

Cross-breeding with high yielding exotic breeds should be encouraged in areas with adequate facility for feed and fodder as well as suitable agro-climatic conditions. Genetic upgradation by way of breeding non-descript cattle with defined indigenous breeds needs to be encouraged in resource deficient areas.

Need based import of live animals and germ plasm (semen and embryos) needs to be debated and facilitated, amidst adoption of scientific bio security measures.

Feed management

With rapidly shrinking land and natural resources, availability and quality of feed and fodder is increasingly becoming a challenge. The current deficit of green fodder and concentrates is 34 per cent. Further, there is a supply demand gap for quality forage seeds as well.

Imbalanced nutrition due to lack of farmers’ knowledge about appropriate use of existing feed resources is also a major factor responsible for low livestock productivity.

The Ration Balancing Programme of NDDB and Accelerated Fodder Development Programme of the Government are commendable initiatives to ensure better feed availability and improved nutrition.

Application of newer technology to produce large scale feed blocks, feed enzymes and other innovative feed resources, needs to be enhanced. Development of an innovative silage business model by way of partnerships amongst seed companies, operations service providers (for baling and supply chain functions) and rural retail channels can be a significant step in this direction.

Veterinary services

High quality veterinary services are an important enabler for enhancing milk yield.

But currently due to unavailability of trained manpower and lack of mobility (veterinary service requirements are normally on short notice and require attendance in a limited time window at farm doorstep), the services provided are not able to create desired impact.

An authentic, concurrently updated database for prevalence and emergence of diseases is essential for identification, onward prevention and control.

A fairly large infrastructure of vaccine and diagnostic production units, semen stations and AI breeding farms that is largely owned by the government, can be more efficiently utilised by way of appropriate participation of the private sector.

Farm management practices

Adoption of better farm management practices and automation helps in reducing operational cost and improving milk quality as well as productivity.

Here, collaborative and innovative dairy farming models have a critical role to play.

There is a need for devising and implementing low cost technologies (for feeding, healthcare diagnostics, cow comfort and milking) that are suited to Indian dairy farming, thereby improving yields.

Effective delivery of extension services is critical to achieve higher milk productivity. Extension activities also need to address farmer education on preventive measures, improved animal feeding and farm management practices.

Currently, less than 1 per cent of the total plan budget for the animal husbandry sector is allocated for extension activities. Progressive farmers also need to be trained to act as extension agents for disseminating technical knowledge.

India’s success in attaining leadership and contributing 17 per cent to the global milk production has been achieved more on the strength of milch animal numbers and less on the back of yield improvements.

But in order to meet the impending supply demand gap, it has become imperative to focus on improving productivity.

A significantly spruced up breeding programme, efficient feed management interventions, broad-basing the scale and scope of veterinary services, adoption of superior farm management practices and an efficient extension network are the five pillars on which the dairy sector shall be efficiently poised to achieve the full potential of the Indian dairy herd.

The writer is managing director & CEO, Yes Bank and president, Assocham