Livestock is emerging as the most important sector in the Indian agri-food system. Production and consumption of livestock products ( milk, milk products, meat and eggs) are increasing rapidly. The per capita milk consumption is now 394 g/person/day as against the world average of 229 g/person/day. The share of livestock in total value of agricultural output has increased from 21 per cent in 2011-12 to about 30 per cent now.
Today, milk is India’s largest agricultural commodity in production and value terms. In 2019-20, the value of milk alone was around ₹8-lakh crore as against ₹4.5-lakh crore for rice, wheat and all grains and pulses together.
The livestock sector has been seeing constant and sustainable growth despite limited investments from the public and private sectors. The sector has huge potential to increase income, generate employment and empower the poor and marginalised population, including women.
The livestock sector employs 8.8 per cent of the population and provides livelihood to two-thirds of the rural community. Most of the women are engaged in the livestock sector. Therefore, strengthening the livestock sector means pushing rural India towards prosperity.
India houses the world’s largest livestock population, of about 515 million, and is also the highest producer of milk (about 208 million tonnes), accounting for 22 per cent of the global milk production. Similarly, India is the second and sixth largest producer of eggs (114 billion) and meat (8 mt), respectively. However, the productivity on this front is much lower than the world average.
For example, while the average milk yield of cattle in India is 1,310 kg per lactation, the world average is 2,200 kg and in Saudi Arabia and Israel, it is more than 10,000 kg.
The major constraints faced by the livestock sector are: scarcity of feed and fodder; inadequate veterinary healthcare services; poor reproductive and productive performance of indigenous animals; wide gap between demand and availability of proven male germplasm; late sexual maturity of dairy animals; shortage of vaccines and diagnostics; and indiscriminate breeding under field conditions.
The National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, a think tank, has proposed that the Budget for 2022-23 should have a comprehensive programme for livestock development with focus on three key components — fodder, health and breeding.
First, the availability of quality feed and fodder is a pre-requisite for improving reproduction and productivity. Estimates show that India is short of dry fodder and green fodder by 12 per cent and 30 per cent, respectively.
The area under fodder cultivation has stagnated at around nine million hectares, which is 4.6 per cent of the total cultivable land, during the past several decades. With rising demand for livestock products, the demand for feed and fodder will grow further.
It is a paradox that India is surplus in foodgrain production but deficit in feed and fodder. Studies show that quality seeds of improved varieties of fodder are not available.
To address this issue, there is a need to develop fodder seed villages, including fodder seed banks. Also, some GST exemption can be considered in the fodder seed supply chain. The inputs and services for seed production are under ‘Exempt Category’, which can be considered to be under ‘zero rated’.
Second, poor animal health and diseases lead to low milk and meat yields. Animals are susceptible to several diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), brucellosis, or Black Quarter. The annual losses due to only FMD exceeds ₹20,000 crore. If just FMD is controlled, milk production will increase by at least 5-6 per cent per year and export of meat, 3-5 times.
Similarly, goat plague is causing a loss of ₹180 crore per year. It is therefore necessary that to improve animal health, a new scheme on the pattern of ‘Ayushman Bharat’, may be launched. A special grant may be allocated to renovate and modernise veterinary hospitals, and also funds may be allocated for constructing modern veterinary hospitals by inviting proposals from States on a 60:40 sharing basis.
The third, and most important, component is maintaining genetic purity among indigenous animals. This requires semen conservation facilities of indigenous breeds. India is the only country having 50 breeds of cattle, 19 breeds of buffalo, 34 breeds of goat and 44 breeds of sheep. There is a need to strengthen and upgrade at least 400 semen centres to supply quality semen for ensuring conception and fertility in cow and buffalo.
It is time to budget for one “flow cytometer” to at least 100 semen centres for rapid and accurate analysis of sperm function. The well-equipped semen centres can also be developed in public-private partnership mode.
Strengthening the livestock sector will not only help meet the growing demand for livestock products, but will also enhance farmers’ income, generate employment, empower women and give a fillip to livestock-based processing sectors.
Srivastava is Member, Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board, and Joshi is a former Director-South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute