ILRI / India / Livestock

Turning obstacles into opportunities: The livestock sector scenario in India

As part of an exciting new collaboration, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has teamed up with Indian magazine Agriculture Today to share knowledge and generate awareness on livestock development in India. 

The July 2012 issue features both Dr. Purvi Mehta Bhatt, Head, ILRI Asia and ILRI Director General Dr. Jimmy Smith. Below is the interview with Purvi on the current livestock sector scenario in India.


What is your take on the Indian livestock sector scenario?

With 485 million livestock and 489 million poultry, India ranks first in global livestock population. Livestock-keeping has been an integral part of the socio-economic and cultural fabric of rural India since time immemorial. In more recent years, the Indian livestock sector has experienced rapid growth. While the contribution of agriculture to GDP is decreasing with industrialization, the contribution of the livestock sector to agricultural output is increasing. At present, livestock make up 25% of the output of the agricultural sector and the sub-sector is growing at an annual rate of 4.3%, a rate much higher than that for the agricultural sector as a whole (2.8%).

With over 80% of livestock production being carried out by small-scale and marginal farmers, the livelihood benefits of livestock are enormous. Hence, one cannot truly envisage sustainable agricultural and rural development in this country without acknowledging the livestock sector as a prime force.

What is a mixed farming system and what role do livestock play in it?

A mixed farming system is one that integrates crop growing with animal raising. Such integration generates many beneficial synergies. For example, the wastes of cropping (e.g., in the form of maize stover, wheat and rice straw, groundnut haulms) that remain after the grain or pods have been harvested for human consumption provide feed for the farm animals, which in turn produce a waste product of their own (manure), which can replenish the fertility of the cropped soils.

By far, most livestock in developing countries are kept in such mixed crop-livestock systems. Crop residues provide the basis of the diet for the farm animals (e.g. cereal straw fed to dairy cattle or sweet potato vines fed to pigs) and animal manure provides significant nutrient inputs for the crops. Water is used more efficiently in mixed crop-livestock systems than in monocropping systems. Mixed systems also allow for a more flexible and profitable use of family labour where employment opportunities are scarce. Mixed farming systems also lower the risks of farmers by distributing their risks across multiple enterprises, a factor likely to become even more important in future decades with the advent of climate change.

Mixed farming systems cover some 2.5 billion hectares of land globally and are the most common form of livestock production today. These small-scale mixed farmers now produce 90% of the global milk supply, almost all buffalo meat and some 70% of small ruminant meat.

What are the key mandates of ILRI in India?

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works towards pro-poor sustainable livestock development in developing countries. ILRI’s commitment to this work in India is reflected in a large and loyal network of partners and experts located in this country.

Any issues that concern small-scale livestock farming systems in India fall under our mandate. Some of our specific interest areas include animal feed and feed systems tailored for small-scale producers, dairy development, the conservation of indigenous animals and animal genetic resources, and better control of diseases, including ‘zoonotic’ diseases like bird flu, which are transmitted between humans and animals.

ILRI is managing eight major programs as well as smaller projects in India. All of this work focuses on small-scale farmers, under-developed/remote regions (such as the northeast Indian states of Bihar, Orissa and Nagaland) and under-researcher topics in need of more attention.

One of the first requirements for the Indian livestock sector is a stable and reliable market system and access to it by small-scale farmers. ILRI takes a holistic, or ‘value chain’, approach in its work, including technology development, animal production, better access to markets, and storage and transfer of livestock produce. We have recently taken on leading a large multi-institutional program called the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, which aims for ‘more milk, meat and fish by and for the poor’ in India and other countries. The program aims to strengthen existing dairy value chains in certain states, focusing on small-scale farming system and offering options for some best practices. We are excited about this program and convinced of its need and potential impact within India. This ambitious program is being designed and implemented in collaboration with a large number of partners in India.

What are the key research and technology development considerations for the livestock sector in India?

