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Livestock, Livelihood, Environment

A report examining the land, water and pollution challenges related to the shift towards factory farming by the Indian livestock industry.
Livestock, Livelihood, Environment: V Padakumar

A few related points

Shift to Factory Farming

The mixed farming systems are undergoing a gradual transformation to industrial system due to increasing pressure on livestock to produce more to meet the growing food demand

Average number of small ruminants reduced to half in the landless households, remained almost stable on small and medium farms, and increased by 25% on large, 13% on marginal and 9% on sub marginal farms. Scale of pig production improved on sub marginal and marginal farms. Elsewhere, it declined in the range of 13-48%, the maximum being in the landless households. For poultry there was a decline of 48% in the landless and 24% in medium land class, while for others there was an increase, the maximum being for the large landholders.

Trends in the livestock sector provide a picture of how sector growth does not necessarily go hand in hand with poverty reduction. The landless poor are becoming increasingly marginalized (in terms of ownership as well as share in livestock population) with respect to small ruminants, pigs and poultry. There is an increasing exodus of the landless households out of livestock production, mainly because of reduced access to grazing resources, lack of access to non-exploitative market and credit & other services.

Land Degradation

About 57% of the land (188 million Ha) in India is degraded in one way or the other. The National Environment Policy of Government of India (GoI, 2006) reports that the proximate causes of land degradation are loss of forest and tree cover, unsustainable grazing, excessive use of irrigation, improper use of agricultural chemicals, diversion of animal wastes for domestic fuel and disposal of industrial and domestic wastes on productive land.

In rainfed areas, the present stocking rate is 1-5 adult cattle units (ACU) /ha against the permitted rate of 1 ACU /ha, while in arid zones, the stocking rates are 1-4 ACU /ha as against 0.2-0.4 ACU /ha (Shankar and Gupta, 1992). It is estimated that about 100 million cow units graze in forests against a capacity of 31 million. Pastoral system is putting more pressure on the limited land available. It is argued that one of the reasons for deforestation is uncontrolled grazing of livestock in forest land.

Compaction occurs particularly in areas where animals concentrate, such as water points. Under heavy grazing pressure, plants may not be able to compensate sufficiently for the phytomass removed by grazing animals. When soil is exposed due to over grazing, carbon in the soil will escape as CO2. The degree of land degradation also has an effect on the amount of water pollution. As plant cover is reduced, run off increases and hence transport of nutrients to water courses increases.


Globally, a kilogram of lamb from a sheep fed on grass needs 10 cubic meters of water. Whereas a kilogram of cereals needs only 0.4 to 3.0 cubic meters (Inforesources-Focus, 2006). This is endorsed by 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 feed.


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 watercourses produce ecological harm due to over concentration of nutrients and human health issues. The same thing will happen in rural industrial units as well if the wastes are not properly handled /managed. It is reported that 250 chickens produce about 135 kg of Nitrogen and 95 kg of Phosphorous per year. Water pollution may occur if nutrients from manure enter the water course, especially when there is rain.