India has seen a lot of politics over the ban on beef and the repercussion attached to the idea of cow slaughter.
We saw what happened to a former BJP office bearer in Madhya Pradesh, when he was ‘found to be storing cow’s meat inside his house.’
However, in our zeal to politicise the consumption of beef, it apears we are hurting the larger interests of our country and its economy.
There’s no denying the truth that livestock sector plays a multifaceted role in any economy of the world but more so in India. Apart from significant contribution to agricultural economy, it provides livelihood support, employment generation opportunities, asset creation, recurring income and social and financial security to millions of households.
Farmers’ suicide and their never-ending poverty
Indian farmers and landless laborers live in abject poverty, driven to commit suicide for unpaid loans of just few thousand rupees. Poorest of the poor depend upon livestock as insurance for crop failure or against natural calamities. Be it cow or buffalo, livestock is a cash crop for the poorest of the poor. Cattle are what they often have as their most prized possessions.
Little do we realise that enforcing beef ban means that they have not been able to sell their livestock to their potential buyers, who would in the past have bought them for the purpose of meat.
Beef Ban laws may be aimed at hurting minority community but it impacts the very existence of landless laborers whose cash crop has been suddenly turned worthless in states like Maharashtra and Haryana. Maharashtra in particular has borne the maximum brunt of farmers’ suicide with the state recording nearly half of country’s farmers’ suicide cases in 2014.
Livestock rearing: Avocation of poorest of the poor
Livestock sector has considerable potential to contribute towards alleviation of problem of unemployment and poverty. Also, it can provide large scale self-employment opportunities. In India, 70% of the rural households own livestock and for them livestock sector is an important source of employment especially for women.
Livestock sector has considerable potential for generating additional employment through milk, meat, wool and eggs production activities. Milk production activity alone involves more than 30 million small producers.
The agriculture and livestock sector still provide employment to 52% of the work force. In rural areas, most of the livestock rearing activities are mainly performed by women. As many as 7.5 crore women are engaged in livestock sector as against 1.5 crore men. There is an increasing trend in respect of women participation in livestock development activities. This has led to empowerment of women in households in the rural communities. (Research Study Report 144 November 2011, AGRO-ECONOMIC RESEARCH CENTRE, SARDAR PATEL UNIVERSITY, GUJARAT)
In comparison to land, livestock are controlled more by the poor. In India, marginal farmers (less than 1 ha) and small farmers (less than 2 ha) are owners of about 45% and 20% of the livestock, respectively. Livestock is a key source of supplementary income and livelihood especially for small land holdings and landless rural poor households. (TABLE 82: DISTRIBUTION OF LIVESTOCK ACCORDING TO SIZE OF THE HOLDING DURING 2006-07, Basic Animal Husbandry & Fisheries Statistics 2014 Source: Department of Agriculture & Cooperation, Input Survey 2006-07, M/O Agriculture)
It also provides livelihood support to millions of rural people having little access to land. Development and growth of cattle are conditioned by the availability of fodder from arable land and forest.
Needless to say, any law (beef ban law) that severely impacts earning potential of the animal farm and increases its non-performing animals, is directly effecting the poorest of the poor, women in rural areas and landless laborers.
Can states be allowed to crush the avocation of poorest of poor rural women and landless laborers in the garb of beef ban law?
Learning from the US
USA exploits its livestock as per scientific and modern methods of farming to serve its national nutritional and commercial need. It has only 90 million cows but produces 57% of its total agricultural output from its livestock amounting to $37 billion from milk and $49 billion from beef. (Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Clearly, earning from beef is 38% more than dairy even though American yield per cow is much more than Indian cows.
Potential earning of Indian livestock
India has cattle-herd size (cow plus buffalo) which is 3.5 times bigger than that of USA’s. It has therefore, a potential to generate annual revenue of $ 298 billion dollars (3.5 times that of USA revenue) which is more than the annual petroleum export by Saudi Arabia ($285 billion). Therefore, India is to cattle what Saudi Arabia is to petrol.
Potential annual revenue generation ($298 billion) of cattle livestock of India could fund more than 50% of our total annual public expenditure budget ($ 570 billion as per 2015 IMF report). Can India afford to shut this huge revenue source on distorted religious values when viewed from religious scholars like Swami Vivekananda’s perspective?
One could argue on the genetic quality of American cows in milk production but cannot deny the beef value of Indian cattle to be competitive if not better than that of American cattle. Due to its low domestic beef consumption, lean fat content, proximity to the Middle Eastern market and high acceptance in taste, Indian livestock could be of much higher value than American livestock.
Beef value of Indian cattle
Beef value of Indian cattle could easily reach $175 billion revenue per year which is five times more than the Indian defence budget (2014-2015) of $39 billion. If exploited scientifically, the annual revenue from Indian beef could fund India’s need for over a decade in Food Security Programme and Health and Education.
The livestock revenue generation potential of India is more than the combined revenue of Microsoft & Google. The beef-revenue potential of Indian cattle could be twice the total arms export revenue of USA and Russia combined.
If India concentrated on livestock business scientifically, we could be the richest nation of the world because God has gifted us with the biggest reserve of cattle in the world.
Beef ban or prosperity
In the light of huge economic potential of beef in India, it is in the national interest that Swami Vivekananda’s interpretation of beef consumption in Hindu religion could be relooked.
Can the avocation of 750 lakhs women be killed by making their livestock lose 60% of its economic value? Can India afford to shun the livestock industry with existing potential being much larger than the entire mining, steel, manufacturing sector put together? Farmers and landless laborers are committing suicide while their wealth is wasted due to political ban.
Ammarah Khalid is a law student at OPJ Global Law School