Since 1970, India's milk production has increased
more than fourfold, jumping from 21 million to 87 million tons.
In 1997, India overtook the United States in dairy production,
making it the world's leading producer of milk and other dairy
products. (See data at http://www.earth-policy.org/Books/Out/ch3data_index.htm
The spark for this explosive growth came in 1965 when an enterprising
young Indian, Dr. Verghese Kurien, organized the National Dairy
Development Board, an umbrella organization of dairy cooperatives.
A coop's purpose was to market the milk from tiny herds that
typically averaged two to three cows each. It was these dairy
cooperatives that provided linked between the growing appetite
for dairy products and millions of village families with only
a few cows and a small marketable surplus.
Creating the market for milk spurred the fourfold growth in
output. In a country where protein shortages stunt the growth
of so many
children, expanding the milk supply from less than half a cup
per person a day 25 years ago to more than a cup represents a
major advance. What is new here is that India has built the world's
largest dairy industry almost entirely on roughage: wheat straw,
rice straw, corn stalks, and grass collected from the roadside.
Cows are often stall-fed with crop residues or grass gathered
daily and brought to them.
A second new protein production model, which also relies on
ruminants, is one that has evolved in China, principally
in four provinces
of central Eastern China—Hebei, Shangdong, Henan, and Anhui—where
double cropping of winter wheat and corn is common. Once the
winter wheat matures and ripens in early summer, it must be harvested
quickly and the seedbed prepared to plant the corn. The straw
that is removed from the land in preparing the seedbed as well
as the cornstalks left after the corn harvest in late fall are
fed to cattle. Although these crop residues are often used by
the villagers as fuel for cooking, they are shifting to other
sources of energy for cooking, which lets them keep the straw
and cornstalks for feed. By supplementing this roughage with
small amounts of nitrogen, typically in the form of urea, the
microflora in the complex four-stomach digestive system of cattle
can convert roughage efficiently into animal protein.
This practice enables these four crop-producing provinces to
produce much more beef than the vast grazing provinces in the
northwest do. This central eastern region of China, dubbed the
Beef Belt by Chinese officials, is producing large quantities
of animal protein using only roughage. The use of crop residues
to produce milk in India and beef in China means farmers are
reaping a second harvest from the original crop. Another promising
new animal protein production model has also evolved in China,
this one in the aquacultural sector. China has evolved a carp
polyculture production system in which four species of carp are
grown together. One species feeds on phytoplankton. One feeds
on zooplankton. A third feeds on grass. And the fourth is a bottom
feeder. These four species thus form a small ecosystem, with
each filling a particular niche.
This multi-species system, which converts feed into flesh with
remarkable efficiency, yielded some 13 million tons of carp in
2002. While poultry production has grown rapidly in China over
the last two decades, it has been dwarfed by the phenomenal growth
of aquaculture. Today aquacultural output in China, at 28 million
tons, is double that of poultry, making it the first country
where aquaculture has emerged as a leading source of animal protein.
The great economic and environmental attraction of this system
is the efficiency with which it produces animal protein.
Although these three new protein models have evolved in India
and China, both densely populated nations, they may find a place
in other parts of the world as population pressures intensify
and as people seek new ways to convert plant products into animal
The world desperately needs more new protein production techniques
such as these. A half century ago, when there were only 2.5 billion
people in the world, virtually everyone wanted to move up the
food chain. Today there may be close to five billion people wanting
more animal protein in their diet. The overall demand for meat
is growing at twice the rate of population; the demand for eggs
is growing nearly three times as fast; and growth in the demand
for fish—both from the oceans and from fish farms—is
also outpacing that of population. Against this backdrop of growing
world demand, our ingenuity in producing animal protein in ever-larger
quantities and ever more efficiently is going to be challenged
to the utmost.
While the world has had many years of experience in feeding
an additional 70 million or more people each year, it has
with some five billion people wanting to move up the food chain
at the same time. For a sense of what this translates into, consider
what has happened in China since the economic reforms in 1978.
As the fastest-growing economy in the world since 1980, China
has in effect telescoped history, showing how diets change when
incomes rise rapidly over an extended period.
As recently as 1978, meat consumption was low in China, consisting
mostly of modest amounts of pork. Since then, consumption of
pork, beef, poultry, and mutton has climbed. In 2003, people
in China ate some 71 million tons of meat, close to twice as
much as Americans ate. China has decisively displaced the United
States, long number one in meat consumption.
As incomes rise in other developing countries, people will
also want to increase their consumption of animal protein.
the demand this will place on the earth's land and water resources,
along with the more traditional demand from population growth,
provides a better sense of the future pressures on the earth.
If world grain supplies tighten in the years ahead, the competition
for this basic resource between those living high on the food
chain and those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder will
become both more visible and a possible source of tension within
and among societies.
Excerpted with permission from chapter three of Lester R. Brown’s
Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in An Age of
Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures (New York: W.W.
Norton & Company, 2004). Additional data and information
sources at www.earth-policy.org