Animal rearing is an important aspect of the Indian agricultural sector. Read here to know more about the significance of the economics of animal rearing in India.
Livestock or animal rearing plays an important role in the Indian economy because about 20.5 million people depend upon livestock for their livelihood. Livestock provides livelihood to two-thirds of rural communities in India.
India has a rich heritage of animal rearing. It is home to several breeds of cattle, small ruminants, fowl, pigs, and equine species among others.
Livestock contributes about 16% to the income of small farm households as against an average of 14% for all rural households. It also employs about 8.8 % of the population in India.
India has vast livestock resources and the sector contributes 4.11% to total GDP and 25.6% of total Agriculture GDP.
What is animal rearing?
Animal rearing is considered an integral part of agricultural activities in rural India. The diversity in breeds is based on traditional selection methods.
Some of the selection criteria considered in the traditional breeding systems include the ability of the animals too:
- withstand heat and humidity,
- to resist diseases,
- to cope with feed stress,
- to walk and graze forages,
- to utilize a range of forages and,
- to survive for longer periods.
The objective of animal rearing is to make the livestock useful for human beings for a variety of purposes with economic value. Therefore, it provides non-farm employment and income in rural areas.
The animal production system in India is part of a mixed crop-livestock farming system and is important for the security of the rural populace.
Significance of animal rearing in India
Animal rearing is integrated with the natural environment to a great extent, less dependent on purchased inputs and external factors. As a result, animal rearing, even during the down performance of agriculture, contributes nearly 40% of the rural GDP across India.
Another key factor is, that in arid and semi-arid regions of India, agriculture is possible only for three to six months during the monsoon period and high-cost irrigation investments are beyond the reach of most the farmers. Thus, for a large percentage of the rural populace cattle rearing provides a steady income.
The diversity of breeds itself is a certain risk mitigation characteristic; as animals are bred to fulfill a wide array of characteristics.
According to the Livestock census, India is
- World’s highest livestock owner at about 535.78 million
- First in the total buffalo population in the world – 109.85 million buffaloes
- Second in the population of goats – 148.88 million goats
- Second largest poultry market in the world
- The second-largest producer of fish and also the second-largest aquaculture nation in the world
- Third in the population of sheep (74.26 million)
- Fifth in the population of ducks and chickens (851.81 million)
- Tenth in camel population in the world – 2.5 lakhs
Importance of animal rearing in farmers’ economy
The farmers in India maintain a mixed farming system i.e. a combination of crop and livestock where the output of one enterprise becomes the input of another enterprise thereby realizing resource efficiency.
The livestock serves the farmers in different ways:
- The livestock provides food items such as Milk, Meat, and Eggs for human consumption. India is the number one milk producer in the world.
Fibre and skins:
- The livestock also contributes to the production of wool, hair, hides, and pelts. Leather is the most important product which has very high export potential. India is producing about 41.5 million Kg of wool per annum
Animals for agricultural operations and transport
- Bullocks are the backbone of Indian agriculture. Despite a lot of advancements in the use of mechanical power in Indian agricultural operations, the Indian farmer especially in rural areas still depends upon bullocks for various agricultural operations.
- The bullocks are saving a lot on fuel which is a necessary input for using mechanical power like tractors, combine harvesters, etc
- Pack animals like camels, horses, donkeys, ponies, mules, etc are being extensively used to transport goods in different parts of the country in addition to bullocks.
- In situations like hilly terrains, mules and ponies serve as the only alternative to transport goods.
- Similarly, the army has to depend upon these animals to transport various items in high areas of high altitudes.
- Dung and other animal wastes serve as very good farm yard manure and have a great monetary value.
- In addition, it is also used as fuel (biogas, dung cakes), and for construction purposes in rural areas.
Livestock as asset
- Livestock is considered as ‘moving banks’ because of their potential to dispose of during emergencies.
- They serve as capital and in cases of landless agricultural laborers many times it is the only capital resource they possess.
- Livestock serves as an asset and in case of emergencies, they serve as a guarantee for availing loans from the local sources such as money lenders in the villages.
- Livestock is also used for biological control of brush, plants, and weeds as cattle graze off the weeds.
- Livestock has been part of generations of pastoral communities in India and the special knowledge of animal rearing has evolved over the centuries.
- They have been responsible for developing and conserving domestic animal diversity with important genetic traits.
Milk marketing network
- Milk marketing has a significant role in the rural economy. The sale of milk does help family farms to get regular income, though not high profits.
Also read: Sustainable Livestock Production
Changes in the animal-rearing system
As in the case of agriculture, the animal rearing system is witnessing a rapid movement toward an intensive production model characterized by a focus on one trait or breed; production of milk through heavy doses of external inputs like feed concentrates and other enhancing chemicals like antibiotics, probiotics, etc.
Statistically, such a system is unsustainable and the cost of external inputs pushes the animal rearers out of the vocation.
The whole system is protected enormously by subsidies. India is pushing itself into this trap with a focus on an intensive production system.
- Ushering in such a production system into India has the potential to push out traditional breeds and increase the dependence on inputs like concentrates, medicines, and genetic inputs like imported semen of exotic bulls, thereby increasing the costs of production.
- Such a system is unsuitable for the agro-climatic conditions of India.
The aspect of cross-breeding is also on the rise and its usage is specifically considering the availability of resources, educational and social status of farmers, and climatic conditions.
- The excessive focus on exotic breeds ignores evidence from the field which points to progressively stagnating milk production and returns from crossbreeds.
Important Initiatives by the Government
Rashtriya Gokul Mission: To develop and conserve indigenous breeds of the bovine population enhance milk production and make it more remunerative to the farmers.
National Livestock Mission: To ensure quantitative and qualitative improvement in livestock production systems and capacity building of all stakeholders.
National Artificial Insemination Programme: To suggest novel methods of bringing about impregnation in female breeds. And to prevent the spread of certain diseases which are genital, thereby enhancing the efficiency of the breed.
National Cattle and Buffalo Breeding Project: To genetically upgrade important indigenous breeds on a priority basis with a focus on development and conservation.
Animal Husbandry Startup Grand Challenge: To appreciate innovations coming from the villages to expand the dairy sector in India.
The economics of animal rearing is an important aspect of the developmental policies of India’s economy. Hence more measures can be used to promote the well-being of the system:
- incorporating seeds that yield good edible biomass in our agricultural practices;
- making the right choice in introducing cattle/ buffalo breeds in different agro-climatic regions;
- in western India, high-yielding milk breeds can be used in pure form or could be used for upgrading cattle in the local or adjoining areas;
- promoting milk recording at farmers’ gate;
- selection of bulls for higher milk yields needs to be simultaneously carried out;
- identifying possible breeds which may already exist in different areas;
- promoting milk yield competitions in different regions for identifying good milk-yielding cows
This will be a slow and time-consuming process but, ultimately will give a solid indigenous base with all the good genetic characteristics.