We Indians somehow end up competing with cattle. No, I am not talking in terms of the growth in cattle and human population over the years but we even compete for the same food. Well, first let us look at the numbers. In India, the human population has crossed 1.1 billion whereas the cattle numbers are fast catching up, now exceeds 600 million. Even if we don't realise it, we certainly have competition on our hands.
In the days to come, the competition is going to be much tougher. And when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. So obviously the pressure would be to eliminate competition, and I can see that trend clearly visible now. Slaughter-houses are increasing, and export of red meat is picking up from India. For religious reasons, we will trun a blind eye to the torture the cattle is often inflicted as they are made to walk hundreds of kilometers before being sold off to slaughter houses across the national border. Comes a drought, and there are more economic reasons to part with cattle.
Neverthess, the point I am trying to drive is that we are not only competing for the same natural resource base that the cattle too requires, but now we have begun to encroach on their feed also. We have over the years encroached by acquiring the land that was normally kept exclusive for cattle for grazing or to grow fodder. The pasture lands have disappeared, much of these going under real estate or defunct industries. The village ponds or the natural water sources have either dried up or have again been taken over by real estate and housing for the growing urban population. Even in the villages, the village commons have been up for grabs. No wonder, stall feeding is now becoming a norm.
In one of my articles: Surplus wheat for export, and animal feed for the hungry (The Hindu Business Line, June 17, 1999) and available at http://www.poptel.org.uk/panap/archives/ricex.htm you will find how India was trying to convert rice bran, traditionally used as cattle feed, for human consumption. This article had generated a lot of controversy, and ultimately the project was dropped. However, I still continue to receive hate mail from American consultants who feel that I did the great disservice to hungry Indians.
There have been several other instances where we have encroached upon the feed of the cattle. The latest example is the import of yellow peas, imported from Canada. In the light of the price rise in pulses that India is presently witnessing and living with, cheaper dried peas is fast replacing the traditional tur or arhar, which has gone beyond the means of an average household. This import substitution for tur has picked up fast, growing by 8 per cent last year. Nidhi Nath Srinivas of the Economic Times tells us: From the besan in our pakora to the dal in the restaurant, yellow peas are ubiquitous albeit invisible.
How right. I never realised why the restaurants are not unnerved when a customer orders yellow dal. Normally, they would say that the yellow dal is not available or politely tell that the price is too high, but the fact they are happy serving the dish is because they are substituting the tur with imported yellow peas, which is much cheaper. Nidhi tells us that yellow peas are grown in Canada for animal feed and that's the reason why it so cheap. The landing price for imported yellow peas is Rs 15/kg compared to Rs 40/kg for imported tur.
I am sure the cattle in Canada must be cursing us for snatching their nutritious feed.