India will become the largest exporter of beef in the world in 2012, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has concluded in its latest report Livestock and Poultry-World Market and Trade 2012.
Indian beef exports consist exclusively of water buffalo meat, because cows are considered holy by the country’s majority Hindu population and killing them can lead to a seven-year prison sentence.
Despite this, demand is rising worldwide and the USDA predicted that India’s beef exports will exceed 1.5 million tonnes (mt) this year, surpassing the current leading exporter Australia’s projected 1.4mt. The report cited expanding dairy herds, efficiency improvements, increased slaughter and price-competitiveness particularly compared with emerging market export competitor Brazil.
Furthermore, it added: “Expanding demand from price-sensitive importers, primarily in south-east Asia, the Middle East and Africa, have bolstered an increase in the number of export-orientated slaughterhouses [in India]”.
This would be a significant increase over the 985,489 tonnes exported from India between April 2011 and March 2012, according to the Indian government’s Agricultural & Processed Export Development Authority (APEDA).
While a spokesman for the authority said India’s exports might not achieve the US projection, he added there would be “good growth”. Farmers are switching to buffalo as a result, given domestic demand is weak – with Hindus often being vegetarian or avoiding red meat altogether.
According to Surendra Kumar Ranjan, director of Hind Agro, a Delhi-based meat processing and exporting company, Indian farmers are shifting from rearing cows to buffalo, as they find it more economical. “They realise that, unlike cows, unproductive buffalo can go for slaughter”, earning them extra money, he told GlobalMeatNews.com.
Furthermore, farmers drive higher value for the buffalo milk in India as it contains more fat. India now exports buffalo meat to 64 countries, and more than quarter of the volume (272,796 tonnes) goes to Vietnam, according to figures released by the Indian authority. Ranjan noted buffalo meat is mostly used for processing of value-added products, such as corned beef, hotdogs and sausages. And he warned there could be a limit to this growth, as there is already a shortage of feed and fodder in India.