Pratap S Birthal & Jaya JuMRani
By setting the target of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, the prime minister has clearly signalled a transition in agri-food policy from an excessive emphasis on foodgrain production towards improving welfare of the farming community. Given the continued excessive employment pressure, proliferation of small landholdings and growing agrarian crisis, this move is indeed an important change in the policy landscape. Doubling farmers’ income, however, requires identification of high-income generating activities, and the necessary policy support to harness their true potential. Animal husbandry is such an activity that provides livelihood support to two-thirds of the rural households, especially the landless and marginal farmers who control 70-75% of livestock populations. Animals generate a regular stream of outputs that can be consumed by the owning-households and/or sold for cash to meet their daily consumption needs. These can be raised with a small initial capital and, being reproducible assets, can be multiplied to generate income. Animal husbandry is also labour-intensive and has the potential to absorb surplus labour. With such characteristics, the growth in livestock production would be more pro-poor than growth in crop production.
Between 2005-06 and 2014-15, the livestock sector experienced a robust growth of close to 5% accounting for 29% of gross value of output of agricultural sector and 40% of overall agricultural growth. Milk is the largest agricultural commodity in quantity terms, and its value now equals to that of cereals. Consumption of livestock products is more responsive to income changes; and sustained economic growth and fast-growing urban population have been fuelling rapid growth in the demand for livestock products. The rapidly expanding global market for livestock products is also creating immense scope for exports. It is worth noting that India has emerged as one of the largest exporters of bovine meat in recent years. The expanding market for livestock products offers significant opportunities for enhancing rural incomes.
Nevertheless, livestock production might face a confluence of challenges that need to be overcome to keep the growth momentum underway. Livestock productivity is low because of excessive number of animals in relation to the available resources. Raising productivity requires optimization of population and augmentation of feed resources. Despite an improvement in availability of feed resources, the country remains deficit in dry fodder by 10%, in green fodder by 35% and in concentrate feed by 33%. The key options to augment feed resources include (i) better utilisation of crop residues such as paddy straw, (ii) promotion of cultivation of high-yielding fodder crops, and (iii) discouraging exports of nutrient-rich oilseed cakes.
India has 48 million male cattle and buffaloes for draught purposes. Utility of these animals has diminished because of increasing mechanisation of agriculture and decreasing farm size. While slaughtering of unproductive buffaloes is allowed, cattle slaughter is banned in most Indian states. A long-term solution is to optimise population via sexed semen technology that allows birth of off-springs of desired sex.
Even though there has been a considerable improvement in animal health infrastructure and manpower yet diseases like foot and mouth disease, peste des petits ruminants (PPR) and influenza occur frequently and restrict realisation of the production potential. Food safety is also becoming an important concern. This calls fora paradigm shift in animal health policy from curative to preventive management and improvement in delivery of livestock services. Fostering rapid growth in livestock sector needs sturdy financial support. Livestock’s share in total agricultural credit has rarely exceeded 5%. Financial institutions treat credit to livestock sector as investment credit that attracts a higher interest rate and is often advanced against collateral. The cost of raising a milch animal is about 75% of the variable cost of cultivation paddy or wheat in a hectare. This compels for provision of short-term credit for animal husbandry. Institutional mechanisms to protect animals against risk are also not strong and require significant improvement. In the past five years, only 5.3 million animals, mostly high-producing cattle and buffalo, have been insured.
Markets for live animals and their products are unorganised, except for a few pockets of modernised markets in some western and southern states. Marketing and transaction costs associated with their sale in informal markets are high. Cooperatives in dairying and contract farming in poultry have proven to be quite successful in linking farmers to markets and such initiatives need to be replicated on a wider scale. Lastly, livestock sector has remained under-invested. It receives a meagre 5% of the total public investment in agriculture. The urgency now is to allocate more resources for livestock development, targeting livestock services, markets and value chains, feed and fodder resources, and R&D to harness the pro-poor growth potential of this vital component of our rural economy.
Birthal and Jumrani are, respectively, ICAR national professor and scientist, National Institute of Agricultural Economics and Policy Research