THE SIDE EFFECTS OF MEAT EXPORTS
Conventionally, Indian exports statistics of agricultural items include all plantation crops, meat, poultry, marine and dairy products etc. An analysis is made on the basis of data available from 2010 to 2016 of Agri-exports by “excluding” Buffalo/Sheep/Goat /Processed meat, Poultry and Marine items that falls in a grey area of terminology of real Agri exports. Reason-- products of animal flesh cannot be deemed “agricultural items” by any stretch of imagination. (Dairy products are not excluded). Feeding animals for slaughtering is a case of industrial production of buffalos/sheep/goat/chicken rather than any farm related activity.
Offsetting meat/marine products is vital to measure the genuine exports of agro products rather than to be merely content with illusion of higher exports by including these items. Segregated data gives a reality check than a false sense of comfort.
As per the official data, farm exports climbed up as from $ 18 billion in 2010 to$33 billion in 2016—up by 83%, with a peak of $42-$43 billion in 2013 and 2014. (See chart 1) Exports of meat and marine items have risen from $3.5 billion to $9billion from 2010 to 2015/ 2016—higher by 160% with a high of $10.6 billion in 2015. This is consistent with the emerging global trend wherein dietary preferences are shifting away from cereals and grains to consumption of animal product. The effective or net increase in exports of plantations crops and their products from India appears to be negative or marginal.
Agri -exports has been cited at 12-13 % of “total national exports” in 2015-2016. But they are infact about 9 to 9.3% in last two years when exclusion of meat/marine items is made. (See chart 2)That shows reduction in real Agri exports by 3.3% to 3.5%. Exports of plantation crops in India’s “total export” were 8% in 2010 and 9% in 2016—which shows negligible sustainable growth in exports except for the small blip of 10%-11% in 2012 to 2014.
Trend of rising Agri imports and falling rate of Agri exports (w/o accounting for meat/marine shipments) will soon make India a net importer of Agri products from vantage position of net exporter of Agri in next few years. Imports are at $21.5 billion while exports are 23.8 billion in 2016—a spread of barely $2.3 billion-- from highest spread of $19.6 billion in 2013. With sharply ascending imports of edible oils, pulses and now, wheat and sugar as well, the spread of $2.3 billion is bound to collapse.
Usage of products derived out of animal husbandry also implies that we are promoting inefficient production especially for export too. Buffalo meat requires 25 times feed for “edible meat”; pork 10 times and chicken 5 times input for output as food. Water consumption for 1 kg beef is 15400 liters versus 1 kg rice at 2500 liters. One kg of sheep meat too requires about 10400 liters of water. Generally Indian rice production and its exports is flagged for copious water consumption but meat production is 6 times more water intensive than rice. In terms of energy, 3 calories of energy are needed to create 1 calorie of edible plant material, whereas grain-fed beef requires some 35 calories for every calorie of beef produced.
Global dietary trends continue to move towards high meat content. In China between 1981 and 2004, the annual per capita grain consumption declined from 145kg to 78kg in the cities, while over the same period intake of meat products rose from 20kg to 29kg per year. There is no denying that there is an ample demand of meat etc. in overseas markets but it requires to be debated whether large crops should be consumed for fattening flesh of animals for exports in preference to population at home.
As per a report of Institute of Mechanical Engineers London, “The challenge is that an increase in animal-based production will require greater land and resource requirement, as livestock farming demands extensive land use. One hectare of land can, for example, produce rice or potatoes for 19–22 people per annum. The same area will produce enough lamb or beef for only one or two people”.
Let this analysis be understood objectively without relating to notion of vegetarian versus non –vegetarianism. Idea is to submit facts so that exports of plantation crops be incentivised; meat/marine/poultry products may be classified as another category; efficient methods of crop production with better yields be promoted keeping in view the rising potential demand of grains/pulses/ oilseeds by understanding the limitation of land area and availability of water.
When primordial pursuit of man has been to attain higher efficiency economically in all spheres through scientific and ethical means- whether in energy production, automobiles, computers, trains etc.—why matters of consumption patterns of what is fed to human beings are not being linked to precious resources conservations!! That appears strange.