Of cattle and men
by Jagdish Keshav
A rather interesting but disturbing scenario is about to take place in the State of Andhra Pradesh in India. The otherwise tranquil lives of small and medium sized farmers is about to be disturbed. A big shake up is about to happen on the dairy farming front.
You see, since time immemorial, it is the small dairy farmer, owning one or couple of cows that have been providing fresh milk to the doorsteps of most households, whether it was rural or urban India.
Fresh milk that has been enjoyed and that has nourished generations till yesterday it seems is seen now changing the colour and value of the product. Technology and subsequent development has brought in a revolutionary change to what was a cottage industry that sustained the farmer, for the lack of a word and the population he was able to service.
We have seen co-operative dairy farming being enforced across the cities, states, countries and indeed much across the world that benefits all. Co-operative dairies yes, in some respects and Corporations taking over individual or co-operatives on the other. The co-operative farming structure thrives even now where the local government has a hand whereby individual cattle owners can harness the production of milk and supply the same to the co-operative farm for a profit and thus guaranteeing sustainability to themselves and their animals alike. India currently, is the largest producer of milk in the world and owes this fact mainly to the co-operative marketing structure that is in place.
In the Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh, like many other places, this is what precisely is happening. Apart from this fact, for many of the women who live in the rural areas and who come from the poorer sections of the society, dairy farming is a bread earner. They nurture these bovine entities in their back yards and sell milk to the co-operative societies.
Now a rather disturbing change of scene is about to emerge. The big hand of a corporate take over is being planned that, if it succeeds, will hamper and restrict the age old practice of milk distribution, along with the well being of the farmer and his cattle. It certainly is a nightmarish proposal to many, but a dream project to some whom, if the project gets a go-ahead signal, will benefit immensely.
The giant entity, the main player in this about to change game is called IFFCO, expanded it stands for Indian Farmers Fertilizer Co-Operative Ltd., which by the way is the largest of its kind in the world. Now this huge entity is planning to start a subsidiary called IFFCO Kisan SEZ Ltd. in a vast area acquired to set up Naphtha based agricultural plant at Nellore.
The area comprises of 1,023 hectares of land and consists of more than a dozen villages in its periphery. The company now is asking for conversion of this agricultural land into a non-agricultural commercial land, and has even dared to ask for exemptions from payments in the form of Stamp Duties, as it is locally called, and that amount runs into millions of Rupees which the government may lose if it agrees. This conglomerate IFFCO, by the by, has no prior experience in the field of dairy farming!.
IFFCO plans to set up a mega-dairy project in this area with a new consortium containing the companies of IFFCO Kisan SEZ-Fonterra-Global Dairy Health Ltd.
Fonterra is a giant New Zealand-based corporation that is the leading exporter of dairy products, but certainly has no knowledge or experience given the conditions of India. Global Dairy Health is an Indian company that intends to foray into the fields of enhanced milk production by setting up integrated milk production systems that apparently are automated and are hurtful to the teats of the bovine creature.
The ultimate combination of these three entities in this new experiment may prove a disaster in the making, and to recuperate from this damage, once caused, may take decades or even never. This experiment of a mega-dairy project has to be stopped before it begins to sprout even a single root. This conglomeration sees a huge profit making potential at the cost of causing miseries to many. This corporate takeover of individual or co-operative dairy farming has been noticed in the west, the US and Canada as examples. The result, mega bucks for the corporations, stale and unhealthy frozen milk with genetically modified additives added to the consumer. This must NOT repeat in India.
The plan at this giant dairy is to have around 40,000 cows and set them up in one place in their integrated milk production unit. If so, the dangerous aspect, let me begin by stating the obvious, is that animals kept within such a system are likely to be highly stressed, they won't be able to express a very necessary natural behaviour such as grazing, grouping, exercising and forming bonds among themselves. These are the natural traits of any animal, including us. In other words, they will be chained to their system, unable to have any freedom of movement, which is very necessary for their physical and mental health to be retained. This goes against laws of nature, as well and contravening animal protection laws that govern the land. This disastrous scene from a B-Grade movie is a possibility, if the government gives the green signal to this mega dairy project.
As per this plan, 3,000 Holstein Friesian and pregnant Jersey cows will be imported in each batch for a period of three years, thus totalling 9,000 cows that can yield up to 30-35 litres of milk per cow per day. To add up to the list, 31,000 local breeds of cows such Gir, Sahiwal, Ongole etc. will be brought along to this automated facility. Along with the import of the cows, 20,000 doses of Semen (regular and sexed) and 5,000 embryos, too, are planned to be imported. It all seems very unreal, but yes the plans are very very real.
In the Tangshan province of China, Fonterra built a prototype of a similar dairy, and if memories could recall a tragedy here, 13 babies died and 300,000 fell ill after consuming a contaminated milk product produced at this centre. It is purported to have contained Melamine.
So the very thought of a mega dairy that functions like an automated machine producing milk round the clock, uncaring about those animals producing milk, is unpleasant to say the least. Apart from the facts of inhibiting free grazing rights, grouping and other characteristics of this bovine animal, there are other lurking dangers too since being closeted in restricted areas causes diseases such as Zoonotic. The creatures may have to endure broken limbs, lameness and even mastitis due to this confinement.
There is also the danger of genetically manipulated high yield cows from the imported group that may have physiological defects, shortened lives and a much higher propensity to catch diseases that can spread widely amongst the other lot. Reduced fertility too is another factor.
There are other factors too that could probably play quite a deadly part on the intended scene. A cow that has a natural life span of about twelve years can become dry within six years at these mega-dairy operations leading to strays and problems of slaughter. Calves also have the tendency to be removed from the mother before the weaning period is over and the question of the fate of male calves is another serious matter at these giant farms.
Slaughter houses may thrive in the vicinity, but their moral behaviour will become an inevitable question mark given the sensitivity of the subject with the local population. The modes of transport, the welfare issues for these now unwanted animals will all have many unanswered implications to sort out. Another factor is the stress levels of these hybrid imported cows taking to local weather conditions at Nellore.
Since dairy farming in India does not fall under strict or stringent laws and regulations, these corporations see an advantage to make their own rules if given an opportunity. The most serious and important aspect of this mega-dairy project is its impact on the co-operative dairy movement. It will take a death blow if this project is given the green signal.
Big corporations, as we have witnessed across the globe, are sounding the death-knell to many small marginalised farmers and mom and pop store owners. Now with vested ventures in the hinterlands of India or any other developing nation, a forcible displacement of people from the rural areas will take place. The already poor will further fall into a deeper chasm of deprived existence and at the same time the rich and the powerful goons of the corporate world reek in more money and at the misery of the poor and the under-privileged.
In short, this proposed project, the mega-dairy at Nellore by the combined conglomerates of IFFCO-Fonterra and Global Dairy Health has to be stopped, stopped before commencing and causing a humanitarian, bovine and ecological disaster in the otherwise peaceful area of Nellore, Andhra Pradesh.
The main drive against this project has been undertaken by Khushboo Gupta of the NGO - FIAPO. The website and Khushboo's e-mail ID are mentioned below if anyone feels the need to acquire more information.
Please show your support to the people of Nellore and help stop this mega-dairy project that is going to ruin their lives by clicking on the link below and signing the petition. Also kindly share this amongst your family andP friends. Thanks.
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