Dr.Miftahul Islam Barbaruah
The Sector at a glance:
Livestock is the integral part of the mixed-farming system that characterizes agriculture in Assam. Besides contributing to food and crop production, livestock and poultry are as important as savings. For many poor households, livestock is a daily source of earning and is an insurance against adversity. Animal traction is still significant in the State because of the increasing miniaturization of landholdings and high fuel cost that limits use of machinery. Tractor density per hectare of cultivated area is 1/6 the India average. Being a State with limited benefits of green revolution technologies and climatic uncertainties, livestock has the potential to contribute to farm diversification and intensification. Livestock products are integral parts of local diet as more than 95 percent of the population is non-vegetarian.
Livestock production in Assam is characterized by rural smallholder production using indigenous cattle, buffalo, pigs, goats and chicken. There are pockets of nomadic systems of rearing, mostly in the fringes of the forests. In recent years, more specialized and commercially intensive production areas have emerged where farmers are using improved livestock and commercial poultry strains. Livestock in the State is largely fed on crop residues, food waste, while high-producing animals are supplemented with concentrated grain-based feed. Unlike in other parts of India where cooperative farming (such as in Amul Dairy), has revolutionized livestock sector, investment in cooperative farming in the State has remained largely unsuccessful.
Livestock production in the State includes milk, meat (mostly chicken, pork and cheavon), and eggs. The average productivity is limited. For example, productivity of crossbred cattle in the State is 3.68 liters of milk per animal per day, compared to India’s average of 6.84 liters per animal, per day. According to an integrated sample survey in 2007-08, the cattle population constitutes the largest group of livestock at 8.25 million (7.8 million indigenous and 0.43 million crossbreed) followed by goats at 2.77 million, pigs at 1.5 million and buffalo at 0.575 million. In the poultry population, fowl is at 10 million and duck is at 3.18 million. A government sample survey in conducted 1997 indicates that the livestock population is showing a negative growth-trend for indigenous cattle, buffalo and fowl.
The production of milk, eggs and meat is 824 million liters, 499 million and 29.89 thousand tons, respectively in the year 2007-08. The per capita availability of milk, egg and meat is very negligible and estimated at 69gm (77ml) per day, 17 units per annum, and 930 gram per annum, respectively. This per capita availability compares very poorly with the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) recommendation of 208 grams of milk per head, per day; 180 eggs per head, per annum; 10.8 kgs of meat per head, per annum.
The milk production of indigenous cattle, buffalo and goat is estimated at 1.057 liters, 2.288 liters and 0.134 liters per day, respectively. A short study sponsored by UNCTAD-India in the year 2007, covering the 100-kilometer radius in Guwahati, the capital city of Assam, indicated an overall approximate cost of production of milk at Rs.12.95 per liter. This compares poorly with the cost of production of milk in other parts of India which can be presumed at Rs.9.20 per liter.
The annual egg production of indigenous fowl has been estimated at 101 eggs per “layer”, and at 183 eggs for the “improved layer”. The annual yield rate of local duck and “improved duck” is estimated at 107 eggs and 183 eggs, respectively. The State has been successful in promoting “improved layer” and duck-rearing in rural backyards. However, there is a limited attempt for aggregation and organized niche-marketing of eggs, produced by indigenous breeds of poultry.
Growth of commercial poultry sector (mostly for broiler chicken production) at Assam can largely be attributed to the private sector entrepreneurial initiatives and service delivery by input supplying companies. Total commercial broiler chicken input market in the State is estimated at Rs.264.6 million per month (FARMER, 2009), a major portion of which is imported from outside the State. There are about 36 private hatcheries in Assam that collectively produce around 3 million day-old chicks in a month.
