Monday, February 25, 2013

Holy Cows -- Acclaimed abroad, despised at home

Holy Cows -- Acclaimed abroad, despised at home

A couple of days back, newspaper in Punjab reported that an American company -- World Wide Sires Ltd -- is planning to provide high-quality semen to dairy farmers. Some days back, I had heard that the Kerala Minister for Animal Husbandry was thinking of importing some improved cattle breeds from Denmark for cross-breeding with the local cows.

I find this shocking.

The fascination for exotic cattle breeds has been the bane of Indian dairy industry. Our planners and policy makers have introduced these breeds without even ascertaining the potential of native breeds. The Indian breeds are suited to the local conditions, are able to resist the heat of summers, need less water, can walk long distances, live on local grasses and resist tropical diseases. They can be also turned into high milk producers given the right kind of feed and environment.

While the native cattle breeds (they number 30) are despised at home, and roam the streets because of their low productivity and therefore low economic value, the same breeds are doing exceptionally well in Brazil. In fact, over the years Brazil has become the biggest exporter of Indian breeds of cows. Three importants breeds -- Gir, Kankrej and Ongole -- give more milk than Jersey and Holstein Friesian.

At a competiton held recently in Brazil, pure bred Gir cow clocked 48 litres of milk/day.

If India had given the same importance to our local cattle instead of depending upon cross-breeding with exotic breeds, the land of holy cows would have made not only the domestic cattle economically viable but also ensured a significant shift towards the viability of farms and crop sustainability. Still I feel India can launch bilateral cooperation with Brazil to strengthen our own dairy industry and farming. I think there is an urgent need to draw the nation's attention to the way we have neglected our own cattle breeds thereby doing more damage to agriculture and animal husbandry.

Here is an article that I wrote sometimes back, and is so relevant today.

Holy cow
Acclaimed abroad, despised at home

By Devinder Sharma

For years we were made to believe that Indian cows are unproductive. They give less milk and therefore are a drain on farming. The entire focus has therefore been to crossbreed with the exotic high-yielding milch cattle from abroad.

For a nation, which has rarely been proud of its natural assets, expecting the holy cows to be scientifically and technically revered was certainly out of question. While India refused to acknowledge the distinct and superior traits of its indigenous cattle breeds, and in fact derided all efforts to develop the production potential of its own local cattle breeds, another developing country saw the virtues of the Indian cattle breeds and has over the years emerged as the major supplier of semen and embryos of high-yielding milk cattle breeds. These improved cattle breeds actually originated from India.

It was in the 1960s that Brazil imported three cattle breeds from India -- Gir and Kankrej from Gujarat, and Ongole from Andhra Pradesh. These were essentially imported for beefing up its meat exports. It was only when these breeds landed in Brazil that they found them to be also a good source for milk production. In a recent FAO publication on traditional knowledge, it has been observed that what was (and is still) considered a ‘waste’ in India, has turned out to be a great economic wealth for Brazil.

Brazil has in recent years emerged as the world’s biggest supplier of improved cattle embryos and semen of Indian origin – now rated amongst the best dairy breeds in the world. The demand for Indian breeds is particularly high from the African and Southeast Asian countries. Suitable for the tropical conditions, these countries find the improved cattle germplasm to be ideal for their cattle breeding programmes. If only Indian dairy and animal scientists had not ignored the domestic cattle breeds, the fate of the Indian cows would have been much different – these holy cows would have then been truly revered.

Believe it or not, the world’s best Gir cows today give 5500 litres of milk on an average per lactation. Compare these with the neglected cousin back home, which do not yield more than 980 litres, the Brazilian Gir yield roughly six times more. And that’s not the maximum limit, milk yields as high as 9000 litres per lactation have been recorded in Brazil. Imagine the Indian Gir breed giving that much of milk. The fate of the Indian cattle would have undergone a dramatic change for the better.

In India, where agriculture research and education has been more or less westernised after the advent of the land grant system of education, agriculture scientists considered it worthless to work on the native breeds. Cattle improvement realised on the sole methodology of bringing in alien breeds of Jersey and Holstein-Friesen and using them in a nation-wide crossbreeding programme to improve the domestic milk production capacity.

The imported Jersey purebreds, which were used extensively for improving milk production in Indian breeds, on an average produce 3,000 to 5,000 litres in a lactation year. On the other hand, the resulting Jersey crossbreds that were born do not give more than 2500 to 3000 litres. Imagine if the country has instead gone in for developing its own indigenous breeds yielding almost double than the crossbreds, India’s milk production would have surpassed all global records.

Indiscriminate crossbreeding of Indian cattle with the exotic breeds under the Intensive Cattle Breeding Programme (ICDP) has already rendered more than 80 per cent of the Indian cattle in the non-descript category. In a country, which has the largest population of cattle in the world, and some 30 recognised breeds of cattle, genetic contamination had taken its toll. More than a dozen of the Indian cattle breeds have almost disappeared.

So much so that some years back, Oman made an unusual request to India. The oil-rich Middle East country was looking for four purebred animals of the cattle breed – Tharparkar -- found only in the dry and arid regions of Rajasthan. Tharparkar derives its name from its unique genetic ability that enables the animal to walk across the massive desert of Thar in Rajasthan. It took us several years to procure four genetically pure Tharparkar bulls.

While India ignored the strength and capabilities of its domestic cattle, Brazil realised the unique genetic potential of Indian breeds. It has meanwhile developed a number of commercially important crossbreds: Girolando, a dual purpose cattle for beef and milk and Zeboain, developed from crossing Kankrej and Ongol. A breed evolved for meat, and currently being developed for milk is Nellore. Another breed Indo-Gujarat is a genetic mixture.

In Minas province, a research company, EPAMIG, has produced 50 dairy cows recording 10,000 litres per 307 days of milk period. These high-yielding cows are being used for embryo collection, fetching US $ 220 per embryo. Semen from the progeny bulls of this breed fetches US $ 11 a dose.

Not only in Brazil, animal genetic wealth from India has been the building block of numerous improved breeds all over the world. Take poultry, a rare Indian breed - Brahma -- is among the parents of modern broilers. The development of Anglo-Nubian breeds of goat in Europe is traced back to Jamnapari breed from India. In the case of buffaloes, some of the best breeds available world over are from India.

And yet, India has been regularly sending official missions to scout for improved breeds of sheep, horses, rabbits, poultry and you name it. The accepted logic being that India’s own domestic breeds are unproductive and importing exotic breeds is the only practical way to improve productivity. The same reasoning also extends to plant varieties and the traditional medicinal systems. While the production potential of high-yielding crop varieties is often exaggerated, there is not even a single official research programme to identify and improve the traditional and locally adaptable crop varieties.

It is primarily because of our inability to appreciate the genetic wealth existing in our backyard that much of it has already been taken and deposited in the plant and animal repositories in Europe, United States, Japan and Australia.

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