A National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) survey conducted in 2012 and reviewed in 2014 showed about a loss of five million in indigenous cattle population in Tamil Nadu. For decades now, the people in Tamil Nadu have been following what the state has been recommending for cattle rearing.
India’s growth was hit during mid 1960s due to frequent wars and famine, following which the country opted for a more sustainable strategy to face the situation. Manifold increase in food production led to the Green Revolution, which spread into milk and marine products. The Green Revolution was followed by a foreign aid called PL-480 where import of wheat from the US helped in meeting the shortage in buffer stock or the mandatory foodgrains that need to be stored in warehouses to meet any emergency. In due course, urban growth with explosion in population necessitated more production to meet demands of food consumption and other everyday products including agricultural subsidiaries such as milk, meat and vegetables.
The dairy sector also received foreign assistance following which hybridisation of cattle was encouraged by the government, and farmers switched to new cattle breeds substituting traditional varieties. They were convinced by additional quick bucks in rearing hybrid varieties. The situation across the nation turned in favour of hybrid cattle as Gujarat’s Anand Model led to self-sufficiency in milk production. On the other hand, farmers faced shortage in cattle fodder as the Green Revolution could not provide enough of it for their cattle. It led to abandoning of indigenous cattle breeds with the other important factor being the output of milk from these cows was only half that of hybrid cattle breeds.
Indian agriculture is completely dependent on climatic conditions. In order to safeguard production, the farmers relied on traditional varieties for foodgrain production. Milch animals played a vital role. Separating animals and farming had a huge impact on the former. Milch animals were removed from the cycle of food production and merely reared for milk. Even their manure was replaced with chemical fertilisers. Therefore, new agricultural practices alienated indigenous cattle from the agrarian ecology. The White Revolution made farmers adopt a dual strategy of using indigenous cattle for personal consumption and hybrids for commercial use. Even this was not sustainable.
The Impact On Indigenous Cattle
According to the NDDB survey, Tamil Nadu had 7,400,000 indigenous cattle in 1992, but it dropped sharply to 2,400,000 in 2012. Similarly, buffalo population dropped to 8 lakh from 32 lakh during the period. The net impact of such a sharp fall in the bovine population can well be understood. Currently, water shortage in the state makes farming activities very difficult. While farmers search for additional revenue or primary income through milch-rearing, they are facing hurdles in the form of dominance of milk distributors who exploit them. Various issues in the current milk production cycle have forced them to turn their attention towards indigenous cattle, which provides good income as demand for traditional/organic milk is on the rise. But they are left searching for indigenous cattle as they are few in numbers and getting the perfect variety is difficult.
Jallikattu, a traditional sport organised annually during Pongal celebrations in the state, had been providing an opportunity to select high-quality bulls for re-productive activities. According to a Tamil Nadu government memorandum, submitted to the Union government to lift the ban on jallikattu (which was done by including the bulls in the performing animals list by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2011), the traditional event helps conserve the native germ plasm since bulls with excellent physical attributes are reared for this sport. As the breeding of indigenous cattle faced an unexpected crisis, there was no other countermeasure to select high-quality germ plasm.
The jallikattu protests’ underlying message was to encourage breeding of indigenous cattle. The then environment and forest minister Jairam Ramesh got a notification issued on 11 July 2011, enlisting bulls in the performing animals list. The protests in January 2017 were spontaneous since the people understood the importance of indigenous cattle.
A lot happened after that and currently the Supreme Court of India is looking into the entire aspect of the traditional bull fight. But now that the jallikattu event is being held for the last two years, we can expect some improvement in the number of indigenous cattle, especially with demand for organic dairy products from indigenous cattle increasing. It is another matter that even the indigenous cattle urine is now being promoted as a cure for various illnesses, including cancer.
Towards this, the Tamil Nadu government has done a great service by opening a centre for indigenous cattle research in Erode district on 15 February at a cost of Rs 5 crore. This will help protect and develop the Kangayam variety of indigenous cattle. The state government is doing its bit in this effort. Similarly, the Union government is planning to introduce artificial insemination across the country to expand the indigenous cattle population.
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