Approximately 14 percent of the total commercial broiler chicken market of Assam is under the control of commercial integrators or contract growing companies. This share is increasing in the post bird flu (2008) scenario of the State with occasional incidence of conflict arising out of inability on the part of industry to ensue ethical practices ensuring fair completion for all. There are about 18 brands of feed in the market, of which only 4 brands are produced by local manufacturers, while approximately 15 to 20 leading medicine and feed supplement companies operate in Assam.
Import dependency of the livestock input market (e.g., feeds, medicines, supplements), make local production vulnerable to changes outside the State. A majority of poor farmers is price-sensitive, and when coupled with their limited knowledge regarding selection and use of inputs, it is possible for unscrupulous traders to market inferior quality inputs. Pig meat (pork) contributes 29 percent of the total meat production. This is followed by goat meat and poultry meat which is 23 percent and 21 percent of total meat production, respectively. Average price of pork, mutton and chicken during the year 2007-08 was recorded at Rs.120, Rs.175 and Rs.80 per kilo of meat, respectively.
According to a 2006 study by International Livestock Research Institute, average per capita consumption of liquid milk—a major livestock product in Assam—from survey data in nine (9) districts of Assam is about 44 liters (which is 120 ml. per day, per person) and 37 liters (which is 101 ml per day, per person) per year in urban and rural areas, respectively. The same study also reported that on the average, surveyed urban households spent 152 rupees per week on home consumption of milk and dairy products compared to 73 rupees by rural households. With growth, primarily urban areas of the State are witnessing large imports of UHT packaged milk and milk powder aside from other dairy products. A sub-sector appraisal (ILRI) in the capital district of Kamrup, Assam in 2006 indicated an average 33 percent price increase in unprocessed livestock products.
As per a NEDFi ( a GOI organization ) sponsored study conducted by Tezpur University in Assam in the year 2000, urban demand for eggs is 9,545,926 per week or 496 million eggs per annum (per capita of 124 eggs per annum). Considering per capita availability of 17 eggs per annum as mentioned above, it is evident that most of this demand is met with inter-state import.
More than 90 percent of the population in Assam is non-vegetarian. Northeastern Council estimates that the Northeast region of India is deficient by nearly 50 percent in milk and 87 percent in eggs. It also projects that the requirements of these items will rise to 2.5 percent annually by 2020 (NE Vision-2020, GOI).
Performance in the sector is mixed up to now. Production trends are upward in the case of milk and meat but volume increase is nominal. When compared to population growth (considering the “11th Plan 2007-2012”, annual growth rate of 1.28 percent) the production growth indicates that per capita availability must have remained almost constant for milk. This has probably increased for meat but it is falling in the case of eggs. The crossbred cattle population in the State is only 4.3 percent of the total cattle population (2007-08). The low percentage of cross-bred population may be due to limited coverage, poor breeder involvement, poor marketing and conception rate, and other factors. The sharp decline in the indigenous population does not match the growth of cross-bred population. These may be due to decreasing grassland, natural calamities like flood or increasing farm mechanization. Informal reports indicating increase in cattle slaughter for beef purposes and smuggling of cattle to border-countries can also be cited as reasons for the sharp decline in indigenous populations.
The service infrastructure and Development Response:
The state Veterinary and Animal husbandry department renders health care, breeding and extension services to livestock owners through a total 2400+ numbers of institutions which includes polyclinics, dispensaries, sub centers, disease diagnostic laboratories, first aid and AI centers, frozen semen banks, bull rearing farms, bull mother farms, fodder and cattle farms etc.
The dairy development department, which looks after the milk collection and processing and distribution, on the other hand, renders its services through 8 numbers of dairy processing plants and 11 numbers of chilling plants. However majority of these processing and chilling plants are currently under renovation and steps are being initiated in some cases to run the plants on Private Public Partnership mode.
There are 8 growth / extension centers (as on 2007) with hatcheries, breeding / demonstration farm under State Institute of Rural Development (SIRD) in Assam for imparting training on livestock rearing to farmers.
