State-backed projects have been gathering steam as the government aims to boost incomes

India turns to technology to improve dairy productivity and animal health

By Richard Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Earlier this year Uttarakhand became India's first state to produce sex-sorted semen for cows. Pic: ©Getty Images/Ram Tekale
Earlier this year Uttarakhand became India's first state to produce sex-sorted semen for cows. Pic: ©Getty Images/Ram Tekale

Related tags: India, Milk

India has been going through a technology spurt, backed by central and state governments, as it continues an ambitious program to make agriculture more profitable for farmers.

From blockchain to digital implants and IVF engineering, it is hoped that innovative herd and offspring management will play a small part in Prime Minister Narendra Modhi’s transformation goals of increasing productivity, placing more focus on left-behind hinterland districts and making agriculture more sustainable. The overall aim is to double farm incomes by 2022.

It appears that the central government has been watching some of the initiatives that have been taking place in some of the far-flung states to inform its strategies to increase productivity of herds.

In March, Uttarakhand became the country's first state to produce sex-sorted semen for cows, which can increase the chance of birthing female calves to 90%.

Now, union minister for animal husbandry Giriraj Singh has announced plans for the technique to go nationwide.

Over the next year, 3m doses of sex-sorted semen will be given out across India in an ongoing program that aims to distribute 100m doses by 2025.

The government will subsidize each vial of the semen by INR200 (US$2.77), bringing its cost down from INR600-700 (US$8.31-9.70), according to according to media reports citing sources in the Union Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying.

The semen with just an active Y-chromosome, which is present in males but not females, removed, had been imported into India until 2018. Since then, the Modi government has opened several insemination centers to develop the technology in the country—one of which was in Uttarakhand for the pilot.

This development will help encourage the use of semen from indigenous breeds, including Gir, Sahiwal and Kankrej, as well as foreign breeds including Holstein-Friesian.

We will build a cow factory​,” said Giriraj last week. “[The project] will ensure almost 100m cows​.”

The Union minister also said that under another initiative, cows which express dwindling quantities of milk will be made more productive through “in-vitro embryo advanced technology​”.

"We will use IVF technology so that the cows which have stopped giving milk will start producing 20 liters of it. We will bring a revolution​,” he said.

More cynical sections of the farming and media community were quick, however, to jump on the minster’s words, accusing him of being cavalier with his statements.

"Whoever abuses me I don't care, I only focus on my work​," Giriraj told the ANI news agency.

In the coming days, animals too can have surrogacy like humans. The idea is to have the best animal embryo instilled in cows. That is why I said there would be a factory of cows. But some people have a problem with it.​”

Streamlining distribution

The move is also expected to tackle the uniquely Indian problem of stray cattle. These are mostly male due to mechanized farming and a ban on the slaughter of cows making bulls redundant. Dairy farmers are often forced to abandon them, leaving them to crowd on streets and damage crops.

Elsewhere, the southern state of Kerala has adopted blockchain technology to streamline the distribution of milk in the state.

The project, which was implemented through the Kerala Development and Innovation Strategic Council (K-DISC) last year, is meant to ensure the timely delivery of high-quality milk by continuously monitoring production, procurement and distribution through a blockchain ledger.

Each component of the supply chain has a separate ID number, which enables the source and quality of the milk to be checked at any time. By the nature of blockchain, nobody connected to the system can change any element of it, so it can be assumed that everything it contains is scrupulously accurate.

The scheme, which has been extended to other areas of agriculture, including fish and produce, also features a project to monitor cattle and consignments through tags that emit radio signals and load up blockchain ledgers with information.

Another state-backed project is using digital chips that are implanted into the ears of cattle as a means to monitor the health and nutrition of cows.

Last November, Karnataka government announced plans to implant the devices, which cost INR6.2 (US$0.10), into some 7.1m cows in the state.

It will help tracking the animal if it has been misused for slaughter and track its health condition to ensure proper and timely medication​,” animal husbandry minister Venkatrao Nadagouda said at the time.

Other productivity innovations mooted by politicians would probably not be as effective, such as one by Dilip Kumar Paul, a grandee in the ruling BJP. He recently suggested that flutes should be played in sheds to increase the amount of milk produced in them substantially.

He was quoted by India Times​ as saying: “It has been proven by modern scientists that if we can play the flute in a special tune, which Lord Krishna used to do, the amount of milk increases multiple times​.

This was the science of ancient times and we are going to bring this technique back to modern times,​” he added.

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