Sunday, March 10, 2013


There are only a few investigative science journalist in India and some of their writings are truly informative and useful. In one of a recent writings by such a journalist it was dramatically revealed that India is mindlessly pursuing a program of replacing some of its native species of cows with hybrid varieties using massive insemination program under government tutelage. The operation flood started in Gujarat by late Dr Verghese Kurien also depended too heavily on hybridization and improving Buffalo population. No doubt buffaloes are high milk yielders and it makes sense from the farmer's view to buy a high yielding buffalo than a cow with lesser yield. But ignoring the other advantages of rearing local varieties of cows can have some serious consequences to Indian agriculture as being contended by this well respected writer. Here is the reference to her article which can be accessed from the web to understand her well thought out treatise.  

The reason, explains Hari Bhai who heads the foundation's desi cow project, is that sugarcane yields have seen a dramatic increase using cow dung from the indigenous variety of cows in Wardha. And indigenous cows are necessary for natural farming, which depends on cow dung and cow urine. Farmers have been earning up to Rs 7 lakh per acre and a yield of 80 tonnes in Wardha with natural farming. In contrast, the yield in farms in Uttar Pradesh is only 30 tonnes per acre. So, we are taking this concept to places where we are opening factories, so that sugarcane farmers get a good yield with minimum inputs, he says. Wardha farmers are being used as resource persons to teach natural farming to the Uttar Pradesh farmers. The farmers have been receptive, and in most districts, the concept is catching on, he says. The concept was first popularised by Subhash Palekar as "zero-budget farming". He has been going from place to place, teaching farmers the art of natural farming using cow dung from indigenous cows. Hari Bhai acknowledges Palekar's influence in the project, adding the latter is often consulted for the project. The Gir cows, which were once gifted to Brazil, have today become a huge chunk of the cow population in that country - as many as five million. Meanwhile, the total cow population in India, including indigenous and hybrid, is 190 million, of which 160 million are indigenous. India is seeing a steady decline in the number of indigenous cows. Between 1997 and 2002, there was a 10 per cent decline - leaving 185 million cattle. In 2007, they were further reduced to 160 million. The decreasing numbers are at the cost of genetic diversity and should concern as much as the fact that cows as a species are being fast overtaken by buffaloes, which were half the population of cattle on the last count.

The points raised in the above article deserve serious consideration by the scientific world and the policy makers because rapid declining of the gene pool of native cows can have disastrous consequences in a couple of decades' time, if adequate steps are not taken now. One may end up with a situation when native breeds can be found only in "Goshalas" maintained by Hindu religious organizations! It is unfortunate that in India every problem is tackled in isolation and lack of integrating them into a single policy never receives attention at the government level. If there were a holistic national policy on agriculture, livestock and food problems like the above would not have been neglected so long. With India becoming a top nation in milk production the earlier priority of increasing the yield can be moderated to accommodate the importance of native breeds who are a valuable ally of the farmer. 


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