There are 20 functional Krishi Vigyan Kendras (Farm Science Centre) under Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) system in the state. They are mandated to ensure transfer technology from Universities and other research based institutions to farmers.
As per available statistics out of the total of 73 private agri-clinics (institutions providing primarily private agri – extension services) in Assam supported under ‘Agri-clinic’ scheme of government of India, 36 numbers (49%) are of Veterinary clinics with livestock services.
To meet the demand for livestock products, the State is implementing a three-pronged strategy, viz. a) genetic improvement through artificial insemination; b) ensuring availability of resources, such as farm inputs, services, credit, etc., and c) augmentation of group entrepreneurship (Self-Help Groups) or revival of farmer-centric institutions like cooperatives.
The World Bank-funded AACP has been implementing plans to upgrade indigenous cattle through artificial insemination. The project supports numerous activities of the Assam Livestock Development Agency (ALDA) in this connection. These supports include assistance to programs related to cattle nutrition (fodder development), health care, and cattle diseases control.
Another important aspect of the project is its mandate to organize dispersed farmers by helping them to form dairy cooperative societies (DCS) and self-help groups (SHGs), with the target for the same to organize 250 DCS and an equal number of SHGs. Resources are also being mobilized to provide forward and backward linkages to all DCS and SHGs to be promoted under the project. In the early part of the year 2008, the government handed over the management of the ailing West Assam Milk Cooperative Union, Ltd. (Purabi Dairy) to the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), GOI. The cooperatives formed under AACP are all set to be brought under the preview of NDDB for better market linkages and related services.
Aside from the World Bank-assisted major project as mentioned above, the government, along with its associated agencies, is implementing a number of central and State-plan schemes for the livestock sector. These includes National Cattle and Buffalo Breeding Project (Mostly for Breeding related infrastructure development); Establishment and Strengthening of Veterinary Hospitals and Dispensaries (ESVHD); National Mission for Protein Supplement ( Setting up of pig breeding farm at Rani near Guwahati); Integrated dairy development project –Phase-I & II (Institution and infrastructure development such as dairy plants / chilling plants for milk processing); Awareness generation for clean milk production; Venture capital fund ( for enterprise development ); Rashtriya Krishi Vikash Yojana ( e.g. Induction of cattle from outside the state, enterprise development in goat and pigs, construction of hospitals etc. ); Milk Supply schemes ( e.g. Milk procurement, processing and marketing in urban areas ); Milk village scheme ( e.g. distribution of crossbred cattle amongst scheduled caste and schedule tribe people of select villages or clusters ) etc. Besides production related projects, for animal disease surveillance and monitoring, the state is implementing National Project on Rinderpest Eradication, the National Project on BCPP Eradication etc.
The State’s Rural Development Department is implementing schemes such as Swarnajyonti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY), which provides direct self-employment related assistance such as training, subsidy for asset procurement, setting-up of enterprises or augmentation of group economic activities. As per estimate (2006-07) the State Institute of Rural Development, the Department has promoted 20,000 Self-Help or Joint Liability Groups. The benefits of the government rural development schemes covered more than 3,000 youths for rearing of crossbred dairy cattle, 2,000 youths for pig rearing, and 14,000 women for backyard rearing of charachemballi duck.
In the processing sector, infrastructure for two (2) government-supported meat processing plants (pork), are currently in place; however, capacity-utilization of these plants are reported to be low. Occasional attempts are being made to set up marketing infrastructures and/or to form cooperatives of farmers so as to meet the demand of processed products and ensure raw material supply.
For animal disease diagnostic services the State is taking a lead in the entire North East India. The North East Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (NERDDL) – the fifth of its kind in India, with state of art facility has been set up at Guwahati. The government is also making investments to modernize facility for quality vaccine production.
For human resource development and capacity building, the department of animal husbandry is already making investments (supported under RKVY) to set up a Regional Institute of Livestock Entrepreneurship Management near Guwahati. During the financial year 2012-13, it is also proposing to set up an Officer’s training institute at Guwahati with support from National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development.
