In the 2014 Hindi movie Bewakoofiyaan, an angry Rishi Kapoor, playing the role of a career bureaucrat, informs his daughter about his posting in the animal husbandry department. When she seeks clarification — “animal kya (animal what?) — he explains that it is something “under” the ministry of agriculture. He further expresses anguish, by asking whether it is ever in his “taqdeer” (destiny) to get a good posting.
Many in the government may empathise with Rishi Kapoor’s character. An appointment in the animal husbandry department would, indeed, be the ultimate plummeting of an officer’s professional fortunes. Many even outside the government may relate to his daughter’s character, genuinely wondering what animal husbandry is all about. This, for a “subsector” contributing 4% to India’s GDP and nearly 30% of the gross value added from agriculture. Having been officially categorised as a sub-sector within agriculture, animal husbandry was always assigned a secondary role, when it came to framing of policies, strategies and interventions for the sector as a whole. The department of animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries was, indeed, “under” the ministry of agriculture.
A couple of recent developments have, however, brought in refreshing change.
In February this year, the Centre created a separate department of fisheries, carving it out of the erstwhile department of animal husbandry, dairying & fisheries. A subsector contributing nearly 1% to the country’s GDP, Rs 48,000 crore worth of exports and livelihoods to millions received the recognition and attention it deserved. This came as a sequel to the unveiling of an ambitious Blue Revolution scheme in 2014 for harnessing the potential of India’s marine and inland water resources through fisheries and aquaculture. Nevertheless, both animal husbandry and dairying, and the new department of fisheries, remained “under” the ministry of agriculture.
But in May, with the return of the current government, a separate ministry of fisheries, animal husbandry & dairying got created. This status, of finally being accorded the status of an independent sector of the economy, was reinforced by the Prime Minister himself. On June 10, in his first address to secretaries after the new government’s formation, he specifically mentioned about this sector being given high priority. That commitment he reiterated at the meeting of the NITI Aayog’s governing council.
How does one explain these developments that have lent some visibility to a previously low-profile sector?
The main reason is, of course, sheer size. At 125 crore-plus, India’s livestock population is the highest in the world. The country has, for more than a decade now, been the global leader in milk production, with an estimated output of 188 million tonnes in 2018-19 worth Rs 6,54,000 crore — more than the combined value of wheat and paddy — and growing at an annual rate of about 6.5%. Egg production, too, has been growing at a staggering 9.4%, touching 104 billion (numbers) in the fiscal year gone by. Fish production has, likewise, consistently grown at roughly 7%; at 13.7 million tonnes, it is next only to China. Marine products are also India’s single largest agricultural export commodity.
Size, however, is only one part. Given the much more daunting challenges ahead, the new ministry has its work cut out for it. While we can take reasonable pride in being the biggest milk producer, one must equally be concerned over our cattle productivity, which, at 1,805 kg per animal per year, is below the global average of 2,310 kg; the corresponding figure for countries such as Israel is as high as 13,200 kg. The problem of low productivity extends also to fisheries and poultry.
No less important is animal diseases that significantly affect production and trade of livestock products. India is one of the few major countries still plagued by Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), Brucellosis and Peste des Petits Ruminants (sheep and goat plague). These diseases have resulted in denial of access for our dairy and meat products to large overseas markets, as importing entities insist on disease free-status, especially for FMD. Exports apart, they cause financial losses to the tune of thousands of crores, while coming in the way of realising good returns from livestock rearing. Our approach to management of animal diseases hasn’t been effective enough: FMD requires a robust vaccination campaign, ensuring coverage of the entire livestock population. The control programme in this highly contagious viral disease, until recently, was confined only to cattle and buffaloes, while excluding sheep, goat or swine. Even this coverage was only partial due to inadequate financial resources. Any vaccination programme is flawed if it covers less than 100% of the population at risk.
Recognising the above reality and learning from past experience, the Centre has now launched an ambitious FMD and Brucellosis control programme, targeting complete control and eradication of these diseases. A hitherto centrally-sponsored scheme has been converted into a central scheme, obviating any reliance on financial contribution by the states. The entire estimated cost of Rs 13,343 crore for the programme will be borne by the Centre. This single intervention is going to have far-reaching implications, in terms of boosting productivity and profitability from livestock rearing as well as opening up global markets for our products. It is an illustration of how a simple decision of creating a separate ministry has mainstreamed a critical agenda, which might otherwise have remained a routine and ineffective government programme.
Another strategy that can significantly impact productivity is the expansion of artificial insemination. The coverage here, too, is woefully low at 30% of the breedable livestock population. This should increase to a minimum of 50%, along with sourcing of quality semen from good genetic stock. Harnessing technologies such as sex sorted semen and embryo transfer must also receive focused attention. These are only a few illustrative examples of what a new ministry can do, both through central and state schemes, to ensure sizeable contribution of livestock and fisheries for doubling of farmers’ income.
A Food and Agriculture Organisation study has shown that one rupee of investment in the livestock sector can generate a return of four rupees. The new ministry’s vision ought to, then, extend beyond doubling of incomes. Moreover, the sector shouldn’t be just a vehicle for poverty alleviation or securing livelihoods. Rather, it must emerge as a platform for creating an army of rural entrepreneurs. Tending to cattle, pigs or poultry may not be seen as glamorous, but earning good money is certainly an attractive proposition. The sector should be pitched as such — livestock for prosperity.
The writer is Secretary, Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry & Dairying and Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying, Government of India