In view of the fact that most of India’s livestock holders are small-scale, resource-poor farmers, research and technological solutions here should be pragmatic, based on real needs and affordable. While international collaborations in technology adoptions are very important, research must be tailored to address country- and region-specific challenges. I personally am an advocate of finding local solutions to local challenges. A significant gap exists between potential and actual yields. There are, moreover, significant capacity gaps in terms of research, infrastructure and access to technologies in India.

The main emphasis in animal health research remains curative treatments, with preventive measures having been largely neglected. This area would benefit from investment in terms of technology development and program implementation. Animal health economics research is almost non-existent in this country; research on cost-effective delivery of programs needs to be strengthened by bringing together epidemiologists and economists.

Feed is another very important issue. It accounts for around 70% of the cost of milk production and is more often than not a scarce and expensive commodity for farmers. ILRI, like many other research groups across the country, has been working to develop ‘dual-purpose’ varieties of sorghum, millet, pigeonpea and groundnut whose residues will better nourish animals. Development of such dual-purpose crops, along with improvement of feeding practices and enhancement of feed quality, will help both farmers and the environment, the latter by helping us to reduce the livestock ‘hoofprint’ and levels of greenhouse gas emissions produced by livestock.

What major challenges do you face while working in India?

Most challenges in India are also opportunities! The diversity and vast scale of this country, the need to strengthen the livestock sector, and the overwhelming number of existing and potential partners all present challenges at times. However, these factors can also be viewed as tremendous opportunities and that is how we prefer to see them at ILRI – working in India means endless possibilities for research and development.

One thing we need more of are national and regional partners to help us scale out ILRI’s existing outputs and to maintain best international practices here in India. While we greatly appreciate the strong relationships we already have with various NGOs, state governments, donor agencies and public-sector organizations such as ICAR, both the scope and the potential of livestock work to be done in this country demands many more partnerships and collective action at bigger scales.

Can livestock be considered as an asset generator in India?

Of the 72% of the population living in rural India, livestock is a central source of livelihood for 57% (over 100 million people). Many of these small-scale livestock keepers (32%) have no access to land, and the number of rural landless households is likely to increase due to further sub-division of land holdings. For more and more smallholder and landless farmers, livestock are becoming an increasingly important source of income. Many depend on their animals to survive. Livestock are thus an important asset, especially for women across rural India.

What opportunities of growth exist for women in livestock?

Women are particularly dependent on livestock: 76% of total workers engaged in livestock are women, compared with 37% in cropping agriculture. Development of the livestock sector and better support for livestock keepers will thus enhance women’s contribution to the sector and their own empowerment.

Serious recognition by policymakers of the important role women play in the livestock sector is urgently needed. Involving women in technologies and trainings on best practices and leveraging women’s rich indigenous knowledge on livestock production to enhance those best practices is a win-win.

Intensifying women’s role in the overall development process is of equal importance. We need more women scientists in technology development, for example, and more women in agricultural extension and other kinds of dissemination work, and more women in relevant policymaking.

I am particularly delighted to be part of the Indian livestock scenario, as a woman and as an Indian!

And finally… a message on the future?

As in most emerging economies, the demand for livestock produce in India is on the rise due to economic growth and urbanization, which affect buying power and patterns of food consumption. In the past two decades, for example, national milk consumption has increased by 30%. Importantly, these increases reflect a broad range of income groups, in rural as well as urban areas. The progressively integrated global markets under the World Trade Organization are creating further opportunities for the exportation of animal food products.

Finding new and improved ways to capacitate our small-scale farmers to respond to this growing demand so that they take part in, and benefit from, this growth is a future challenge that we must all address collectively.

2 thoughts on “Turning obstacles into opportunities: The livestock sector scenario in India

  1. thank for giving a plan to make India self sustainable as for as livestock is concern. What about poultry which is one of the fastest growing sector among livestock.

  2. You have rightly pointed out the huge gap between potential and actuals. But I do not understand how the major constraints like lack of infrastructure, access to technology even access to even proper health care measure. A significantly larger proportion of livestock owners’ economic, social, educational backwardness is a major constraint. How these issues can be converted into opportunities without sound investment by either national or international players.

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