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Livestock & the Indian environment

India has amongst the largest populations & density of people and livestock in the world. Carbon emission, land, water & hunger challenges are only going to increase rapidly if we continue current levels of growth in animal production & consumption.

India's livestock density

The grave environmental concerns caused by the livestock industry, including carbon emissions, land & water usage and pollution,  is a global phenomenon affecting our global environment, resource availability and sustainability.

Livestock density country-wise

India has amongst the highest densities of livestock in the world. No other country in the world has as high a density of livestock across every region as India.

With amongst the highest populations & densities of livestock population in the world, the environmental impact of the livestock sector in India gets magnified. Additionally, increased Indian consumption of animal products is expected to be the driving force behind global increases in demand for meat & dairy over the coming decades. As production & consumption continues to grow, India environmental challenges are only going to worsen going forward.

Environmental issues related to Indian livestock

Given below are some of the documented facts and issues related to the damage caused by the Livestock industry to the Indian environment.

Carbon emissions

  • Livestock constituted 63.4% of the total GHG emissions from agriculture in India1.
  • Systematic management of manure from livestock is not practised in India. Manure is mainly converted into dung cakes and used for energy in rural areas. It is estimated that about 0.114 mn tons of CH4 and 0.07 thousand tons of N20 are emitted from this source1.
  • India’s emissions of the greenhouse gas methane from livestock, are larger than any other country2

Pollution

  • A growing problem with the massive number of cattle in India, is the amount of waste that is created. While efforts have been made to ban large dairies in semi-urban areas because disposal of waste is such a problem, most have not succeeded2.
  • The IFPRI-FAO study conducted by Mehta et al (2002) shows that there are bio-security issues associated with industrial poultry production in India such as polluted water, soil toxicity, wastage disposal and health hazards, especially when the production units are located too close to densely populated areas. Soil toxicity occurs when there is a build up of nitrogen and phosphorous in the soil deposited through manure over a period of time. Farms close to population centers and water bodies produce ecological harm due to over concentration of nutrients and human health issues3.
  • Main environmental problems of concern are water pollution, air pollution and land degradation4

Land

  • Deforestation to clear land for pastures, fodder extraction, expanding agricultural cultivation of crops in forests and on grazing lands and the widespread use of fertilisers to grow crops like maize and soyabean are all contributing to rising rates of soil erosion, salinization, alkalization, pollution and desertification in India. Hunger for land for both crops and livestock is also a primary cause of bio-diversity loss2.
  • Grazing intensity in India is already very high. In rainfed areas, the present stocking rate is 1-5 adult cattle units (ACU) /ha against the rate of 1 ACU /ha allowed by government norms, while in arid zones, the stocking rates are 1-4 ACU /ha as against 0.2-0.4 ACU /ha. It is estimated that about 100 million cow units graze in forests against a capacity for 31 million. The quality and productivity of grazing lands are also showing a declining trend due to improper management, unregulated land use, over grazing and lack of reseeding of pastures. It is argued that one of the reasons for deforestation is uncontrolled grazing of livestock in forest land. All these factors contribute to land degradation, particularly in the open grazing areas in the arid and semi-arid ecosystem5.

Water

  • The report notes with concern the rising consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy products in fast-growing developing countries, which are, “much more water-intensive than the simpler diets they are replacing.” 6
  • Animals need much more water than grain to produce the same amount of food. A much discussed study conducted to estimate irrigation water productivity of dairy animals in Gujarat (Singh et al, 2004), which found that 1,900 to 4,600 liters of virtual water (total volume of water directly and indirectly used to produce a commodity) was used to produce one litre of milk. A large share of this water is used to produce livestock feed3.
  • Milk and meat production, particularly if based on intensive grain feeds and irrigated forages, requires 10-50 times more water than crop production5.

Water Pollution

  • The by-products of animal agriculture—animal wastes and run-off from pesticides and fertilizers used on feed crops— enter India’s rivers, streams, and groundwater. These organic and inorganic pollutants contribute to the contamination of an estimated 70 percent of India’s surface water and an increasing percentage of its groundwater7.
  • Production of meat resulted in 3.5 million tons ofwaste-water in 2007. That is nearly 100 times as much waste-water as India’s sugar industry generates and 150 times more wastewater than the manufacture of fertilizer creates2.

Hunger

  • The increasing demand for grains to feed livestock will create pressure to cultivate (or /and import) feed grains, which will ultimately compete with grain production for human consumption. Currently India produces only 11 million tonne of maize, of which five million tonne are used for the poultry sector5.

 

References: 
  1. INCAA Report on Climate Change, 2007
  2. Brighter Green, Veg or non-veg: India at the Crossroads
  3. V Padmakumar, Livestock - Livelihood - Environment
  4. UN FAO, Project on Livestock Industrialisation: Trade and Social Healthy Environmental Impacts in Developing Countries
  5. Intercooperation, Livestock in the changing landscape in India: its environmental, social and health consequences and responses
  6. UN, Water & Development 2009
  7. India Ministry of Environment and Forests, 2009 Annual Report