Amongst non-government programs, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in joint association with the government of Assam, FARMER, and other leading NGO’s, implemented a DFID-funded project (in 2009) in select districts in Assam. The objective of the program was to create examples of pro-poor development and to advocate the importance of building the capacity of informal/traditional sector to improve the supply of clean milk in the State. Other notable programs implemented in recent years includes technical aid from international agencies such as the small-holder poultry (layer) enterprise development initiative of the government-aided “Assam Livestock and Poultry Corporation” (ALPCO) in the Golaghat district of Assam. The program was implemented in partnership with IFC-SEDF (International Finance Corporation-South Asia Enterprise Development Facility). Presently, the state is witnessing number of private sector initiatives in livestock development. As of now, a total of four private small-scale milk processing plants (starting from 3,000 liters per day) are operating in the State. These small-scale milk processing plants buy raw milk from nearby farmers and small-time traders. Other notable private initiative for dairy enterprise development near tea garden areas includes initiative of Amalgamated Plantations Pvt Ltd. (A Tata enterprise)
Challenges and Solutions :
An important resource related challenge of livestock sector in Assam is feed and fodder development. The same is affecting productivity in the State. The demand and supply situation indicates the State’s high dependency on the mainland for supply of inputs like animal feed. Programs aimed at popularization of commercial fodder cultivation are not successful in many places because of the high investment needed on the part of the farmer in guarding their plots from free-roaming cattle. This indicates that the proper institution and infrastructure such as cattle pounds under panchayat is necessary, in order to promote livestock fodder production, aggregation of crop residue, nutrient enhancement and marketing related services. There also exists ample scope of collaborative programs involving agriculture department to improve the supply situation.
Unlike in other parts of India, none of the cooperatives and private processors in the State has full-fledged in-house or hired livestock service wings. There is also inadequate coordination between the cooperatives, state line departments, NGOs and banks for service delivery (including credit) to respective milk shed/production areas. The activities undertaken under various programs indicate a limited effort to integrate livestock development strategies with agricultural development.
Poor rural infrastructure coupled with dispersed distribution of farms in the State is one of the greatest hindrances to efficient quality milk procurement, and aggregation of other farm products from interior areas to urban processing centers. Moreover, productions in most of the rural pockets are also not sufficient to justify large investment on shelf-life enhancing facilities such as milk chilling plants. Cluster focus in development planning assumes significance in this regard.
In recent years, there are reports of the entry of a large numbers of pigs from bordering countries like Myanmar, mostly through informal trade. Growing private sector investment in Myanmar in the field of piggery can be considered as a challenge for small enterprises in the State in particular, and in the Northeastern region, in general as import surges may destroy market of local enterprises. Focus attention towards augmenting growth of organized private pig breeding farms is a prerequisite to prepare the local industry to fight such import surges.
A review of the annual reports of the State Institute of Rural Development (SIRD) indicates focused collaboration only with external State Universities and national agencies in matters pertaining to the livestock sector. There are limited local collaboration between the state rural development department and local organizations such as the Assam Agricultural University, State Department of Animal Husbandry, Department of Dairy Development, and similar organizations. There is a need to strengthen the link between self-employment related programs of rural development department and programs of the veterinary department. There should be more accountability/responsibility of veterinary department professionals in matters related to livestock activity selections/bank linkages, during implementation of rural development schemes. This is important as enterprise-development and access to service delivery are complementary to each other, for sustainability.
Informal sector is predominant in milk and other livestock product trading in Assam. For example, the “processed milk” trading in the sector shows only negligible growth (4 percent of total milk traded) in spite of more than 40 years of large investments in milk-processing infrastructure. Outcomes of existing supply side interventions are negligible. An increase in inter-state import of tetra-packed milk and milk products to meet the local demand has been observed.
