Is the Indian Livestock Sector Sustainable?
India’s commitment to net-zero and ambitious targets for emission reduction provides a clear signal for the agri industry to prioritise interventions towards sustainable agriculture in their operations or investments. Through capital and technical assistance, our agri-industry needs to promote innovation and commercialisation of technologies in climate-resilient practices. There is a need to make the sector climate-resilient, sustainable livelihoods for smallholder farmers, attain food and nutritional security goals while reducing carbon footprint in the entire value chain for a sustainable transition.
According to reports, agricultural emissions in India are primarily from the livestock sector (54.6 per cent) in the form of methane emissions. To cut greenhouse emissions, many global agribusiness companies like UPL Limited, Bayer, CNH Industrial, Royal DSM and Syngenta are working on sustainability in the agriculture industry through various projects.
Recently Royal DSM organised ANH Sustainability Conclave to advocate the need for sustainability in animal protein production. The conclave provided a platform for leaders to come together and bolster DSM’S strategic food system commitments. With its set of measurable commitments DSM is striving to ensure double-digit on-farm livestock emission reductions by 2030. Talking about the issue, B Rajagopal, President, DSM India said, “We at DSM have accepted the challenge to make animal farming sustainably possible. We believe that science and innovation can unlock the true value of sustainability and with public-private collaborations, the industry can achieve tangible, measurable improvements in the sustainability of animal farming.”
Sharing her thoughts Shanal Pradhan, Programme Associate, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), said, “India, at present, contributes to 13 per cent of the global methane emissions from livestock. With rising incomes, the demand for dairy may increase and escalate emissions, making it harder to sustain the sector. A sustainable transition will require making the sector climate-resilient, sustaining smallholder farmer livelihoods, attain food and nutritional security goals while reducing carbon footprint in the entire value chain. A predominant crop-livestock integrated farming is key to bringing resilience and withstanding economic and climate shocks.”
She added, “Developing a comprehensive and reliable database of livestock for conservation, breed improvement, and utilisation is essential to improve the sector’s productivity and sustainability. Livestock insurance, particularly to rainfed farmers alongside veterinary services, could help access appropriate nutrition for livestock and prevent infectious diseases.”
Adoption of technology
There has been an exponential growth in demands for animal products with the increasing population. But environmental problems have become a threat to sustainability of animal production systems, for which different technologies like Artificial Insemination (AI) and crossbreeding have helped in maintaining the sustainability of animal production systems for decades. Many modern technologies like transgenic animals or developing environmentally-friendly diets for livestock have also been developed recently in order to have a sustainable agricultural environment.
Further, the increase in demand for livestock feed has led to introduction of a diverse set of technological solutions that helps in increasing production of quality feed with limited resources
“There is an immediate need for the agriculture and livestock sector to come together and jointly address the problem through transition from linear to circularised production systems. The circular economy provides a sound basis for a sustainable transition. This would benefit the agriculture and livestock sector both.”
Dr Praveen Malik, Animal Husbandry Commissioner, Department of Animal
Husbandry and Dairying, GOI
“We at DSM have accepted the challenge to make animal farming sustainably possible. We believe that science and innovation can unlock the true value of sustainability and with public-private collaborations, the industry can achieve tangible, measurable improvements in the sustainability of animal farming.”
B Rajagopal, President, DSM India
“Technologies for sustainable agriculture that are primarily overlooked are nature-based solutions (agroforestry, restoration) that need appreciable agri industry innovations. Leveraging digital approaches, like remote sensing and drones could monitor practices followed on farms, measure performance indicators, and accurately capture the provisioning of services (farm biodiversity, soil carbon, GHGS, habitats, etc.), including digitising payments to farmers for ecological services delivered.”
Programme Associate, Council on Energy,
Environment and Water (CEEW)
such as improving feed productivity; enhancing feed quality; preserving and maintaining feed quality; enhancing nutritional status of animals and improving feed quality analysis.
According to a study by CEEW, technological solutions for low input sustainable agriculture practices are underdeveloped and inadequate. This necessitates innovative and appropriate (durable and cost-effective) mechanisation solutions such as weeders for multi-cropping settings, machines to prepare organic/natural farming inputs, technologies to apply such inputs effectively etc. Low-cost precision techniques that promote the judicious use of emission-intensive fertilisers (customised leaf-coloured charts) and optimise water use (automated micro-irrigation systems) could reduce carbon footprints while enhancing the resilience of farmers. Proven techniques to manage water in rice cultivation through the System of Rice Intensification and Direct Seeded rice that reduces methane emissions need to be scaled up urgently by contextualising it to respond to the local needs.
