In Search of Gir:  My first Visit to Gujarat and Hyderabad

Nikki

In April, the six finalists in GFAR and YPARD’s Youth Agripreneur Project headed back to their homes in the four corners of the world after an intense week of orientation and skills building at the GCARD3 Global Event, to embark on their personal adventures–and tackle their particular challenges–in agricultural entrepreneurship. Over the last three months, Jax, Anil, Nikki, Lillian, Jony, and Kellyann have taken what they learned in the YAP induction workshop and used it to fine-tune their business plans and set realistic milestones for progress; they have channeled the excitement of the pitches they delivered at GCARD3 into campaigning for support through social media, crowdfunding, and getting their names out in their communities; and they have started forming relationships with their mentors who will support and challenge them during this year, and help them identify the resources they will need to make their businesses successful. 

Now, with a little more experience under their belts, we asked the YAPpers to reflect on where they have come since GCARD3. Nikki Chaudhary’s proposal was to purchase six pure Gir breed cattle and evaluate the performance of the climate resilient cattle over the period of one year to determine their suitability for dairy farming in India. Here is what she has to say about where she has come thus far…

On my return from South Africa, the first task was to visit the breeding tract of Gir which is Western State of India – Gujarat to learn more about this indigenous breed of the country with superior milk-production.

The trip had to be planned properly and so I Identified a few places where I would visit and get insights about the cattle. Through Michelle Kovacevik our YPARD coordinator and Dr Olivier of ILRI Ethiopia, I recieved the contact of Dr Chanda Nimbkar, Director of the National Animal Research Institute who was very well connected to key people in Gujarat.

While on my way to Gujarat via New Delhi, I was lucky enough to meet Dr Chanda Nimbkar, who is also my mentor. I discussed about my project and what I intend to do. She gave me contact of Dr Amrish Patel, Head, Sabarmati Ashram Gaushala, Ahmedabad. The station maintains a diverse germplasm of exotic, crossbred and indigenous breeds of cattle and buffaloes for semen production such as Gir, Kankrej, Sahiwal, Red Sindhi, Khillar, Holstein Friesian/Jersey pure etc.

On May 7, I reached Ahmedabad (capital of Gujarat) and met Dr Amrish Patel who further gave me some contacts of good farmers who have good merit Gir cows at different locations in Gujarat. I stayed in Gujarat for twelve days and toured most of the State.  After touring and understanding the dairy sector in North India, I was now exploring the western part of India.

I was having mixed emotions. The good part was that Gujarat worked largely on indigenous cattle breeds such as Gir and Kankrej and in buffallo – Jaffrabadi was popular which was again the amazing buffallo which I saw for the first time. The sad part, however, was that their numbers had declined rapidly in the last few years and good developed breeds were found on very few farms in the region–you can count the farmers who own them. Undeveloped indigenous breeds were also unviable for dairy farmers.

What had gone wrong? What is the core problem in the dairy sector in India. Why is dairy under stress throughout the country? These are questions I can relate to, being a dairy farmer, but now I also wanted to clearly identify and express the sources of the problems.

I visited Junagadh Agriculture University and saw a herd of Gir. In the extreme hot weather of May with temperatures around 45 degrees, the cows stood tall and healthy with no sign of stress. Wow! I thought, that’s called climate resillience! The average milk yield per day of the herd was around 14 litres with no disease control and no cooling systems. The cost of maintenance was very low and thus the breed becomes especially important for our small farmers who cannot afford to spend much on management. Had the dairy sector in India worked on the breed, developed it and expanded it, we would today have very good numbers of Gir cows available in the country. Yet in the first few days of my visit to farms I was disappointed as I could not find well developed breed of Gir cattle–all were average.

My plan was to bring high genetic merit Gir from Gujarat to North India and expand the genetics with a strong base through ETT-IVF, a cutting edge in vitro fertilization method. Basically with this technology, the high merit Gir would act like a donor cow from whom ova shall be flushed out. Then they would be sired with high merit bull to create embryos to be kept in recipient cows. This technology is however absent in India and the private company Tropical Animal Genetics will start its work in India only from March next year. After many calls and meetings with them, I decided to go ahead with ETT IVF for expansion of good Gir genetics. The project is small but it will give me understanding of the technology. The technology is going to be expensive but It will allow me to see how the technology can make sense for dairy farmers in the country.

But finding high merit Gir was becoming difficult for me. Fortuitously, though, in the last part of my trip I met a dairy farmer at Kodinarwho has a good Gir breed. He had purchased the cows from Mr Pradeep Sinh Raol, who is also called Father of Indian Zebu for his very good breed development work on Gir, Kankrejand Ongole.

I was very impressed to see the Gir herd. The good genetics can give 20 litres per day in extremely hot weather too, with a fat content of minimum 4 which is much above the fat content of 3.2 – 3.5 of Hfs. Moreover, they do experience heat stress and have almost no disease issues.

On completing my trip, I visited Dr Amrish Patel again and summarized my experience to him. I discussed about Pradeep Sinh Ji and he said I must meet him as he was the only person who was given permission by the government of India to export Gir embryos to Brazil. He was the person from whom the Gir cows were purchased by Brazil.

