New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government is looking to substantially increase buffalo meat exports in its second term, by tackling a scourge that has kept India off-limits for one of the biggest beef markets, China.
In its first Cabinet meeting after assuming office again this May, the Modi government cleared a Rs 13,343 crore proposal to fully control foot and mouth disease (FMD) among the country’s livestock.
FMD, which affects cloven-hoofed animals, was the reason China blocked imports of Indian beef, which is buffalo meat and not drawn from cows, an animal held sacred by Hindus.
Indian buffalo meat is primarily popular in Asian countries on account of its lower cost, and FMD concerns have currently kept Europe away as a customer.
According to Tarun Sridhar, Secretary, Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh will soon be declared free of FMD, following which exports to countries where they are currently restricted can start.
“This is a major programme aimed at fully controlling the diseases among India’s livestock in the next five years. Once we achieve that, our next target will be to eradicate the diseases completely in the subsequent five years,” said Sridhar, “The World Organization of Animal Health, commonly known as OIE (an abbreviation of its French title), will certify it.”
The scheme envisages FMD vaccination of 30 crore bovines (cows, bulls and buffaloes) and 20 crore sheep and goats, besides 1 crore pigs at six months’ interval, along with primary vaccination for bovine calves.
It will also cover Brucellosis, an infection that a ministry official said could cause infertility among patients and reduce milk output by 30 per cent over their life span. To curb this disease, the programme will ensure vaccination of 3.6 crore female calves.
Data with the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), which falls under the Ministry of Commerce, shows that buffalo meat exports have risen under the Modi government, which took office in 2014.
In the financial year 2014-15, the exports stood at 14.8 lakh metric tonnes — the highest in 10 years — up from 13.7 lakh metric tonnes in 2013-14. The figure, however, slumped to 13.1 lakh metric tonnes in 2015-16 — a drop of nearly 11 per cent.
There was a rise again over the next two financial years, with buffalo meat exports measured at 13.3 lakh metric tonnes in 2016-17, a rise of 1.2 per cent, and 13.5 lakh metric tonnes in 2017-18, an increase of 1.3 per cent rise.
The foot and mouth disease is common among cloven-hoofed animals – those whose feet are divided into two toes – like cows, buffaloes, bulls, sheep, goats and pigs.
“If a cow/buffalo gets infected with foot and mouth disease, the milk loss is up to 100 per cent, which could last for four to six months,” said the aforementioned official of the animal husbandry ministry.
“The (two) diseases have a direct negative impact on the trade of milk and other livestock products,” the official added.
“FMD is one of the most important livestock diseases in the world in terms of economic impact that leads to reduction in milk yield, decreased growth rate, infertility, as well as trade embargoes in the international market,” said another government official.
“Under the scheme, the Narendra Modi government will fund the entire project… We are hoping to achieve the target in a time-bound manner,” the official added.
The scheme comes just as an African swine fever outbreak in China is fuelling reports that it might look to India for protein imports as it culls its own pigs to curb the disease.
According to a Reuters report, China is the second-biggest importer of beef. The country is also the third-biggest importer of buffalo meat alone, according to APEDA data for 2017.
Currently, Vietnam is India’s biggest market for beef exports, buying Rs 11,914 crore worth of buffalo meat from the country in 2018. Malaysia and Indonesia form a distant second and third, accounting for exports worth Rs 2,574 crore and Rs 2,267 crore, respectively.