By KS Nayar:
Indian politicians are busy milking the cow for personal gains. They expect that raising the noise against cow slaughter may bring in votes from the radical right who worship cow as mother. I’m not enamoured by the slogans. I would rather look at the contribution the cow makes to the economy. That statistics looks pretty good.
India produces milk that is more than the combined production of all countries of the European Union. India has been in the top league of milk producers since 1997. Its 75 million dairy farms – more than anywhere else in the world – have however fewer than ten cows.
Scientists say cow ’emissions’ are creating environmental havoc. It is more damaging to our Planet than CO2 from cars. India is one of the top emitters of carbon dioxide emissions, which is the primary greenhouse gases (GHG). Others in the list include the United States and China. Dairy farms are blamed for damaging the ecosystem.
What is alarming is that India – a signatory of Paris Climate Agreement – has reported a 4.7 per cent increase in GHG in 2016 compared to the previous year. In contrast the US saw a decline of 2 per cent and China reported a 0.3 per cent decrease.
India has vowed that by 2030, it would reduce emissions intensity by 35 per cent of 2005 levels. It has committed to expand renewable energy capacity to generate 100 GW of solar power by 2022. It has recently notified that it would eliminate diesel and petrol cars and replace them with electric vehicles by 2030.
Former Power Minister Piyush Goyal, now Railway Minister, said that “India can become the first country of its size which will run 100 per cent of electric vehicles. We are trying to make this programme self-financing.” It was possible India could give electric car for free (zero down payment) and people could pay for that out of the savings on the petroleum products. “Innovation is possible; it just needs an open mind. You need to think of scale and be honest,” he said.
It is indeed innovation that can drastically slash GHG. Disruption calls for plans by India to have 56.5 per cent of power generation from renewable sources within the 10 years to 2027. Currently, coal and other fossil fuels meet about 70 per cent of the country’s power demand.
The energy innovation strategy should be adapted to the dairy farm sector to cut GHG. The biggest emitter of methane is cattle, which contribute to almost a quarter of global methane emissions. The country has the largest number of cattle in the world – 300 million. Cattle flatulence and belches contain methane, which scientists say is a more potent GHS than carbon dioxide that causes global warming.
The transportation sector adds 14 per cent of 2010 global GHG emissions that come primarily from the use of fossil fuels burned for road, rail, air, and shipping. Today, almost 95 per cent of the world’s transportation energy comes from petroleum-based fuels.
Blame the cow
Researchers blame the cow as the top destroyer of the environment. A UN report says the world’s rapidly growing herds of cattle is the greatest threat to the climate, acid rain, river poisoning and contamination of drinking water. Food and Agricultural Organisation study Livestock’s Long Shadow blames the world’s 1.5 billion cattle for 18 per cent of GHG emissions that cause global warming. It is more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.
Cattle’s flatulence and manure generate methane that warms our Planet 20 times faster than carbon dioxide. This is besides other cattle produced polluting gases – more than 100 gases that include ammonia, one of the main causes of acid rain. The cow also drinks plenty of water – it takes a staggering 990 litres of water to produce one litre of milk!
Those who blame the cattle for ecological destruction should also realise that the GDP that they generate accounts for a global average of 40 per cent of agricultural GDP. It provides a source of livelihood for millions of people, particularly in poor countries. It provides milk and meat that strengthens food security.
Debate on GHG emissions from cattle should be in the context of its economic contribution to society, including livelihood support to over 987 million poor people, particularly in rural areas. In terms of nutrition, cattle food products contribute about 17 per cent of energy and 33 per cent of protein to dietary intakes. This comes as a blessing for the under- or malnourished people.
Let us listen more to the moos of the cow.