The current review of government programs also shows the limited demand side intervention aimed at food safety and quality improvement thereby creating demand for locally-produced livestock products.
The livestock sector is a State subject in India and governed by various need-based State level acts aside from notifications, e.g., notifications for tax exemption in Animal Feed, etc. Some of the major state level acts in Assam include, The Assam Cattle Diseases Act of 1948 (to prevent spread of contagious diseases); The Assam Cattle Preservation Act of 1950 (- Amendment 1976, Preservation of certain cattle by controlling the slaughter); The Cattle Trespass Assam (amendment) Act of 1936 (To protect crops); Livestock Importation Act (to regulate import of livestock / products). Continuous review of these acts in the light of changing scenarios is necessary. It is noteworthy that the government of India has established the “The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India” under the new Food Safety and Standards Act of 2006 as a statutory body having jurisdiction over all of India. The Authority lays down scientific standards for articles of food and regulates the manufacturing, processing, distribution, sale and importation of food so as to ensure safe and wholesome food for human consumption. A large number of new rules, which are currently under consideration of the Authority, pertain to livestock products. The strict implementation of the rule by the Food Safety and Standards Authority in the future is going to change the way livestock products are produced and marketed in India. This change in the field of food safety regulation necessitates services focused at building the capacity of farmers and other value chain players to conform to the provisions and rules.
There is a need to strengthen measures to prevent reported unauthorized smuggling of graded cattle and other livestock from the State to neighboring countries such as Bangladesh. Informal reports indicate that there is also an increase in the slaughter of dairy cattle to meet the beef demand in certain districts of Assam. As cattle slaughter is a politically sensitive issue, implementation of laws regarding its control is inadequate in the State. Government/private sector-aided supply side intervention aimed at encouraging the fattening of unproductive males in such districts for beef production seems feasible to counter the challenge. However, it is also a culturally-sensitive issue for predominant Hindu livestock farming communities.
Amongst the non-technical challenges, a very important event that has created a leadership void in livestock sector in Assam is the long drawn-out financial scandal in the State known as the “LOC scandal (Scandal related to submission of false Letters of Credit)”. Elaborating on the impact of the scandal on the sector, Dr.Hiren Gohain (1996) wrote: “starting from a remote cattle development center of the Veterinary Department, the scam spread to 11 departments of the State government. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of GOI was allowed to probe only the Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Department. Naturally, the Veterinary Department has been labeled as the department of the “LOC scandal”. Although the scandal involved politicians, contractors, as well as suppliers, people in Assam would commonly associate the veterinarians with corruption. It has been alleged that because subsequent governments had the impression that the Veterinary Department is prone to corruption, it was reluctant to provide the required funding for its developmental activities”.
Even today, the scandal is viewed as one of the biggest causes of low morale of veterinarians working in the State. Still there seems to be a lack of trust on Veterinarian by the public in general and the farmers in particular, and is therefore hindering the growth of leadership in the field of livestock service delivery within the State. The solution of this lies in appropriate human resource management and better stakeholder engagement and communication during implementation of programs.
Ensuring the supply of quality breeding stock and other farm inputs, improving efficiency of institutions and enterprises at various levels, improving access to knowledge and integrated skilled services (motivation, field training, consultation for resource-sourcing, record-keeping, breeding, farm management, etc.) and demand creation for locally produced products are some of the prominent challenges of the livestock sector. There is a need for paradigm shift in development approach from livestock development alone to focusing more on people in the entire value chain of various livestock products. The services on the other hand should be re-designed keeping in mind five A’s i.e. Accessibility, Availability, Adequacy, Acceptability and Affordability.
The sector has the potential to change the rural economy of Assam; there is no dearth of technical manpower. The need however, is for collective leadership. This can be ensured by creating opportunities for interaction amongst stakeholders and supporting facilitated platforms for intra-institutional knowledge sharing.
Photo credit: FARMER / Vet Helpline India Pvt. Ltd.