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Dairying was among the first commercial endeavours in agriculture.

Knowledge of the farming and subsequent domestication of the bovine,


cattle, had led to the value-added products from its milk, and the initial
foray into business from the sale of these products. The bovine animals,
therefore, became the epicenter of agriculture, and civil societies harnessed
them as the key input to agribusiness. Their multipurpose usages have been
for milk, meat, tilling, drafting, skin, hide, etc.
With the passage of time, the industrial nations adopted practice of
technology-driven agriculture including livestock to optimize their resource
and manpower, whereas the rest of the world continued to depend on the
home-grown labour-intensive system.

Livestock has assumed the most important role in


providing employment and income generating
opportunities.
It has been more than a decade that livestock economy is booming as a result of
farmers’ conscious decision to switch over from crops. When in 2002-03,
monetary contribution of livestock surpassed that of food grains, policy makers
ignored it as a temporary coping mechanism of the poor in the face of sluggish
agriculture due to repeated droughts. But livestock contribution has since
remained higher by 5-13%, according to economists at the National Centre for
Agricultural Economics and Policy Research. In fact, both livestock and fisheries
components have been growing faster than the crops component for a decade. A
report prepared for the 12th Five Year Plan (ended in 2017) accepted this shift by
recognising livestock as the engine of agriculture growth.

Livestock controls close to a quarter of the agriculture gross domestic product


(GDP). In 2010-11, it generated outputs worth Rs 3, 40,500 crore (at current
prices). This was 28% of the agriculture GDP and about 5% of the country’s GDP.

After livestock, paddy is the next highest contributor to the agriculture GDP. In
2009-10, output from livestock was 2.5 times the value of paddy and more than
thrice the value of wheat, as per the Central Statistical Office data. “Animals are
natural capital, which can be easily reproduced to act as a living bank with
offspring as interest, and an insurance against income shocks of crop failure and
natural calamities,” says an economist.

Driving livestock growth are changes in the utility of livestock for farmers and in
food consumption pattern. Importance of livestock as the “draught power” has
declined due to mechanisation of agricultural operations and declining farm sizes.
Use of dung is also being replaced by chemical fertilisers. At the same time,
consumption of livestock products like eggs, milk and meat is increasing due to
rise in the income of the booming middle class, both in urban and rural areas.

For many agriculture economists, due to this constant confusion over the ‘beef’
policy and the increasing intolerance to meat eating, the poor’s new economy
risks a meltdown. For example, the new regulation debars people from trading in
market places. Most of the cattle are sold in local weekly markets. These markets
are accessible and are a convenient option for farmers who otherwise have to
spend a lot on transportation.

Recognising the boom in livestock economy, way back in 2010-11, economists


predicted that overall agriculture growth will be high. In 2009, despite severe
drought, the agriculture sector registered growth due to the booming livestock
economy. Livestock has assumed the most important role in providing
employment and income generating opportunities. While crops still employ the
maximum people, employment in livestock is fast catching up.

Rise of the livestock sector has implications for poverty. Rural poverty is less in
states where livestock contributes more to farm income. Punjab, Haryana,
Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat and Rajasthan are a case
in point. Mostly, marginal farmers and those who have quit farming are joining
the livestock business. About 70% of the livestock market in India is owned by
67% of the small and marginal farmers and by the landless. One way, prosperity is
now more dependent on per capita livestock ownership than on farms. This
implies that the growth of the livestock sector would have more effect on poverty
reduction than the growth of the crops sector.

But this is not the full potential of the sector. Absence of policy focus has stifled
the sector that caters to the poorest. India’s livestock productivity is 20-60%
lower than the global average. Deficiency of feed and fodder is the biggest factor
responsible for 50% of the total unrealised production potential, followed by
inadequate breeding and reproduction, and increasing diseases among animals.

As livestock is less prone to global warming and climate change, it can be


considered more reliable than rain-fed agriculture. But livestock receives only
12% of the total public expenditure on the agriculture and allied sector and 4-5%
of the total institutional credit flow into the sector. Hardly 6% of the livestock are
insured.

But now, with all these regulations and confusion over government’s own policy
towards cattle, the new economy of the poor is under grave threat. As
unemployment grips India, the livestock sector could have been a natural choice
to tide over the crisis. But if one farmer is not sure of selling a cattle, and not sure
about his or her security while dealing with cattle, the economy will just collapse.
Like in the free market, sentiment also is critical for the economy of the poor.