Looking beyond dairy produce: Why love for cows must make economic sense

Cow dung flower pots at Beejom
On February 15, 2019, India’s first semi high speed train Vande Bharat Express stalled after it hit stray cattle on the tracks. It’s one more example of how India’s stray cow crisis has the potential to derail development. However, since cow protection is the political and religious agenda of the ruling dispensation, there is an urgent need to control the number of stray cows crowding gaushalas and running amok around the countryside. 

Experts believe that part of the government funds for cow protection should go towards research on how cattle rearing can once again be made more profitable for the farmer. Simultaneously, steps should be taken to reduce the cattle population, revive common pasture lands where stray cattle can graze and make gaushalas self-reliant.  
   
Common pasture lands

The Uttar Pradesh government recently announced that it would set up temporary cow shelters upon gauchar bhumis or common pasture lands. “But we don’t know if such land has ever existed in or around our village,” exclaims Shyam Lal, a farmer in the Haidargarh tehsil of Barabanki.  

Though earmarking common lands will certainly help, the process could take a long time and could also involve a lot of legal wrangling.

Regulate cattle breeding in dairies

Animal rights activists want strong regulatory mechanisms to curb the breeding of cows in dairies. It is the demands of the dairy industry that lead farmers to abandon ‘unproductive’ calves and bulls, thereby adding to the stray cattle population. “As long as the dairy industry grows unchecked and farmers get their cows impregnated every year to make them keep producing milk, the growth in the cattle population cannot be curbed,” says Abhinav Srihan of Delhi-based Fauna Police. 

Monetise gaushalas

Given that most stray cows do not produce milk, gaushalas need to look beyond dairy produce as their only possible revenue stream. In its 2018 report, the Federation of the Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) proposes that biogas plants be set up in every gaushala. It estimates that one biogas plant measuring 15 to 20 cubic metres would involve a one-time investment of Rs 5,00,000, with an annual maintenance cost of Rs 50,000. A gaushala with about 100 heads of cattle would be able to generate electricity to the value of Rs 4,38,000 per year, the report states.  

Cow shelters could also monetise cow dung and urine, say experts. Cow dung is considered to be a complete plant food and soil conditioner, while cow urine is used as a base for many crop medicines as well as in Ayurveda. “A farmer can sell one litre of milk for about Rs 50. But if he sets up a simple distillation system, he could sell a litre of distilled cow urine for Rs 300,” says Dr Arvind Vaish, a veterinary officer in Chandauli in Uttar Pradesh.

The Beejom model

Some animal welfare organisations are experimenting with a variety of methods to make cows the mainstay of a farm so that cattle rearing is once again considered worthwhile. “We have tried to recreate the symbiotic relationship that once existed between the farmer and his cow,” says Aparna Rajagopal, founder of Beejom animal farm in Noida.

Beejom’s project Dung Ho is developing different products from cow waste such as compost, dung logs, incense sticks and flower pots made from compressed cow dung. It has also developed a range of crop medicines with cow urine. “The project is still at an experimental stage, but we’re already earning about Rs 15,000 per month from these products,” Rajagopal says. 

The dung logs were recently used at Nigambodh Ghat as an eco-friendly alternative to the wood used in funeral pyres. “They emitted less smoke and were so efficient that the Ghat is now planning to order them regularly from us,” she says.

That’s not all. On the cards is the delivery of a new farm system that will enable machines like threshers, fodder cutters, mills, oil presses and sprinkler systems to be run on ‘bull power’. “This system will make bulls productive members of the farm,” says Rajagopal. If farmers adopt these practices, bulls may not be cast away at birth, she adds. 

Though the 2019 Interim Budget has sanctioned Rs 750 crore towards for cow welfare, the government needs to invest in methodologies and practices that would make cattle rearing viable again. Only then can we check the ruinous daily addition to the country’s stray cattle population.

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