As pointed out by Shanal, “Catalysing innovation in cost-effective predictive early warning systems related to weather events and Big Data Analytics can help forecast future demand and sustainable produce prices, making the arena less volatile for farmers and enterprises.” She further said, “Technologies for sustainable agriculture that are primarily overlooked are nature-based solutions (agroforestry, restoration) that need appreciable agri industry innovations. Leveraging digital approaches, like remote sensing and drones could monitor practices followed on farms, measure performance indicators, and accurately capture the provisioning of services (farm biodiversity, soil carbon, Greenhouse Gases (GHGS), habitats, etc.), including digitising payments to farmers for ecological services delivered.”
Emerging options to reduce GHG
Measures like improving feed quality, manure management, precision livestock farming, improving animal health, improving forage quality, adopting crossbreeds, nutrition feed awareness, rumen modifiers, capturing and using methane through biogas generation can help in reducing emissions from the livestock sector.
As highlighted by Shanal, a few emerging options offering the potential to abate are:
• Feeding dairy cows and buffaloes with superior
quality of balanced ration have a high potential
to abate. As per the National Dairy Development Board, ration balancing can reduce around 13.3 per cent of methane emissions per kg of milk. • Making the herd composition mix more efficient by reducing infertility rates and focusing on productive breeds can help in reducing emissions. Crossbreeds, for instance, are found to emit the lowest methane per unit of milk, followed by buffalo and indigenous cattle due to their lower emission factor. This implies adopting more crossbreeds within the milk animal mix may significantly lower
• Support infrastructure such as veterinary care, advisory and nutrition feed awareness which is generally poor, could help bring efficiency by maintaining animal productivity.
Rumen modifiers and methane inhibitors in the diets are novel solutions to lower methane emissions; however, these are at a nascent stage in India with limited technical know-how. Capturing and using methane through biogas generation systems can reduce GHGS and increase farm productivity.
The government of India has taken many measures for agriculture sustainability. Sharing his views on the government’s role in agriculture sustainability, Dr Praveen Malik, Animal
Husbandry Commissioner, Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying (DAHD), Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Government of India said, “There is an immediate need for the agriculture and livestock sector to come together and jointly address the problem through transition from linear to circularised production systems. The circular economy provides a sound basis for a sustainable transition. The concept needs to be adopted along the value chain from primary production using the precision agriculture/ livestock techniques, to the recycling and utilisation of agricultural/livestock wastes. The transition may happen in the livestock sector through minimisation in the use of external inputs and utilising the wastes in the agricultural farming. This would benefit the agriculture and livestock sector both.”
Key inputs for the transition to circularised production systems
1. Technological Interventions: Adoption of smart, innovative, and sustainable agricultural technologies like precision agriculture, data management, artificial intelligence systems etc supporting agricultural & livestock transformation in the country.
2. Consumer Behaviour: Consumer plays a vital role as promoter and supporter of adopting any change in the existing system and shall support in transition to sustainable production systems. Therefore, there is a need to boost consumer awareness, hand-holding on technology transfer in the field, incentivise technology enabled solutions, and showcase positive economic results. 3. Policy Actions: Push model needs to be adopted through a strong policy ecosystem, which shall support the adoption of technological tools and change in the consumer behaviours. There is a need for policy/regulatory interventions to enhance the use of renewable energies, reduction in use of pesticides, incentives for organic farming, ensure food safety and support animal welfare.
Furthermore, the DAHD has undertaken a diverse range of initiatives to support transition to circularised and sustainable production systems. DAHD is actively working to meet the growing demand for animal protein in ways that are significantly less harmful for the environment and contribute significantly less to climate change.
To boost growth in livestock sector and thereby making animal husbandry more remunerative to 10 crore farmers engaged in Animal Husbandry Sector, recently, the Government has revised and realigned various components of Government of India’s schemes for next five years starting from 2021-22 with the outlay of Rs 9800 crore over for leveraging total investment of Rs 54,618 crore for five years. Dr Praveen mentioned, “With an aim to boost productivity, the department has realigned various schemes to promote breed improvement. Rashtriya Gokul Mission (RGM) is crucial for development and conservation of indigenous breeds and enhancing milk production and productivity to meet growing demand for milk, making dairying more remunerative to the rural farmers of the country.”
“The Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund would further support the value addition and milk/meat processing, veterinary drugs and vaccines industry and waste to wealth by managing agri-livestock waste. Recently, the activities for Breed Multiplication farm and Accelerated Breed Improvement technologies have been included in the DAHD schemes. However, there is a need for increased private sector investment to adopt the technological tools and reap the benefit for the increased outputs,” he concluded. The current startups and technology revolution will need to transform the resolution to adapt modernisation thus pushing the nano-steps towards achieving the ‘Second White Revolution’ in the country.