India’s booming buffalo meat exports to affect domestic milk production by 2023

India’s growing dominance in the global beef market has been a matter of speculation given that the Asian country has in place a wide-ranging ban on the slaughtering of cows. The country was declared as the top exporter of beef for 2 years in a row. This according to the data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 2014, India was said to have earned more from beef exports that from basmati exports.

USDA’s recent report about the Asian nation’s beef exports, however, does come as a shocker. The questionable report states that India’s female buffalo herd will start dwindling post-2023 if the country sustains current slaughter rates and meat production growth for exports. This the report suggests could result in creating a tradeoff between milk and meat production. Female buffalo herds account for more than half of India’s annual milk output.

Nazim Shaikh a 42-year-old livestock trader from a small village in Maharashtra surprisingly shares USDA’s views. The livestock trader also feels the current rate of carabeef exports from India is unstainable. The similarity between Shaikh’s and USDA’s views ends here, though.

Shaikh a trader who procures buffaloes for carabeef exporters believes that the tradeoff will be between domestic consumption and exports, milk and meat. The reason being stringent laws which prohibit cow slaughter in various states in India.

The ban ironically has already resulted in an increase in demand for carabeef domestically. This because consumers are compelled to substitute the consumption of the former with the latter. This Shaikh alleges will greatly impact the Asian nation’s carabeef exports.

Shaikh could prove right after all. Buffaloes on sale in Maharashtra’s livestock markets command a price of Rs13,000-14,000 per 100 kg as of today. Prior to the widespread cow slaughter ban, i.e. March 2015 (including male calves, bulls and bullocks buffaloes) sold for Rs 10,000-11,000. On the other hand, prices of milch cow including male calves, bulls and old cows have fallen to Rs 18,000-19,000 to Rs 15,000-16,000 from Rs 65,000 to Rs 50,000 per animal.

“Carabeef today commands a premium that was non-existent earlier and reflected in buffalo prices rising by up to 30 per cent in the last one year,” observes Shaikh.

The reasons behind the drop in cattle prices are lower milk realisations for farmers (decreased procurement due to the collapse of milk powder exports) and the non-existence of a secondary slaughter market for animals.

Data released by the department of animal husbandry, dairying and fishing indicates that in meat production, at 5 per cent cattle lags behind poultry (45 per cent), buffalo (19 per cent), goat (16 per cent), pig (8 per cent) and sheep (7 per cent). Questions arise over the accuracy of the data, as the 5 per cent only takes into account animals slaughtered in municipal abattoirs. If this five per cent also is blocked then more people would be compelled to turn to carabeef,  resulting in a tradeoff between domestic consumption and exports.

Unlike Shaikh, others are of the opinion that America is unhappy about India’s growing dominance in the global beef market. Between 2009-10 alone, the exports of beef from India grew more than four fold. “I don’t foresee any such tradeoffs, in terms of milk production getting affected by rising meat exports. In any case, our rules do not permit slaughtering of milch animals,” says Shariq Khan, director of the Mumbai-based Al Karim Exports Pvt. Ltd.

“Our Pink Revolution took off five years ago without any major sops from the government. The boom in exports of buffalo meat has been entirely private sector-driven and running on its own steam. Whatever the reports by various agencies may suggest, this industry will survive and grow,” claims the director of a major beef exporting firm, who does not wish to be identified.

Industry players however agree with the USDA on one point, the need for a delineation between animals raised for milk production and those reared for meat.

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