REGULATION OF LIVESTOCK MARKETS IN THE NAME OF PREVENTING CRUELTY TO ANIMALS DETRIMENTAL TO FARMERS AND AGRICULTURE!

10:12 pm in News by Kavitha

REGULATION OF LIVESTOCK MARKETS IN THE NAME OF PREVENTING CRUELTY TO ANIMALS DETRIMENTAL TO FARMERS AND AGRICULTURE!

NEW RULES SHOULD BE WITHDRAWN IMMEDIATELY;

LIVESTOCK REARING TO BE SUPPORTED BETTER

At the very outset, this Statement is being put out by some members of ASHA with strong sensitivity and appreciation that cruelty against animals has to be addressed and dealt with. They include ones who practice vegetarianism or even veganism, both because of environmental and other reasons (including by way of reducing cruelty to animals, especially in the modern day context of industrial models of “animal-farming”).

These are people who are concerned with, and engaged in establishing and promoting sustainable farm livelihoods, and understand that livestock rearing is an integral and critical part of farm livelihoods. They also believe that such livestock rightly belong with farm households, and not just gaushalas. These are also people who understand and appreciate the enormous value of cattle in organic/natural farming and even in alternative healthcare systems. While the unique values and characteristics of cows are appreciated, it is also clear that all livestock are important, especially given the diversity of socio-cultural categories within the Indian society. This group of people also appreciate that food cultures are diverse in the country and such diversity needs to be respected. If it is assumed that humankind itself (and not just Indians) needs to work its way towards eliminating cruelty to animals or stopping slaughter or adopting vegetarianism, it cannot be an overnight shift without preparing the grounds for the same and without addressing many structural inequality issues. It also cannot be a shift which penalizes and even criminalises those communities which have always reared and taken care of cattle for the entire nation, namely the farmers. 

They have chosen to put out this statement to argue their case, without bringing in any dogma or ideology this way or that into the picture, to get the recent “Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules 2017” retracted. These Rules are detrimental to rural economy, livestock rearing, cattle welfare and farm livelihoods and need to be withdrawn immediately.

The new rules notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change on May 25th 2017, banning the sale of cattle for slaughter under the “Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017”  will prove to be a big blow to farm households in the country that are already reeling under severe crisis. According to the new rules, the Central government has banned the trading of cattle (which includes bulls, cows, bullocks, buffaloes, steers, heifers, calves and camels) in livestock markets for the purpose of slaughter. This was done without any consultation with livestock rearing communities or pastoralist communities or with state governments, though this has a huge bearing on agriculture in all states, and Agriculture is a State subject as per the Indian Constitution.

LIVESTOCK AND FARM LIVELIHOODS:

For the marginal and smallholder farmers in this country, apart from wage work, livestock has been a mainstay for their livelihood. As per the 70th Round of NSSO (2013), on the situation of farm households in India, there is a higher proportion of agricultural households reporting livestock as their Principal Source of Income than a decade ago (59th Round NSSO survey). Further, within the meager average monthly income for farm households, around 12% came from livestock, up from only 4.3% in 2003 (59thRound). Data also clearly shows that incomes from livestock rearing are higher, relatively speaking, in relation to the expenditure incurred (when compared to crop cultivation). All of this points to the increased importance of livestock in the lives and livelihoods of farm households, more than before.

It is also worth repeating that livestock rearing has been an integral part of an Indian agriculturist’s life and livelihood. It is not just livestock rearing but regular trading of livestock too, which has been equally integral – buying new animals and disposing off old animals is part of life as it has always been lived. There are always cycles of animals bought and sold, woven into the agricultural livelihood. Despite the cost of cattle increasing significantly, farmers do invest in purchase of animals for farming, either by hard-earned savings or borrowed loans (mostly on high interest, since such loans under institutional lending under PSL (priority sector lending with some reasonable loan conditions) are at an insignificant level for individual farmers).

The reasons for selling are several.

