Animal Production / Animal Products / Buffalo / ILRI / India / Markets / South Asia / Value Chains

Small-scale buffalo-keeping in India goes big time–With exports a quarter of world’s beef market

Buffalo in a village homestead in the Himalayan foothills of northern India

Buffalo in a village homestead in the Himalayan foothills of northern India (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

‘Alas for the sacred cow: Beef exports from India are expected to surge 30 per cent this year, giving this country a quarter of the world market.

‘This is a good-news story in a lurching economy. Livestock industries, from eggs to pigs to butter, are expanding rapidly, and it is growth that directly engages the poorest people in the country.

‘Three-quarters of India’s livestock is produced by small-scale farmers, the majority of them women, and by landless people who raise animals at home.

‘Only three years ago, India’s market share was just 8 per cent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which says India will be the single biggest exporter of beef.

‘Demand is being driven from the Middle East and fast-growing economies in Southeast Asia, countries that want low-cost products.

‘Vietnam was the biggest buyer last year. . . .

‘The potential for expanded profit and job creation in the livestock sector is huge, but so are the challenges. Despite its soaring growth, there is remarkably little effort under way to channel the energy of these individual Indian farmers into an efficient food-production system.

‘As the livestock sector grows, so do the risks of disease because farmers and animals live in close proximity. And the environmental implications are grim: Ruminants are a significant producer of greenhouse gases and raising livestock strains water resources.

In truth India’s cows — considered sacred by Hindus — have been largely unscathed by the boom. The product exported from India and labelled “beef” is almost entirely water buffalo meat.

‘Those buffaloes are raised not on any dedicated farms, but in pairs and herds of a half-dozen animals by low-income farmers. . . .

Meat sales are growing at 17 per cent a year, as income levels rise and ever more people move to cities and change their eating patterns.

Most Indians are not vegetarians by choice but by compulsion,” noted Purvi Mehta, who heads the Asia office of the International Livestock Research Institute.

Milk is India’s great success story — the country has been the world’s largest milk producer since 1998 — but this sector too is largely unorganized or informal. Every second rural household owns a dairy animal, either a cow or a buffalo, but 90 per cent of these households have only between one and three animals . . . .

‘Dr. Mehta said she doesn’t think India needs to go the way of North America’s vast factory farms — but a “value chain” that gives farmers access to technology such as veterinary services and direct connection to markets could help small rural farmers . . . .’

Read the whole article in the Globe and Mail by Stephanie Nolen: From city street to steakhouse: Inside India’s bullish beef market, 26 Feb 2013.

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