A Continuous Policy Evolution is Must for Achieving Desired Outcomes

Tarun Shridhar, a distinguished former secretary to the Government of India in the Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying Fisheries under the Ministry of Agriculture, New Delhi, boasts an impressive career spanning nearly 35 years in the realms of public policy, governance, and administration. Known for his accessible and approachable nature, he generously imparts his wealth of experience to industry stakeholders, positively influencing the lives of farmers. Explore insightful excerpts from a recent conversation with Think Grain Think Feed below.

Well, India has experienced overall, great success during the recently hosted G20 Conference in New Delhi. What kind of impact do you think the G20 declaration shall have on the future development of Animal Husbandry, including poultry and fishery, in India?
It would not impact the animal husbandry department or livestock sector directly. The G20 declaration is largely a political declaration. However, it could have an indirect effect on the sector by aligning with the sustainable development goal of eradicating hunger and poverty. This declaration also emphasizes the importance of One Health, which involves a strong partnership and involvement of the livestock sector. Therefore, it is safe to say that the livestock sector should gain momentum given the G20’s unwavering commitment to both One Health and sustainable development goals. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how this declaration can directly impact the livestock sector, whether through specific programs or direct intervention.

How do you define the sustainable livestock development?
We attach too much jingoism to sustainability. The development itself means challenging the status quo and creating some type of change. The standardz definition of sustainable development is that you take care of future needs by addressing the problems of the present, which is more of an academic definition. Sustainable development is the development that lasts, not a short-term development. In terms of the livestock sector, the first way to sustainable development is to ensure that the growth trajectory is constantly going up but so erratically that it is prone to be a setback in the future. Second, livestock could be a strong source of livelihood to bring economic prosperity in the rural areas and a strong partner in addressing the nutritional requirement.

Sustainable development should not only focus on the environment, but should also incorporate the values and culture of society, and any growth and development should be integrated into these values and culture.

Could you please provide an overview of the Indian government’s livestock farmer policies for livestock farmers, introduced during the past five years? Please also highlight the ones with the most positive impact.
Livestock and fisheries have been recognized as independent sectors of the agriculture industry by the government, which marks a significant shift in policy. Previously, livestock was considered as a mere extension of agriculture and therefore, lacked the necessary funding and resources.

In order to advance the livestock sector, the government has initiated various missions such as the Blue Revolution, PMMSY, Dairy Infrastructure Development Fund, and Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund, among others. The aim is to invest capital into these sectors that were previously deprived of good investments.

Apart from direct subsidy infusion, the government is also providing income support to create sustainable infrastructure. This approach has yielded many success stories, with India emerging as a global leader in dairy and aquaculture.

However, the government needs to reevaluate its focus on productivity, quality of livestock and livestock products, and value-added products, as it has been solely focused on production until now. India has come a long way from grappling with food shortages to achieving self-sufficiency and now reaching a surplus state. The next step is to establish a position in international markets by improving the competitiveness of livestock products and shifting from production to productivity.

You have been on the side of policy making and now you know the in & out of the industry. How do you see the impact of such policies at the grass root level?
As per our constitution livestock and fisheries are the state subjects. Therefore, policies formulated by the Government of India are executed by various states. The government provides support in terms of various regulations, trade, and financial assistance which basically is a hand-holding. Once a particular policy is framed, it must be advocated and adopted by the states.

States may have their own policies, which might be stronger or better than the policies of the Government of India. However, states adopt the policies of the government because they come with financial support. There can also be some bias as all states do not have the same focus. For instance, fisheries is a strong component of economic development and governance in all coastal states, but not in many inland states where it is neglected and considered insignificant.

The implementation and execution of most policies of the Government of India require financial contributions from the state governments. However, some states adopt the policies but do not contribute funds.

Also, the success of policies is not only up to the government but it is also the stakeholders who adopt the policy. Any policy should be dynamic in nature, it has to evolve each day because a lot many issues arise during implementation. It is the same reason why shrimp policy has been such a huge success. The policy was created after close involvement and dialogue with all stakeholders, and it was reviewed and amended at every stage and amended at least a dozen times.

In conclusion, policies are not an unbridled success, but it cannot be said either that they have been failing. It is a mixed bag.

You have suggested at multiple platforms shifting the focus from total production to per-animal productivity. Can you propose two actionable points to implement this approach at the policy, industry, and farming levels?

Livestock has been a traditional occupation rather than a choice. However, if we start considering livestock as an economic asset, we can adopt a business approach towards it. When a cow is an economic asset then its performance will not be only measured based on milk produced per day rather it will be calculated based on the money it gives every day.
Despite having a large pool of scientific community and institutions, some of the breed improvement programs in India, still some of the breed improvement programs are not translated from labs to the field. Interestingly, the same cattle breeds have performed well in various markets like the USA, Australia, Brazil, and other places.

When it comes to shrimp, Ecuador has surpassed India and is fetching a much better price in the market due to its superior quality. Despite being a small country, Ecuador has established very good breed improvement programs and is not dependent on imports of Broodstock.

The second intervention that can improve the livestock industry is feed management. The feed should be precise and tailored to meet the nutritional requirements of animals at different stages of their lifespan, their health status, and their need for carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, etc. The government should create a policy ecosystem that facilitates the stakeholders of the sector.

Your opinion on the recent developments in relaxation to import chicken and eggs all the way from USA. (ref: Hindustan Times)
It is long back that we lost this case to the WTO, we should have seen it sooner or later and rather we should have a strategy by now. I do not think the industry should be much worried about this. The apprehension of the industry is that a large amount of chicken would be dumped in the country. It means we probably are still not ready to face this competition. If we impose unreasonable restrictions, we will only limit our own opportunities to expand abroad. Therefore, I suggest that this situation should be viewed as both a challenge and an opportunity for industries to improve their own protocols and quality. We are such a huge market that there is a market for every product.

However, in case we feel that these imports may cause severe damage then we should have an alternative regulatory strategy in collaboration with the government on how to stop or how to discourage.

Indian shrimp production is set to decline by 15-20% in the current fiscal year as a sharp fall in global prices and sluggish exports have discouraged aquaculture farmers from raising their output. Your comment.

There is a general concern and a downward trend. The Indian market has expanded at an unsustainable rate of ~1000% in just one decade and it is impossible to maintain such growth. We were too focused on exporting our products rather than developing our domestic market. Our dependence on imported inputs and export markets has left us vulnerable to external circumstances. Therefore, it is crucial to prioritize the development of a domestic supply chain.

Also, the industry should address the quality issues. Because of small gains, we have compromised biosecurity measures which impacted the quality of the end-product.

What do you think about collecting and sharing the prevailing market prices of all agricultural commodities at every mandi / village on a dynamic basis 24x7x365 days a.k.a. like share prices traded on the stock exchanges across the world?
It is a very good idea; the prices should be shared on a real-time basis across the country. It could support farmer through various kinds of platforms like app based or internet web-based platforms or other social and mass media. Probably, it should further involve online trading options for farmers, where he could place his product for online sale, like e-pasu haat platform introduced by the ministry. This would rather instill a lot of transparency and objectivity in the entire system and bring lot many benefits to the farmers of the country.