  • Smallholder farmers are not treated as credit worthy by institutional lenders, and are not likely to get credit as and when they need it, that too on favourable terms. On the other hand, cattle and livestock including goats and rams are the liquid assets that they possess for various requirements of the household. They resort to sales whenever there is a need for money in the family, in the absence of other mechanisms and liquid assets.
  • During drought and other distress conditions, animals are sold because of severe shortage of both drinking water and fodder. Though there are drought relief guidelines in the country, these are not implemented. These distress sales in fact result in the farmers obtaining 1/4th to even 1/10thof what they had spent in acquiring a cattle-head. However, since they cannot see their animal die a slow death during calamities like this, they are forced to sell the animal.
  • When animals become old, sick, non-lactating etc, and when they pose an economic burden on the family, smallholder households who cannot invest on the upkeep of such an animal seek to dispose it off and to bring in a new animal. It is to be noted that grazing lands have shrunk significantly in the country, and the traditional system of giving off such old/ill/non-lactating animals to a common animal-herder who will take them grazing and bring them back, for some seasonal or annual or monthly returns no longer exists. There is labour shortage that individual households as well as rural communities are experiencing with separate hiring of people becoming expensive now. Fodder has become expensive, while cropping patterns have changed and no longer always provide good fodder for animal-rearing. All in all, livestock rearing has become more challenging, forcing households to look for viability of the activity at any cost. Purchased fodder for one cattle head costs anywhere between Rs. 5000/- to Rs.10,000/- per month. This is something that distressed farm households find unaffordable and therefore, seek to dispose off their animal.

Most farmers resort to selling only when needed/burdened, and don’t just trade in animals. It is mostly the sick, old, infertile and non-lactating animals that are sold and replaced by fresh stock. It is also a practice that farmers purchase cattle, mostly a pair of bullocks for plough and other purposes, or a milch animal for getting some income whenever they can afford. These cycles are part of the Indian agricultural and rural economy.

When farmers sell, it is in local markets and only in severe drought conditions, to slightly distant markets. Here, they sell to buyers who are like themselves, who might be agents of organized abattoirs or agents of slaughter houses or representatives of small slaughter businesses, in addition to fellow farmers. It is to be noted that cattle markets have been running in India for centuries, and are locally managed and organized. They are an integral part of the rural economy. It is apparent that these markets have always had cattle sales and purchases related to slaughter too, and not just for trading in productive animals to be used in farming.

It is also worth mentioning that farmers are struggling in their livestock rearing enterprises mostly by themselves – in the recent droughts in India, it has been seen time and again that the Central or State governments don’t come to the rescue of farmers by setting up cattle camps or fodder supplies etc., leaving farmers with little option.  Through numerous programmes run by the government over the years, it has also destroyed the diversity of cattle breeds that existed, especially the ones that were more acclimatized and suitable to various local growing conditions.

NEW RULES AND HOW FARMERS WILL BE IMPACTED:

The new rules seek to regulate livestock markets by keeping out some players, and keeping out some purposes for sale/purchase (“this is to ensure that only healthy animals are traded for agricultural purposes”, it was said, as though farmers do not know how to choose healthy animals for agricultural purposes). Only farmers and only animal trading for agricultural uses are insisted upon. The rules framed are so stringent that farmers who bring their cattle to the animal markets will have to first prove that they are farmers, and also give a declaration that they are “not selling for slaughter”. Buyers also have to prove that they are farmers. They have to verify that the sellers are agriculturists and give an undertaking in writing that they will not sell the animals they purchase till six months. Records of this kind have to be filed in numerous offices. Five copies of proof of sale are to be submitted each at the local revenue office, the local veterinary doctor, the animal market committee apart from one each for buyer and seller. Taking animals outside the state will require special approval of the state government nominee.

RAMIFICATIONS OF THIS:

The record keeping requirements are such that no farmer will be able to deal with this, and the ‘cattle bureaucracy’ will end up harassing and criminalizing farmers.

When a farmer in distress takes a cattle head to a local market for distress sale (cash needs, drought conditions, burden of an old/sick/non-lactating animal etc.), if the buyers related to meat and leather industry don’t exist in the market, prices are bound to be significantly depressed and farmers will be forced to sell their animals at very low prices and return.

Even an old or ill cattle head costs around Rs. 40,000/year for maintenance, as per some reports. Debt burden with losses and unbearable expenditure could push farmers towards more distress, depression and suicides.

It is also predicted that the new Rules, if implemented, would lead to more stray cattle roaming around in India, uncared for. Without a good and secure resale value, it is uneconomical for farmers to rear their livestock. Animal rearing by farm households itself would be impacted, unless a household has resources to take care of their livestock till their natural death. This in turn has ramifications for organic/natural farming, for the household economy and rural economy. More dependence on farm machinery, mostly fossil-fuel based, is also predicted with its own consequences.

This also has ramifications for skewing of livestock populations numbers in hitherto unseen ways.

