Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Pedigree pays off in seeds of fortune

How elite buffalo germplasm altered the fortunes of a farmer and what it says about India’s low milk yield

Kurukshetra/New Delhi: Take him home, he will make you famous one day,” the dying old farmer from
Sonipat in Haryana told a young Karamveer Singh 14 years ago. As an obsessive connoisseur of buffaloes, Karamveer, now aged 45, hesitated but ended up paying a hefty sum of Rs.54,000 for the seven-month-old bull. Years later, he named the bull Yograj, who, together with a milch buffalo named Ganga, did make Karamveer famous, as predicted. The two buffaloes changed Karamveer’s fate: from a young farmer tucked away in a nondescript corner of Haryana— albeit a prosperous farmer—he is today an avid businessman whose name has spread far and wide. These days he receives visitors from across Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh almost daily. And in the past, offers for his buffaloes have come from distant places such as Venezuela and Thailand. Everyone, it seems, is eager to lay their hands on Karamveer’s buffaloes. Last year, Karamveer made Rs.75 lakh from selling the semen of his elite bulls. In February last year, he was offered a jaw-dropping Rs.7 crore for Yograj’s and Ganga’s offspring, a champion bull named Yuvraj. Karamveer refused to part with Yuvraj. The offers weren’t out of character, for both Yograj and Yuvraj belong to the best-known buffalo breed in the world called Murrah, that are native to a small region straddling Rohtak, Jind and Hisar districts of Haryana.
Murrah buffaloes, marked out by their distinctive tightly curled horns and massive and stocky build, are famous around the world for their high milk yields. Since the 1960s, Murrah bulls have been taken from India to Bulgaria, Brazil, China and several East Asian countries to help in efforts to improve their native breeds and increase milk yields. Ads by OffersWizardAd Options Ganga, Yuvraj’s mother, for instance, used to produce over 26 litres of milk a day in her prime, a record. That is more than 10 times the average yield of milch cows in India and about five times that of milch buffaloes, putting to shame cattle breeds such as Holstein Friesian or Jersey that were imported to India but could do little to improve milk yields. What makes Ganga an elite milch buffalo is that together with Yograj she gave birth to buffaloes that produce over 15 litres of milk a day each. Yuvraj is the bearer of an elite germplasm: he is what scientists call pedigree selected and progeny tested. Karamveer’s acumen in identifying and preserving this elite line, coupled with the scarcity of identified elite bulls in the country, makes Yuvraj what he is today. That’s why farmers looking for higher milk yields are ready to pay handsomely for the elite germplasm. They want to take Yuvraj’s semen to artificially inseminate (AI) their milch buffaloes. Economics of ejaculation The economics behind a single ejaculation by Yuvraj the bull is astounding. One ml of bull semen contains about one billion sperms. One ejaculation generates between 4-6 ml of semen which is then diluted with egg yolk or milk-based diluents to make between 400 to 500 doses of semen, preserved inside plastic straws and stored frozen in liquid nitrogen (cryogenic) containers. Karamveer sells a single dose (one semen straw) for Rs.300. Thus, every ejaculation by Yuvraj earns Karamveer anywhere between Rs.1.2-1.5 lakh. And as artificial insemination becomes popular across the country, sales are on the rise. In 2009, Karamveer sold 4,000 straws; last year the number rose to 25,000. Now six-and-a-half-year old, Yuvraj has many years of service ahead; buffalo semen can be collected up to 16 years of age. Living like a prince True to his name Yuvraj lives the life of a prince. He wakes up early in the morning and drinks 10 litres of milk, fortified with vitamin supplements to keep his liver in good shape. Then he is led out into the morning sun and allowed to stay there for sometime. This is followed by a leisurely bath, and then a relaxing massage—by two masseurs—with kachhi ghani (cold press extract) mustard oil. The massage cannot be a hurried affair as Yuvraj is a big chap—10.5 ft long (excluding the tail) and 5 ft 7.5 inches tall. His curled horns, too, are given a special oil polish. After the massage, it’s time for lunch. Yuvraj gorges on quality feed and then takes an afternoon nap. When he wakes up in the evening there are 5kg of apples waiting for him. Finally, he is taken on a 4km race in the fields, which helps him digest the food and keep fit. Karamveer is as affectionate towards Yuvraj as a doting father is to his favourite child. Standing outside his palatial house in Sunarion village in Kurukshetra district of Haryana, he makes sure Yuvraj is massaged well. Satisfied, he personally