Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala
The BJP governments of Maharashtra and Haryana have made strict laws for cow protection prevalent in those states. The thinking is that prohibition of killing of cows will help conserve that species. People will get invigorating cow milk instead of the dull buffalo milk. The village economy will also be made better.
These objectives are laudable but there is little chance of their being attained by prevention of cow slaughter alone. Of what use is putting the living cow in a coma? There is a need to make policies that make it profitable for the farmers to keep cows on their farmstead.
Laws to ban the slaughter of cows are not new. Many states have laws providing for differing levels of punishments for this act. Yet, the numbers of cows have continued to dwindle.
The reason is that it has become unprofitable for the farmer to maintain cows. The cow likes to graze. Straw that is produced from the crops has always been fed to the cows. However, the amount of manure produced from this has never been sufficient to maintain the fertility of the soil. Therefore, the manure produced by the cow from the consumption of straw was supplemented by manure produced from grazing.
Our villages had large areas of common lands where the cows used to graze. Very often they did not need any supplemental food in form of straw. The only cost in rearing them was that of labour to take them for grazing. They produced milk and manure virtually for free. The manure produced from these two sources was sufficient to maintain the nutrient balance of the soil.
This happy circumstance has since been disturbed. The common grazing lands have largely been diverted. Powerful people have captured them. The state governments, too, have diverted large areas for making schools and other uses. As a result, the cow does not have access to grazing.
The production of manure from grazing lands has reduced. Cows are now largely living off the straw produced from the fields. As a result the total amount of cow manure produced is less. The reduction of manure produced by cows has forced the farmers to use more chemical fertilizers. And, having got used to chemical fertilizers, they now find it cumbersome to collect the dung, prepare it and spread it into the fields. It is easier to spread the chemical fertilizers. The dependence of the farmer on the cow for the production of manure has evaporated into thin air.
The subsidies provided by the government for chemical fertilizers have not helped. These subsidies were put in place in the wake of the droughts that plagued the country in the sixties. That was a necessary emergency response. However, we have unduly extended the policy. As a result the farmer has continually found it profitable to use cheap chemical fertilizers and has avoided maintaining a large herd of cows to produce the required quantity of manure.
A proposal was made during the previous NDA government to import cow dung from the developed countries. That was not allowed then. I think that was a mistake. Organic manure made from cow dung is more effective in maintaining the nutrient balance in the soil than chemical fertilizers. Inorganic N-P-K fertilizers harden and kill the living soil. It is time to retrace that step. The government must import cow dung, convert it into manure and distribute at subsidized rates to the farmers. This will create a positive attitude among farmers towards the organic manures and, in turn, encourage them to maintain cows. This will help preserve the soil health as well.
The cost of labour that is required to take the cow for grazing has become prohibitive. MNREGA had led to an increase in the cost of labour. The promotion of child education has led to the children not taking the cows for grazing. That has made it difficult to maintain cows. The farmer finds it profitable to maintain buffalo because it is a sedentary animal. The straw is fed to the buffalo in the shed and the animal is happy to sit whole day and convert it into milk. Foreign breeds of cows like the Jersey too are sedentary. But the Jersey is not considered holy. Perhaps the quality of milk produced by Jersey cows is inferior to the milk produced by desi cows. The government must take up an ambitious programme to breed sedentary desi cows so that the cost of grazing can be reduced.
The tractor has eliminated the need for bullocks. We have become self-sufficient in foodgrains, in part, due to this machine. It has become possible to cultivate large areas in a short time with the help of a tractor. As a result, the area under cultivation has increased. However, this has created a major problem for the male progeny of the cow. They are no longer required. The farmer has to feed the precious straw to the bullocks. The farmer prefers to maintain a buffalo instead of a cow for this reason.
The practice of determining the price of milk on basis of fat has not helped either. Buffalo milk has more fat than cow milk. However, the “Solid Non Fats” or SNFs are more in cow milk. SNF is very healthy and good for the development of the mind of children. But people are not aware of this difference between the milk of the cow and the buffalo. As a result they ask for “milk” rather than “cow milk.” It is necessary to make a law that requires the manufacturers to state whether the milk is cow milk or buffalo milk and what is the SNF content. A massive education programme to educate the people on the benefits of cow milk must be undertaken. These measures will lead to an increase in the price of cow milk vis-à-vis buffalo milk and make it profitable for the farmer to maintain cows.
Various experiments have been done in the country on the medical benefits of cow urine. I have known persons who have taken cow urine capsules with beneficial results. But the number of cows required to produce these medications will be small. These benefits will not majorly alter the economics in favour of the cow.
The fundamental point is that government policies must focus on changing the economics of the cow. It simply will not do to have economic policies that make it a loss-making proposition for the farmer to keep a cow; and hope that a ban on slaughter will save the animal. The government must rectify the underlying economic policies on priority basis. Banning slaughter may only be considered thereafter.
The author was formerly professor of economics at IIM Bangalore
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