The NDA government is set to launch a national programme worth Rs. 500 crore to “protect and conserve” local cow breeds through traditional-style “gaushalas” or cattle-care centres. The scheme was a manifesto promise by the BJP and is a key Hindutva plank.
The project, called the Rashtriya Gokul Mission, envisages funding “integrated cattle welfare centers” called “gokul grams” to protect local cows from being cross-bred into different varieties.
Under the new scheme, farmers who maintain the best centres would be eligible for “Gopal Ratna” awards. Each cow will have a unique identity number, to be fed into a national database.
“Gopalan Sanghs” or breeding facilities will be set up for varieties with high-genetic pedigree, seeking to promote public-private partnerships in the field.
“Local varieties of cattle are better adapted to the country’s climate and are heat-resistant. In spite of this, indigenous cattle are ignored,” Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh said.
India is the world’s largest milk producer but the feat is attributed to a massive cattle headcount rather than high yield per cow. The poor milk output per cow — about one-tenth of the US and one-fifth of New Zealand – has left the country struggling to keep pace with demand.
The problem lies mainly with the “intrinsically low genetic potential” and “poor quality animal nutrition”, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Commercial dairy farms currently rely on Jersey-Holstein cross-breeds for better yields. Black-and-white Holsteins — a native of the Netherlands — and the British Brown Jersey cow — which gives creamier milk — are usually preferred for cross-breeding. The Centre also runs a major programme for genetic upgradation called the National Project for Cattle and Buffalo Breeding.
Asked whether the programme was inspired by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s advocacy of cow protection, minister of state for agriculture Sanjeev Baliyan said, “If we do not protect good local varieties, such as Sahiwal and Rathi, they will become extinct. Even if it addresses the RSS’ concern for cattle welfare, it is a good cause.”
Giving more details, Singh said, “Cow dung and cow urine will be utilised and promoted as organic manure and other purposes, such as for biogas to produce electricity.”