amount of land devoted to agricultural purposes is shrinking, and it is unlikely that more land will be brought under the plough. Further, conversion of forests or wetlands into agricultural use is beset with ecological problems such as deforestation and land erosion.
Traditionally, India has been an agriculture-based country. The “green revolution” —the introduction of high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice together with irrigation—has raised the value of agriculture further in the overall economy of the country.
In India, agriculture has never been solely a means of profit. For a very large portion of the population, it has been, and still remains, a livelihood and a way of life. Even today more than half of the Indian population depends on agriculture and agriculture-related activities for their livelihood. The concept of a farm as a factory is alien to the Indian population. Tradition and the small size of landholdings make Indian agriculture heavily dependent upon cattle. Indian agriculture is based upon cattle- and buffalo-drawn power. The number of cattle needed for milk production is also large. Animals transport agricultural products in the villages. During the last 20 years, milk production has been enhanced. This was achieved by crossing high-milk breeds with local breeds. These animals are of great economic value in the rural sector of the country.
India’s citizens generally refrain from eating beef on religious grounds. Beef production in India is not a very important economic activity. However, there is a large, but clandestine, trade of cattle between India and her neighbors Bangladesh and Pakistan, where the animals are slaughtered and consumed. It is not known whether these countries export the meat from these animals.
The total economic value of this clandestine trade in cattle is difficult to assess. A great danger of the illegal trade is that diseased animals will be smuggled from one country to another, leading to massive epizootics. There are many examples of the transnational and transcontinental spread of epizootics. The best documented examples are African horse sickness in India and Rift Valley fever in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. These viruses are of sub-Saharan origin. For a long time they were only found in the southern Sahara. Somehow the African horse sickness virus crossed the Sahara and reached India via Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It caused the death of 2 million equines in India (including many equines in the Indian Army). The Rift Valley fever virus crossed the Sahara and reached Egypt via smuggled camels. It produced an immense epidemic and epizootic in Egypt. The Israeli government used very stringent methods to stop the progress of the virus to Asia. However, recently the virus has crossed through the Horn of Africa in Somalia and has reached Saudi Arabia. It is only a question of time until it reaches India.
Processing of hides in India is an important industry. Workers who process hides are susceptible to diseases carried by cattle, such as anthrax, cowpox, and buffalo pox. Meat from sheep, goats, and chickens is the main source of animal protein for a large part of the meat-consuming population in India. The per capita consumption of meat is low in India compared with other countries. Indian consumption of eggs and poultry is showing a slow and steady increase. However, the total volume of trade and the economic value of sheep, goats, and poultry in the country are considerable, as is the number of jobs tied to these industries.
The breeding and trade of sheep and goats are still in the hands of traditional