India is losing its wealth of genetic resources in domesticated animals because of a lack of attention and commercialization of the dairy industry under the influence of the West. Despite being the largest producer of milk in the world, within 10 years, India will be forced to start importing milk and Indian cows will no longer exist.
Milk is not just any other drink, but an elixir in India. Irrespective of the family stature, milk is a symbol of parental devotion, well-being, and health. Milk-based nutrition, especially for children and the elderly, is a well-grounded faith and holds an emotional aspect because milk contributes to nearly 63% of protein diet in India.
India is home to some varied stock of cows like Gir, Sahiwal, Vechur, Amrit Mahal, and many more to suit different climatic conditions of the country. Low maintenance cost, supreme quality milk, bio waste and energy, medicinal advances and utilities, contribute to not only to the traditional and cultural value but also a large part of the Indian economy, giving rise to brands like Amul, Vereka, Delhi Milk Scheme, Nestle, Saras, Britannia and many more. Milk has a larger contribution to Indian agro-economy, even more than wheat, paddy, sugarcane, etc.
Predictable, various factors contribute to the extinction of almost 22 indigenous cow breeds since independence. Red Sindhi, Sahiwal, and Tharparker are also on the verge of extinction.
To meet the demand for milk consumption in India, the government has spent decades promoting cross-breeding of native dairy cattle with foreign bulls. Due to the difference in climate, all crossbreed cattle require external steroids and hormonal drugs and expensive air-conditioned shelters. This has greatly affected smallholder and landless farmers as they contribute to 68% of India’s dairy cattle as they cannot afford to build similar facilities.
Desi cows like Gyr and Ongole are exported to countries like Brazil to develop beef through IVF and other technologies. Ongole contributes to 70% of beef according to Dr. Ramachandra Reddy from Karimnagar Veterinary College, Tirupati. India is the largest exporter of beef and leather, thus, selling bulls and male calves to slaughterhouses in huge quantities.
As the website of the Animal Husbandry department notes, “Most of the indigenous breeds of cattle (in India) excel in draught capacity.” Drought cattle were used to pull heavy loads until the latest farm machinery soon replaced them with their greater efficiencies. Another reason to export desi cows as they do not produce enough milk to meet the increasing demand for milk in the country.
Planning and awareness by the government to help small farmers increase their cow’s food and water intake could lead to miraculous results. For instance, Indian cows are doing well in Brazil. In 2011, a pure Gir cow named Quimbanda Cal broke its own 2010 record of delivering 10,230 kilolitres of milk a year, with a daily yield of 56.17 kilolitres. However, instead of focusing on and improving the root cause of why the yield of these cows was low in India, the government since the 1960s started crossbreeding Indian cows with imported bulls and semen through artificial insemination. Thus, it has shifted the focus of nutrition of milk towards the commercialization of the dairy industry.