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Dairy as a means to double rural farmer’s income: Dr. Pravin Kini, Founder & Managing Director, Tropical Animal Genetics

Dr. Pravin Kini
Dr. Pravin Kini
Dr. Pravin Kini, Founder & Managing Director, Tropical Animal Genetics

India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of milk. The value of output from milk and milk products is the highest amongst all agricultural commodities, accounting for nearly one-fourth of the value of output from the agricultural sector.  

Given that dairy is the lifeline of India’s agro-based economy, the government views dairy as a key sector in its goal of doubling rural farmer income by 2025. In this regard, the government is also taken up initiatives to increase investment in this sector and support innovations in the private sector.  

Dairy is already a proven aspect in doubling farmer income and transforming the rural economy. Dairy holds many advantages over other livestock and agricultural products. Every Rs. 1  invested in agriculture yields Rs 2.5 in agriculture but Rs. 5 in animal husbandry. Dairy farming is a crucial source of liquidity for farmers because it has predictable cash flows.  Dairy is also a boon for small marginal farmers, as it does not require infrastructure or high inputs. A family with three cows can earn an annual income of up to Rs. 1 Lac. There is a vast scope for improvement in the sector due and untapped potential due to low productivity and a large bovine population.  

Apart from doubling rural farmer income, the dairy industry also has a significant socio-economic impact. Since the demand for milk is also increasing, the dairy industry will see the creation of enormous jobs and self-employment opportunities. Dairy also has an impact on improved food security and nutrition since milk is the most important protein in India.  

Dairy requires management a number of aspects such as feed, labor, vaccination, and health of an animal, but none is more important than breeding for increasing productivity. Genetic improvement occurs when genetic merit is improved through selection. Genetic selection can determine the milk yield of the animal. The improvement in genetic merit refers to the overall improvement in an animal brought about by selection for a number of traits that contribute to the flock's breeding objective, such as high growth rate or carcass yield, or sex of offspring. The number of assisted reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization with embryos is all methods to ensure genetic gains for the next generation of the herd.  

High merit semen doses (semen sourced from progeny tested animals) guarantee a high progeny calf with improved milk yield, leading to higher productivity and more revenue and profits. Sexed semen doses (Sperm sorting) can ensure a female calf with higher monetary value to the farmer. Artificial insemination is fairly common, but increasing coverage of this technology can increase overall milk productivity and help increase rural dairy farm income.  

Apart from artificial insemination, another technology is in vitro fertilization. 50% Embryo Transfer allows the production of multiple calves through high genetic dams and sires. Embryo Transfer will also help farmers refocus on breed selection, to select traits such as better milk productivity, better heat and disease resistance, higher feed conversion ratio. Genetically superior gains will ensure higher profitability for the dairy farmer.  

ET (Embryo Transfer) fertilization process involves sperm infusion into an egg (ovum) to fertilize it. The sperm carries the genetics of the male parent and the ovum genetics of the female parent.  The product - embryo obtained through the fertilization process carries the genetics of both the father and the mother. ET has a benefit over AI, as the genetic gain obtained using AI services is only 50% whereas through ET the chances of genetic gain become 100% in the first progeny. Moreover, embryos produced from sexed semen can also ensure 100% genetic gains along with a female offspring.  

Embryos are however more expensive and might not be affordable for a rural marginal farmer. However, with additional innovations, government subsidies, and industrial scale production, the cost of such technology will reduce and embryos will be affordable and accessible to most dairy farmers. For example, a technology known as a synthetic egg can help with the production of embryos in large volumes resulting in a decrease in the cost of production.  

Biotechnology innovations can guarantee genetic gains and improved milk yield, doubling dairy farmer income. Genetic technologies can provide ripple benefits to the economy by creating more jobs such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer technicians, para vets, embryologists, etc. Apart from Genetics, an often-overlooked aspect of revamping the rural dairy industry and increasing productivity is training people in dairy management practices. With more initiatives in creating rural employment and economic opportunities, trained technicians and farmers will further improve productivity and double incomes. Rural entrepreneurs can start dairy farms with the promise of assured revenue and low risk with genetics and avail loans more easily. This will further create more jobs on dairy farms and provide extra income for families reliant on agriculture. 

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