Importance of making Gaushalas sustainable for clean energy goals

The National Dairy Development Board estimates that India had 192.5 million cattle and 109.9 million buffaloes in 2019, totalling to 302.3 million animals.

India’s clean energy goals were to get 40% of installed electricity capacity from non-fossil sources, as committed in COP21 and the goal was achieved in year 2021.

Unprecedented changes in the global energy scenario, especially attributed to the Russia-Ukraine war and climate crisis, including intense floods, water scarcity, severe fires, rising sea levels, flooding, melting polar ice are increasingly threatening nature, human lives, livelihoods, and the well-being of human life around the world. The UN is emphasising on the fact that biodiversity loss is driven by human economic activities. The issue must be resolved, considering human beings, environment, and the economy are the main stakeholders. Therefore, it is important to be considerate and opt for more and more sustainable ways of generating energy.

India’s clean energy goals were to get 40% of installed electricity capacity from non-fossil sources, as committed in COP21 and the goal was achieved in year 2021. Out of a total of 157 GW of non-fossil-based electrical power generation, India is producing 48.55 GW from solar, 40.03 GW from solar and around 10.32 GW from biomass-based power plants (including those based on burning biomass to produce energy). However, there is a large gap in the utilisation of biogas-based power plants for CHP (Combine heat and power) generation, mainly due to lack of feedstock and finance, and even due to a lack of utilisation of the respective heat. The solution lies in the utilisation of bovine forces present in the country.

The National Dairy Development Board estimates that India had 192.5 million cattle and 109.9 million buffaloes in 2019, totalling to 302.3 million animals. The number increased to almost 305 million in 2021, the greatest number ever recorded, with a total of 996 million cattle worldwide. Traditionally, dairy in India is always meant in terms of the summation of milk with Gaudhan (utilization of cow dung and urine) and Gauseva (Cattle service). Gaushalas (sanctuaries for bovine animals) can be traced back to the Vedic period, where even Rigveda gave a proper reference to the cow as Aghnya (meaning ‘that which should never be killed’). In the past, our social norms and laws gave a lot of weight to an economy based on cows. However, as time went on, the gaushalas started to face problems when cows and their offspring were only seen as a source of income.

At present, several efforts are being made by the government of India. Eg., Niti Aayog is working on a road map to develop the ‘Gaushala (cow shelter) economy’ to enable the commercial use of cow urine and cow dung for multiple purposes. The same is undertaken both in India and abroad, which are being highlighted during various studies. 

Gaushalas can only become economically sustainable when a proper emphasis is placed on natural farming, in addition to the energy production from the dung. It is important to take a comprehensive approach when examining the widespread belief that Indian cattle becomes unproductive assets, once their milk production declines. Cattle can, in fact, continue to be a source of income for farmers, gaushalas, and the nation. By encouraging farmers to raise cattle and practise natural farming, several states like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are trying to provide proper care for their animals. These states are in the process of establishing cow sanctuaries and shelters; these models might be applied throughout India.

IIM-Ahmedabad recently published a working paper on cattle-based economy in which they properly considered the ecosystem, which can solve the problems of cooking fuel and soil degradation through the biogas fertiliser plant. Energy generated in the form of biogas can be used as cooking gas with the utilisation of biofertilizer in organic farming. They have discussed socio-technical-financial systems that can solve many of the current issues present in the country.

Theoretical potential emerging from available cattle data corresponds to almost 17 MMT of LNG and 200 MMT of organic fertiliser in a year. It is important that the central ministry considers the special incentive for Gaushalas for them to become the energy and organic manure hub. It would then mean a win-win situation for human beings, environment, and the economy.

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