Why agricultural exports need to be weaned away from meat for India’s sake

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Updated: October 6, 2017 5:12:20 AM

The Indian agri export statistics include all plantation crops, meat, poultry, dairy and marine products.

agriculture, meat export in india, india meat export, meat business in indiaDiscounting meat/marine products is vital to measure export of agri-products because segregated data will give a reality check rather than a false sense of comfort over higher export figures yielded by inclusion of these items. (Reuters)

The Indian agri export statistics include all plantation crops, meat, poultry, dairy and marine products. An analysis of agri-exports data from 2010 to 2016 is made by excluding buffalo/ sheep/ goat/ processed meat/poultry and marine items as products of animal flesh (dairy items are not excluded) obtained through feeding an slaughtering is better categorised as industrial production of meat rather than farm-related activity.

Discounting meat/marine products is vital to measure export of agri-products because segregated data will give a reality check rather than a false sense of comfort over higher export figures yielded by inclusion of these items. As per official data, farm exports climbed up from $18 billion in 2010 to $33 billion in 2016—up by 83%, with a peak of $42-$43 billion in 2013 and 2014. Exports of meat and marine items have risen from $3.5 billion to $9 billion from 2010 to 2015/ 2016—higher by 160%, with a peak of $10.6 billion in 2015. This is consistent with the emerging global trend wherein dietary preferences are shifting away from cereals and grains to consumption of animal products. The effective or net increase in exports of plantations crops and their products from India appears to be negative or marginal. Agri-exports are cited to be 12-13 % of “total national exports” in 2015-2016. But, they account for 9-9.3% in the last two years when meat/marine items are excluded. That shows a reduction in real agri-exports by 3.3-3.5%. Exports of plantation crops in India’s “total export” were 8% in 2010 and 9% in 2016—which shows negligible sustainable growth in exports except for the small blip of 10-11% in 2012 to 2014. The trend of rising agri-imports and falling agri-exports (after discounting meat/marine shipments) will make India a net importer over the next few years. In 2016, imports totalled $21.5 billion while exports totalled $23.8 billion—a spread of barely $2.3 billion, down from the peak spread of $19.6 billion, in 2013. With increasing imports of edible oils, pulses and, now, wheat and sugar as well, the spread is bound to collapse.

Usage of animal husbandry products, especially for exports, implies we are promoting inefficient production. Buffalo meat, per unit of output, requires 25x feed as input, pork 10x and chicken 5x. Water consumption for 1 kg beef is 15.4 kilolitres versus 2.5 kl required for 1 kg of rice. One kg of lamb requires about 10.4 kl. Indian rice production/exports is red-flagged for copious water consumption, but meat production is six times more water-intensive. In terms of energy, three calories of energy are needed to create one calorie of edible plant material, whereas grain-fed beef requires some 35 calories per calorie produced. Global dietary trends continue to move towards high meat consumption. In China, between 1981 and 2004, the annual per capita grain consumption declined from 145 kg to 78 kg in the cities while, over the same period, intake of meat rose from 20 kg to 29 kg per year. There is considerable demand for meat in overseas markets, but should large crops be consumed for fattening animals for exports over feeding the population at home?

As per the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, London, “The challenge is that an increase in animal-based production will require greater land and resource requirement, as livestock farming demands extensive land use. One hectare of land can, for example, produce rice or potatoes for 19–22 people per annum. The same area will produce enough lamb or beef for only one or two people”. Let this analysis be understood objectively without getting into the vegetarian versus non-vegetarian debate. The idea is to submit facts so that exports of plantation crops can be incentivised, meat/marine/poultry products can be classified separately, efficient methods of crop production can be promoted to overcome the limitations of land and water availability. The primordial pursuit of man has been to attain higher economic efficiency through scientific and ethical means. Why shouldn’t then matters of consumption not be linked to resource conservation?

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