The timing can also affect agricultural operations for the upcoming Kharif 2017.

SLAUGHTER ITSELF NOT BANNED:

While advocates of ban on cow slaughter are defending these new Rules and are happy that Cows will be protected under a broader umbrella of Cattle, they seem to be missing out on the fact that slaughter of cattle, including of cows is not banned by these Rules. Slaughter houses can approach farmers directly and along with the maintenance of some records that establish traceability, can purchase animals for slaughter. This includes Cows. This then would lead to a situation where the organized slaughter and meat industry will prevail with other small livelihoods around this destroyed. One can imagine that the organized slaughter industry will also tie up with the organized retail and restaurant businesses, affecting other small livelihoods downstream. The supporters of these Rules might very well see a situation where cow slaughter continues, where more stray cattle increases and where agricultural livelihoods are terribly weakened.

NEW RULES LEGALLY UNTENABLE?:

A government press release said that the prime focus of the regulation is to protect animals from cruelty and not to regulate existing trade in cattle for slaughter houses.

As per Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, under which the Rules have been issued, ‘cruelty’ does not apply to the ‘commission or omission of any act in the course of the destruction or the preparation for destruction of any animal as food for mankind unless such destruction or preparation was accompanied by the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering’. Given that such a clear section exists which should keep slaughter for food out of the definition of “cruelty” in this law, it is unclear how the Rules were issued.

If this is indeed about cruelty (that slaughter itself is cruelty), then the Rules should have been extended to goats, sheep, pigs and poultry too, which together constitute the largest share of meat production in the country (20% meat production is goat and sheep; 46% is poultry). If the government is serious about cruelty to animals, it should have addressed various issues of cruelty that indeed exist in modern industrial animal farming, which it had not done so far.

The whole purpose of bringing in these new rules in the name of animal welfare and preventing cruelty is questionable on other grounds too – it is the farmers who take care of animals, feed them, water them, bathe them and love them. Why regulate them in the name of Cruelty Prevention?

THESE RULES ARE ANTI-THETICAL TO THE WAY FARM COMMUNITIES DID LIVESTOCK-REARING WITH CARE AND AFFECTION:

In the end, it appears that these Rules are indeed anti-thetical to the way our farm communities organized themselves traditionally, with livestock rearing integrated into their lives, cultures, food cultures and livelihoods.

It is the government policies over the years which have been responsible for shrinking of grazing lands, readily available diverse fodder for the livestock through diverse cropping systems (and not monocultures as promoted in industrial agriculture), destruction of indigenous diverse cattle breeds by consistently promoting ‘high yielding’ exotic breeds, by aggressive mechanization etc. – all of these have affected livestock rearing and care by farmers.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE:

The government should first withdraw these Rules, and do not take up measures that will harass or criminalise farmers in any way.

Cattle will survive and will be taken care of, when there are proactive measures to support cattle production systems and when animals have economic roles/value. Therefore, protecting all these economic roles is needed.

What farmers including pastoralists need is protection of grazing lands so that rearing and maintenance of livestock is made more possible.

The government should also bring in policy initiatives to conserve indigenous cattle breeds and promote them in big number to contribute to ecological agriculture by means of supplying farm yard manure to replace chemical fertilizers. We further demand that the government do not sign on to free trade pacts like RCEP or Indo-EU FTA, for instance, which will destroy our dairy industry and cattle-rearing practices.

When it comes to uneconomic animals, the government should institute a Special Allowance to be paid to all farm households who maintain old/sick/non-lactating animals. Such an allowance should adequately cover the animal care costs for the household.

There is also a need to set up cattle hostels in all Panchayats which will buy animals and pay farmers a prevailing market price for the same. The cattle hostels should be adequately supported to tend to animals in their old age. These cattle hostels can also be designed to become organic input production centres.

In the prevailing drought conditions, we also demand that measures be taken to supply sufficient fodder and water in the villages where there is severe scarcity to support livestock rearers.

In summary, we would like the government to take up measures that will not criminalise farmers in any way for doing what they have always been doing as part of their difficult livelihoods, we would like the government to provide all feasible options to farmers to dispose off cattle that become an economic burden on them, and we would like the government to take up various policy measures that would make livestock-based livelihoods profitable and possible. We ask the government to withdraw the said Rules immediately given the current absence of all these. Without taking measures that address the reasons that compel farmers to sell animals (including for slaughter) given the great survival struggle that they themselves are engaged in, bringing in this regulation is unjust and unfair.