I recently watched “Breeding Invasions: Livestock At Stake” – a sensitive and thought provoking documentary produced by Anthra, an unusual organization “ …..of women veterinary scientists working primarily on issues of livestock development in the wider context of sustainable natural resource use.” It’s inspiring to see qualified scientists like Sagari Ramdas and Nitya Ghotge commit their lives to issues related to the livelihoods of the marginalized, poor and landless when they could very well be leveraging their premier animal sciences qualifications for commerce.
These are the people on whose backs India is fighting a rear guard war with the forces of industrial agriculture and corporatized dairy farming, and all power to them.
Anthra makes a passionate case for retaining the traditional integration of livestock and agriculture with the livelihoods of our rural population, while they document the dramatic degradation of this many millennia old relationship in parts of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. And the ‘old’ story of pollution of the environment and food cycle by multinational company produced chemical fertilizers, pesticides; and thoughtless fossil fuel based mechanization.
We hear villager narratives of the influx of foreign cattle breeds intended for enhanced milk production but ending up diseased or dead with the burden of purchase and medical loans on the farmer. Another instructive narrative is around the indiscriminate destruction of indigenous breeds in the industrial production of poultry – the producers themselves do not eat these birds as they their feed and nutrition value is suspect, and they continue with the desi hens for personal consumption. The privatization of village commons for the benefit of the powerful and dominant village castes is a result of an absence of understanding of the rural economy by bureaucrats who sit in distant urban areas unconnected to the daily pain and frustrations of their rural brethren who et constitute 68% of India’s population. The small and marginal farmer (these are 330 million people), the dalit, landless and tribal (400 million) need policy support to build on their traditional methods of livelihood that enhance the resources currently available to them.
Sanjeev Ghotge comments made me think about the application of appropriate technology and what is therefore the appropriate level of mechanization in our overwhelmingly rural country where labor is freely available and land and capital are scarce. We cannot wish away the rural populace, or enhance land holdings. But why use a tractor that replaces 12 bullocks, emits 1 ton of noxious fumes a year; and uses 3 tons of costly imported diesel annually? We also lose the manure of these 12 bullocks, which could fertilize 5 acres of land organically. Why not extensively enhanced veterinary extension services by the government for breeding better stock (cows, bulls, buffaloes, goats, sheep, poultry) from our indigenous breeds. I can see scores of pet shops in Gurgaon providing health services for dogs and cats, but not one half interested partly trained vet when I need him most for my cattle at the farm. When he comes, he is eager to give an expensive allopathic injection – not to treat the cause, or even understand the cause. What afflicts doctors treating humans is the same disease that hits the cattle doctors – antibioticitis. They retain no knowledge of indigenous systems and cures, and all they can do is prescribe allopathic medicines that cost a lot and often don’t work as the problem identification was so poor. The vet is mostly unavailable, is inadequately trained, and only commerce minded.
Liberalization means the government abdicates its role to the private sector, and pay-and-be-serviced becomes the only model. What we need is a carefully nuanced withdrawal of the government in sectors where the private sector can be more efficient (hotels, airlines, retail, telecoms) with a strong oversight and regulatory framework; and a more activist and interventionist government role in areas like animal husbandry, cattle veterinary services, and agriculture extension. All I see is a retreat of the government in all areas, indiscriminately and without thought for the millions who need it the most.
Why not better bullock carts with suspension and brakes – carts that are lighter and speedier? How do the farmers transport their produce to the nearest markets when we know that private diesel based transportation is prohibitively expensive and destroys the profit for small and marginal farmers? Why not provide loans for the use of healthier and better bred bullocks hitched to better carts?
Breeding local cattle and poultry with the significant investment of the government behind it can work, what is needed are bureaucrats who have lived and worked in the villages and understand rural India in its many manifestations in our disparate 28 states. What is real in the rural areas of Pune cannot work in Faridabad in Haryana, but the framework of making agriculture, dairy and poultry local can be common.