After facing massive flak over the menace of stray cattle, the governing Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) in India’s largest electoral state of Uttar Pradesh is taking urgent measures ahead of the general elections. The party has decided to control the bull population by ensuring that only female calves are born.
The government of chief minister Ajay Sing Bisht, also known as Yogi Adityanath, is feeling the heat over stray cattle destroying crops and becoming an economic hazard to the state’s farmers. Most of the stray cattle were abandoned by farmers owing to the collapse of local cattle markets along with the fear of vigilante groups who disrupt cattle transportation.
There have also been cases of mob lynchings on suspicion of cow slaughter, which is banned in the state by law. Moreover, as Hindus worship the cow, with the rise of the Hindu nationalist BJP and cow-protecting Hindutva vigilantes, cattle slaughter has become a sensitive issue in the Hindi heartland.
With agriculture becoming increasingly mechanized, male calves have little use for farmers, who commonly set them free as they become a financial liability; these bulls then run amok on roads in the cities and destroy farms in the countryside.
To introduce some semblance of control, in the government budget for this year, Bisht earmarked 6.12 billion rupees for the protection and welfare of cows, including around 2.5 billion rupees for setting up and running cattle shelters for strays.
Female calves only
The sex-selection for bovines involves administering sex-sorted semen, with a concentration of X-sperm, through artificial insemination to produce more female calves than male. But at present, dairy farmers in the state largely depend on natural breeding methods.
“The ‘sexed semen’ method takes the likelihood of delivering a female calf up to 90-95%. With the natural method, it is a 50% chance, just like humans,” Dr AK Singh, deputy director of Animal Husbandry Department of Uttar Pradesh told Asia Times.
“We will roll out the sex-sorted semen project under our Bovine Artificial Insemination Program in all 75 districts of the state in March. This will not only ease out the dairy farmers from the burden of maintaining male calves but will serve as a long-term solution to the stray cattle menace caused mainly by the male bovine,” said Dr Singh.
Using this method, which has been popular in western countries in recent decades, the state government hopes to curb the surplus bullock population within the next 10 years.
The scheme will also be aimed at producing cows of Indian breeds, said a government official on the condition of anonymity. The artificial insemination costs around 1,300 rupees (US$18.40). To avail themselves of the scheme, cattle-breeders would have to pay 300 rupees per conception. However in the drought-prone region of Bundelkhand, this levy would only be 100 rupees.
Dairy farmers benefit
The government aims to reach out to a maximum number of dairy farmers to encourage them to go for artificial insemination using sexed semen technology.
However, this would be a daunting task. The state has been offering artificial insemination for cows for almost four decades, yet still has not been able to cover the entire breeding population.
A senior bureaucrat said, “Most farmers still opt for natural insemination over the artificial (method) due to reasons such as unawareness, inaccessibility and better success rate of conception. The artificial insemination is the most powerful genetic tool for cattle breeding as it involves genetically superior semen. Sexed semen will be a further upgraded version of artificial insemination useful for commercial cattle production.”
The conception through artificial insemination requires 2-3 attempts, which is a cumbersome and prolonged process as each attempt requires a time gap of at least a month. Natural insemination by a male bull typically achieves success in one attempt, a veterinary doctor explained.
Pilot test success
The government’s decision is based on the success of a pilot project launched in three districts (Etawah, Lakhimpur Kheri and Barabanki) two years ago during the previous Samajwadi Party regime.
“By using sexed semen under our artificial insemination program, covering around 500-600 cows in each district, we managed to get 90-95% female offsprings,” said an official.
The department imported the sex-sorted semen from the US through Genus ABS India, an American firm, to run its pilot projects. Each dose of sex-sorted semen cost 1300 rupees, though farmers were not charged. The same firm has been commissioned by the government at Babugarh in Hapur district. Production is expected to start by March, a government official said. The firm has been selected through the global e-tendering process to execute the project.
Congress legislator Deepak Singh supports the move. “It seems to be a good step to tackle the surge in stray cattle population,” he said.
Political analyst Shivsharan Geharwar said, “The cow shelters are too few in numbers compared to the stray population. Even though the government has geared up to build more shelters, it may take a few years to be able to cater to the entire surplus population. The sex selection would be a long-term measure not only to curb the strays but also help improve the cow economy.”
The move may provide some relief to aggrieved farmers and may tip the upcoming general election in BJP’s favor. Uttar Pradesh sends the largest number of lawmakers to the parliament and will play a key role in electing the federal government, though only time will tell if the move will bear any fruit.