India is finally waking up to the importance of its native cow breeds. After the Govt provided some funds for the Gokul Mission, Ministry of Agriculture is setting up two research stations for improve the neglected breeds. One is in Mathura, the location of the other is still not finalized. Rajasthan is the first State to appoint a Minister for Cow Affairs. Haryana Chief Minister M L Khattar has signed a MoU with Gujarat under which semen of Gir cows will be made available for developing 100,000 cows of local breeds, including Haryanavi cattle.
A few years back when I first talked of how Brazil has become the biggest exporters of Indian breeds of cows, not many could believe that the cows that roam the streets in our country feeding on all kinds of garbage could be the prized possession of farmers far away in Brazil. So much so that in August last year, a prized pure bred Gir progeny bull in Brazil was auctioned in equivalent of more than Rs 6 crore.
It is generally believed that Indian cows are low in productivity. It is for this reason that Indian cows are despised at home. But over half a dozen Indian cow breeds – Gir, Kankrej, Ongole, Sahiwal among others — are doing exceptionally well in Brazil. Milk yield from Gir in Brazil has now crossed 70 litres. Ironically, semen of pure bred Indian breeds is now being imported from Brazil into India.
But more recently, world over there is a growing awareness about the nutritional superiority of the milk of the native breeds. This is measured in the form of A2 milk. Sale of healthy A2 milk in Britain and Ireland has reached Rs 10- crore in just one year after its launch. A2 milk is now available in 1,000 stores across UK and Ireland, including big retailers like Tesco, Morrison and Co-op. In Australia and New Zealand, A2 milk is now the fastest growing with a share of 8 per cent of the milk market, the sales increasing by 57 per cent in a year.
Pepsi Foods too has been on the forefront, and now plans to take A2 milk to the European market outside Britain. Meanwhile, China too has emerged as a strong market for A2 milk after the scandal surrounding the sale of spurious baby milk powder some years back. It is expected, China’s intake of A2 milk in the rapidly growing infant food market will double by 2020.
You will ask me what is A2 milk? Well, A2 is actually a beta-casein protein in the milk – A2 allele gene – that makes milk healthy and nutritious. Or to put it simply it is a particular character in some cow breeds that makes it milk qualitatively superior than what you have been drinking. What makes it more significant and relevant for us is that most desi cows and buffalo breeds contain A2 allele gene. In other words, 100 per cent of milk of desi cattle breeds contains the A2 allele making it richer in nutrients and much healthier than the milk of exotic cattle breeds.
If you are not drinking A2 milk, the chances are that in the long term you are likely to suffer from allergies, diabetes, obesity and cardio-vascular diseases. While the exotic cattle breeds may be producing higher milk but because of the concentration of A1 allele gene in their bodies, the milk they produce is much inferior in quality.
Studies by the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR), Karnal, have established the superiority of A2 milk in Indian breeds. In a detailed study scanning 22 desi breeds recently, it found A2 allele to be 100 per cent available in the five high-yielding milk breeds – Red Sindhi, Gir, Rathi, Shahiwal and Tharparkar.In the remaining breeds, the availability of A2 allele gene was 94 per cent. Comparatively, in the exotic breeds Jersey and Holstein Friesian, the availability of A2 allele gene is very low.
The economic cost of promoting desi breeds is relatively much higher given the health advantages, especially in a population where diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, allergies, digestive disorders are on an upswing. Since A2 milk builds up immunity, it certainly offers a big advantage over the commonly sold milk. In India, I am sure consumers would be willing to pay a premium if Mother Dairy and Amul for instance is able to sell A2 milk in pouches. At the same time, promotion for A2 milk will help farmers shift to traditional breeds which very well integrate with natural farming systems. Promotion of A2 milk will also make hundreds of gaushalas spread across the State turn economically viable.