Upon returning to my farm I called Mr Pradeepji and discussed about my work in dairy, the YAP project and my desire to meet him. He was happy to talk to me and I also was eager to meet him. My curiosity in the way Brazil worked on Gir grew and I was keen to find the model of Gir which is viable and is lacking in India.

Fortunately through my Internet research I found that Ankush–an NGO which is a member of the Food and Agriculture Organization working towards preservation and development of Indigenous breeds–had organised the Dream Bull Show in Hyderabad, Telangana. This was the first ever international show on our indigenous bulls hosted in India. Upon further research I found that in this show the Brazil team would be awarded for their great performance on our Indian cattle breeds- Ongole, Kankrej and Gir.

This was a great opportunity to know more about our cattle breeds from them. I quicky booked my ticket and flights for the show, being held on July 11. I would also be meeting Mr Pradeep Sinh Raol there and I was looking forward to finding a few answers on why our breeds were nearing extinction. I had a hunch but I also wanted to hear from more expert dairy farmers. Every minute at Hyderabad was important for me.

I quickly rushed from the airport to attend the meeting on breeding policy on indigenous cattle breeds. There were discussions between Ankush, Andhra Pradesh government and dairy farmers. A few positive highlights were learning about transporting indigenous cow hassle free, incentivizing expansion among farmers etc. The Indian government is also setting up preservation and indigenous breed development centres in India: Madhya Pradesh in North India and Andhra Pradesh in South India. I hoped that everything that was discussed would also be implemented.

In the evening I could see people from Brazil, Mexico and Columbia were seated in the front all happy waiting to recieve their awards on their great work on development of Indian breeds in their respective countries. Sadly, all Indian dairy farmers present at the show looked stressed – all hard-working, passionate people but with not much economic return. The problems are deeper and time has to come we also speak them. Mr. Pradeep Sinhji put it best: “In India we cannot afford to make mistakes if we are cow dairy farmers.”

Yes, we did introduce exotic semen in the country in the 1960s and failed to develop our own potential good milk breeds which have increased the cost of maintenance of exotic cows. These cows need to kept in cool sheds throughout the year and must be managed very carefully as they were not climate- and disease-resilient. It is equally true that milk prices are low and government or private cooperatives pay very low prices to farmers as a result of which it is no longer a viable option. But there is also third very important factor which is very difficult to express but we also cannot overlook; it is the problem of how to get rid of retired cows, male calves etc as in India cow culling is not permitted for cultural reasons. Buffaloes can be culled but for cows we dairy farmers don’t know how to dispose of the retired cows, male calves or diseased animals. It is very tough for me to talk about this but this is also one of the core issues and it needs to be addressed.

Dairy production needs to be planned very carefully and it becomes very important for us as a country to work with full sincerity on breed development of indigenous breeds such as Gir, Sahiwal cows and Murrah, Jaffrabadi buffaloes as they can adapt to India’s hot climate and are disease resillient.  My conclusion from my tour is that we are lacking in our efforts, as I have visited almost all premier institutes of the country and I would say that the work on breed development is not up to the mark. In addition, technologies such as ETT-IVF are not widespread and not made the best use of. I am in contact with the majority of commercial dairy farmers of North India and the common theme amongst all of us is that we run dairy farms because we feel for the sector, for our community and are able to sustain this because we have some back up from our other businesses or employment. A lot needs to be done in the sector and I am dedicated to doing whatever as an individual I can do to bring the best for the dairy sector.

In August I will be travelling again to Gujarat to bring high merit Gir cow. It will take five days to transport the cows from Gujarat to our State. The activity is challenging but I have very high hopes that we will certainly find some solution for dairy. I also request the government of India and Indian dairy institutes to help individuals dedicated to dairy, because the results will be positive if all of us work together and find solutions to common problems. I look forward to seeing how this project will unfold over the coming months, not only to achieve success as a winner of YAP, but also to show that the solutions I am investigating can benefit the entire dairy sector and my country at large.

Watch Nikki introduce her project at the #GCARD3 conference:

Blogpost by Nikki Chaudhary, Indian dairy farmer (chaudharyfarms(at)gmail.com), one of six finalists in the Youth Agripreneurs Project, a pilot project targeting young agricultural entrepreneurs (“agripreneurs”), co-organized by GFAR and YPARD. The YAP Finalists launched their projects during the #GCARD3 Global Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-8 April 2016.

Read the original YAP proposal here.


7 thoughts on “In Search of Gir:  My first Visit to Gujarat and Hyderabad

  1. We appreciate your efforts in promoting indigenous breed specially Gir. We too are associated with bovine semen business and running bull mother farm at Karnal. We have just initiated ETT at our farm in phase wise manner. in phase 1 we have inseminated 4 cows with Sahi wal embryo . We are facing same problems as you have faced. Your help is highly needed in ETT. . we would like to join your programme and promoting ETT more effectively and efficiently ASAP. OUR contact details are 9899124305

  2. Congratulations for your YAP achievement and all the best for your effort in improving indigenous cow/ dairy development in India. Can you share your contact. I am from Nalgonda, Telangana around 100 km from Hyderabad. Primary occupation is agriculture / farming.I am looking for pure gir cows for my basic dairy needs. It will be great help if you can share/suggest on that along transport involved. Thanking you.Venugopal Chary Amaravadi, #9440797625

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