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Breathing life into livestock

Posted by Ramoo on September 23, 2008

FARM VIEW New Delhi September 23, 2008, 0:57 IST

A new policy aims at speeding growth in the sector without disturbing the prevailing small holdings production system.

India is the world’s largest producer of milk, with an estimated production of 102 million tonnes in 2007-08, against 85 million tonnes of the USA, which holds the second position. India also has the world’s largest bovine population. As much as 73 per cent of rural households are engaged in animal rearing. Yet, all is not well with the livestock sector. The true potential of this sector is not being gainfully harnessed.

This is obvious in several ways. The per capita availability of milk in the country is still below the mark — reckoned only at 246 grams a day, against the world average of 285 grams. Besides, only around 10 per cent of the human protein requirement is met through the livestock products, which is also rather low. Moreover, the average productivity of milch animals is only around 1,214 kg per lactation (or milking season lasting several months), which compares poorly with the global average of 2,104 kg.

On the commercial front, only about 15 to 16 per cent of the total milk, about 30 per cent of the marketable surplus, gets into the organised marketing channels; the bulk being traded through unorganised vendors. The export of livestock products, too, is trivial — less than 1 per cent of the global trade — though that can be attributed partly to the frequent and, often, needless curbs imposed by the government. The Indian livestock farmers are, therefore, denied fair returns.

Indeed, there are several inherent constraints as well, which impede the optimal growth of this sector. A sizable chunk of the total animal population is either wholly unproductive or a very low-yielder.

As slaughtering cows and consumption of beef (cow meat) is a religious taboo, wasted animals are difficult to get rid of. Thus, they continue to compete with the milk-yielding population for feed and fodder, creating a scarcity of these key inputs.

To add to all that, there are a large number of diseases, including some dreaded ones like the foot and mouth disease (FMD), which take a heavy toll on animal life as well as potential output every year. FMD alone is estimated officially to cause an annual economic loss worth around Rs 10,000 crore. Despite some strides having been made in the prevention and control of this malady, nearly 1,600 outbreaks of it are reported every year from different parts of the country.

And while all this is bad enough, the implementation by the states of many central schemes for livestock improvement is dismal. As revealed by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar in a recent meeting of state animal husbandry ministers in New Delhi, the funds allocated by the centre to the states for these schemes remain woefully under-utilised.

Of the huge funds available for the livestock sector under the flagship Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna (RKYV), only 13 per cent were actually spent in 2007-08. Also, out of the resources available from the Rural Infrastructural Development Fund (RDF), an abysmal 0.48 per cent were used for animal husbandry and dairy.

Most shocking is the mismanagement of funds provided under the prime minister’s special package for the farmers’ suicides-prone districts of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala in 2006-07. Of the Rs 510 crore set apart for the promotion of animal husbandry in the selected districts of these states, no more than Rs 125 crore has so far been actually used for this purpose. This has a

dversely affected critical areas like genetic upgradation of animals, fodder development, disease control and animal health and overall dairy development.

The government, of course, is not unaware of all this. It has been contemplating evolving a comprehensive national livestock policy to take care of many of these ills and to ensure holistic development of this sector. A preliminary draft of the policy was circulated in states way back in 2004. Its updated version is now getting final touches before being adopted as a policy.

This policy aims broadly at speeding up the growth of this sector to match the increasing demand of livestock products without disturbing the prevailing small holdings production system. The goal is to double the per capita availability of animal protein from the present 10 grams to 20 grams in a decade.

This will be sought to be achieved through enhancement in animal productivity and product quality, induction of modern technology, better marketing and higher investment in this sector. This, obviously, is a daunting, though highly desirable, task and will need better implementation of official schemes and conducive policies

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