combs the tuft of jet black hair on Yuvraj’s forehead. Ads by OffersWizardAd Options “They are like my children and over the years have turned me from an amateur admirer to a businessman. Yuvraj has been very lucky for me—I began building this house the day he was born,” says Karamveer, who is now a commission agent in agricultural markets and a seller of seed potatoes. Yield challenge With a yearly output of 130 million tonnes, India is the world’s largest producer of milk, due mainly to the fact that it is home to the largest milch animal population on the planet—over 118 million, according to the latest Livestock Census published in September this year. However, India’s milk yields per animal are among the lowest in the world. Compared with 18kg of milk per day per animal in Europe and about 27kg per day per animal in the US, the average native Indian cow produces just about 2.36 kg of milk in a day. The average milk yield of cross-bred and exotic cows is a little over 7 kg and of buffaloes, 4.8 kg. “Production by milch animals is low in India; it is due to poor feeding practices and because little attention is given to breed improvement. The National Dairy Plan formulated in 2012 is trying to address these concerns. India is also importing bull semen to improve breed quality,” says R.S. Sodhi, managing director of Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd, the country’s largest milk co-operative, which markets dairy products under the brand name of Amul. Ads by OffersWizardAd Options Karamveer’s success—luck and acumen notwithstanding —is directly related to the scarcity of elite bull germplasm despite India having several high-yield native buffalo breeds such as the Murrah, Neeli Ravi and Jaffarabadi. So acute is this shortage that a semen bank in Hissar, Haryana, was robbed in May last year. “Unlike its cows India has the best breed of buffaloes in the world and of late several states—Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha—are showing interest in upgrading their breeds with Murrah germplasm,” says Inderjeet Singh, director of Central Institute of Research in Buffaloes (CIRB), Hissar, part of the apex Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). “There is a recognition that native buffaloes can yield more milk than exotic cattle in Indian conditions. We sold over 26,000 doses of semen last year. In Haryana, as land holdings per farmer is going down, dealing in buffalo calf is emerging as a prosperous business.” Out of 55 million breedable buffaloes in India, only 15% are bred through artificial insemination, according to a note prepared by CIRB. There are two main reasons for this: while 5,000-6,000 bulls are required for frozen semen production to adopt artificial insemination on a large scale, it is difficult to find superior bulls as they are rare, isolated and scattered. Also, they are in the possession of a few progressive farmers such as Karamveer. The worst case scenario is that India’s invaluable buffalo germplasms may get deleted from the gene pool. Since 2008, CIRB has initiated a conservation programme which has identified elite bulls in Haryana after examining the pedigree and production potential, says Singh. The semen is collected at the farmer’s doorstep, frozen in straws and sold to buyers with half the proceeds from sales going to the owner. So far CIRB has identified 13 bulls under this programme—a welcome start but falling far short of the numbers needed to meet growing demand. Cloning the mighty Murrah In May, scientists at the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) achieved a feat that could hold an answer to the shortage: they cloned an elite Murrah buffalo to give birth to a calf named Lalima. “This will facilitate faster multiplication of elite germplasm and help us to face the challenges of increasing demand for milk,” S. Ayyappan, director general of ICAR, said. However, buffaloes have been forgotten in a much-publicized project taken up by the ministry of agriculture in July this year. The objective of the Rashtriya Gokul Mission is breed improvement of cows using elite lines of indigenous breeds like Gir, Sahiwal and Tharparkar. Buffaloes have been kept out of the project’s ambit—a baffling omission. Ads by OffersWizardAd Options “Buffaloes not only contribute more to milk production, India has become the largest exporter of beef due to export of buffalo meat. Selection of breeds and culling of unproductive animals is the reason that buffalo yields are more than double that of cows in India. As culling of cattle is not accepted in India the progress of breed improvement will be slower for cattle as inferior progenies continue to be in production,” said Singh. In Hindu mythology buffaloes are often regarded as demonic, but for India, the mighty Murrah may just help usher in the next white revolution.

No comments:

Post a Comment