Nimli, Rajasthan: Small farmers aren’t investing in cows due to the threat of cow vigilantes, environmental expert Sunita Narain has said.
Speaking at an event in Rajasthan’s Nimli, experts said incidents of mob lynching by self-proclaimed ‘gau rakshaks’ (cow vigilantes) and ban on cow slaughter in a number of states has led to a decline in cow population, and adverse impacts on the milk industry.
Incidents of violence in the name of cattle protection killed as many as 44 people over three years until 2019, a Human Rights Watch report said last year.
Narain, who is the director of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), further said that banning cow slaughter was like “demonetising the farmer’s assets”.
Explaining the issue, she said, typically, a cow can be milked for up to 10-12 years, after which small farmers can sell their animals for meat and leather. However, with new laws in several states, farmers have to simply abandon their animals.
The panel discussion Monday at the three-day Anil Agarwal Dialogue 2020 in Rajasthan came a day after the release of CSE’s ‘State of India’s Environment 2020’ report.
According to the CSE report, the decline in cow population is, ironically, due to the strict laws that were brought in states like Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra in the name of cattle protection.
Laws hurting industry, decline in cattle population
Sagari Ramdas, veterinary scientist and a member of the Food Sovereignty Alliance in Hyderabad, said cow slaughter is a part of sustainable milk production.
“With new laws, all you have done is illegitimised a robust trade of animals. At least if a state bans slaughter, let us allow animals to be taken to another state where slaughter is allowed,” she said at the event.
She pointed out that the number of small and medium farmers who keep one to five milk animals in their farms for extra income is decreasing. Such farms contribute to 90 per cent of India’s milk production, she said, adding that the creation of such laws ultimately hurt India’s milk production.
According to the latest Livestock Census, indigenous cattle population in the country has declined by 6 per cent since 2012. The government census showed that the states with some of the toughest laws against cow slaughter have the sharpest decline in cattle populations.
In Uttar Pradesh, where cow slaughter can lead to seven years’ jail and/or Rs 10,000 fine, has registered an almost 4 per cent decline in cattle population, to 1.87 crore from 1.96 crore. The decline has been 10 per cent, from 1.55 crore to 1.39 crore in Maharashtra, where cow, bullock, bull slaughter is punishable with five years’ jail and/or Rs 10,000 fine.
Meanwhile, in West Bengal cattle numbers increased to 1.9 crore in 2018 from 1.6 crore in 2012.
Concern over environmentalism
At the event, R.S. Sodhi, managing director of dairy cooperative Amul, said India’s milk production model ensures that as much as 75 per cent of what a consumer spends on milk reaches the farmer. According to him, milk production is the easiest way to double farmers’ income by 2022 — a target set by the Narendra Modi government.
However, Sodhi expressed concern that in the name of environmentalism, Indian livestock is under attack from countries that have highly industrialised milk production models.
Research has shown that global livestock is responsible for 14.5 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions attributable to human activity, with most of these emissions coming from beef and dairy production.
But Sodhi argued that India’s farm practices are much more environmentally sustainable than those of Western countries. He added that the Indian livestock is being made the culprit behind global warming, even though emissions of other industrial sectors are increasing day by day.
“Our herds provide us both meat and milk, unlike Western countries where there are separate large scale farms for both purposes,” Ramdas added.
Narain said the greenhouse gas emission estimates are based on the Western model, and there is a need to get a better idea of how much India’s dairy industry contributes to the emissions.
She also said despite being an environmental activist, she is strictly against vegetarianism and believes in the idea of a secular country where everyone’s choice of food should be respected.
“Advocating veganism and vegetarianism comes from a place of privilege. In many parts of India, animal meat is the cheapest source of protein, and one cannot fight for the environment by isolating the poorest populations,” she added.
Instead, countries like the US need to reduce their excessive meat consumption, rather than pointing fingers at developing countries, she said.