Among multiple risks emanating from COVID-19 pandemic, restoring employment seems to be the major challenge particularly in the states where reverse migration is taking place. Interstate migration has been a usual phenomenon in India. People in the country have continued to migrate from one place to another in search of better livelihood opportunities and improved standard of living. According to 2011 census, 41 million Indians migrated from rural to urban areas for work. Now it is almost the end of this decade, a multi-fold rise in these estimates can be expected. Only two states Bihar and Uttar Pradesh together, constitute up to 70% of the total migration in India. With over 90 percent of the population working in the informal economy, COVID crisis and subsequent lockdown has left a large portion of workforce with no option but to divert back to the village, leaving them distressed.
Although few relaxations for economic activities are gradually put in place, the full-fledged revival of economic activities still appears distant. Therefore, the migrants have continued to return home to avoid the uncertainties of the times. In India, these migrants are over 450 million, whose movement can be directly or indirectly linked to the search for employment. In such a chaotic situation livestock sector can be a wise option to employ people so that they can resume back to being capable of earning a decent livelihood.
Where on one hand a huge crowd of troubled migrant labourers is returning back to its respective native states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh etc., Gujarat labourers beg to differ in such a situation. Since rural economy of Gujarat is based on livestock sector, farmers there are relatively better off than the farmers of other state. The cooperative movement led by Dr. Verghese Kurien, Father of White Revolution by stressing on indigenous Gir cow and Murrah buffalo changed the face of rural economy in Gujarat; hence farmers didn’t have to move out from the state unlike other states. AMUL (Anand Milk United Limited) founded by Dr. Kurien have reached heights today and performing even better than many MNC’s. The underlying idea behind the success of movement initiated by Dr. Kurien was “rural participation and rural leadership to solve rural problems”.
Livestock actually forms the backbone of Indian Agriculture, but due to the continual neglect from policy makers it couldn’t attract the interest of the youths. Livestock rearing trends declined in the villages, because households, which were solely dependent on livestock for their livelihood, didn’t get any kind of government support during drought like disasters. In the want of appropriate policy measures regarding the purchase and sale of livestock, people lost interest in livestock rearing and even migrated to urban areas in search of jobs. Pasture and meadow lands also reduced with time due to industrialization and urbanization.
However, India is known to have extraordinary livestock breeds in the world. Few breeds of cow like Rathi, Tharparkar and Gir are even at par and can perform better than the exotic Holstein Friesian or Jersey breeds. The milk yield performance of these breeds is quite impeccable because of their high resistance against tropical climate and superior immunity.
Several news has emerged on regular basis highlighting the woes of people pertaining to lockdown since Corona hit the country. Among different adversities people faced, typical news about an autism patient requiring camel milk for the treatment surfaced. Responding to this a special freight train running between Delhi and Mumbai was arranged by the administration for supplying the milk. Camel’s milk has been proved quite efficient in treating diabetes, anti allergic, autism and also in boosting immunity of individuals etc. Despite these unique therapeutic properties of its milk, camel rearing couldn’t attract youth towards it and still struggling to perform at market.
Furthermore, Livestock sector is subject to less risk in comparison to crop farming. Farmers face various kinds of production, price and marketing risks in crop farming. To dispose the farm produce farmers rely on Middlemen, commission agents and government policies, conversely, in livestock rearing there is a straight interaction between farmers and consumers for livestock products like milk, eggs, Ghee or even for dung. Additionally, because of the high volatility of agricultural products, farmers are always at the edge of facing price shocks. The case is different in livestock products, prices of which exhibit an increasing trend normally. Where a number of industries couldn’t bear the loss or some even collapsed post lockdown, livestock sector managed to maintain its growth momentum.
Despite all these virtues, the journey of livestock sector does not seem very encouraging. Previously famous Asia’s largest wool mandi of Bikaner is a history now. Leather industry of the country which used to be an exporter is now struggling in business front and is left with no choice but to import. Small farmers, who used to do buffalo farming, because of their low asset holding or financial glitch are not in any position to buy these animals. Due to drop in livestock rearing, pasture land and meadows have now been converted into forests or have been encroached. Therefore, the fodder production further needs to be viewed as a movement. Trees like Ber, Mulberry, Oak, Neem, Poplars Peepal etc. which are consumed by animals as feed, must be grown alongside rivers, villages, towns etc.
The time has come when livestock sector needs to be set again at the core of rural employment. By improving breeds in Gaushalas milk, ghee, dung production can be enhanced and thus farmers can be made self reliant. Most of the budget allocated to state’s livestock departments is simply wasted on useless medicines or on subsidies for merely maintaining unproductive livestock alive. Therefore, the only solution to this is either to provide funds directly to the livestock farmers for purchasing cow, goats, pigs, poultry and feed etc., or direct distribution of these animals in backward villages. Pursuing the principle laid by Dr. Kurien, i.e., instead of giving power of rural development to politicians or bureaucrats, allotting it to the livestock farmers itself, will serve the purpose best.
Further outmigration of farmers after the pandemic gets over can only be contracted by inclining youth towards livestock rearing. The sector entails less investment with early and good returns comparatively. A decent income can be earned from a simple dairy business consisting of a herd of indigenous cows, Murrah buffalo and crossbreds. Given the unique medicinal properties, milk of camel and goat can fetch high prices not only in domestic market but also in foreign countries. Promoting backyard poultry or goat farming in backward regions can resolve the problem of mal nutrition therein. Organic farming with the dung and litter produced by livestock rearing can do wonders in its field. If youth choose to stay in village after this pandemic and venture into scientific rearing of cow, buffalo, Goat, poultry, Fisheries and bee keeping, this can become a solid foundation for families economic, social and health wellbeing.
Dr. Basant Kumar Bhinchhar and Dr. Sheela Kharkwal
Subject Matter Specialist (LPM), Shri Karan Narendra Agriculture University, Jobner
Assistant Professor (Ag. Economics), Shri Karan Narendra Agriculture University, Jobner