By Alka Joshi
Hindus not only don’t eat beef, but worship cows since the days of mythological Lord Krishna, the cowherd. However, in modern India, cows are neglected and often found roaming in the streets. They produce minimum quantity of milk; hence diluted buffalo milk is sold as cow’s milk by many small independent dairymen.
China is a big country, geographically located north of India, and China’s population is as big as India’s. But in China cows are not neglected. Chinese love affair for cows should put Hindu’s reverence to cows to shame. There is no match. Here’s why.
In order to improve the Chinese people’s diet, China has massively expanded its dairy industry. Milk consumption has tripled in 10 years and is expected to increase another 50 percent by 2015. This means millions of tons of cattle-feed will be needed to feed increased number of cows. But despite China’s vast landmass, pasture-land is relatively scarce; so the Chinese are buying alfalfa grass from the USA.
Importing cattle feed from halfway around the world may seem inefficient, but the trade imbalance between the two countries has made it cost-effective. How? For every two shipping containers of Chinese-made goods unloaded at the California ports of Long Beach, one container used to return to China empty. Now these empty containers are filled with alfalfa.
Normally a truck of alfalfa costs $45 per ton to ship within California, but to ship it to China only costs $23. As a result, Chinese demand has prompted alfalfa prices to double in past two years. As a curious consequence of this export market involves water. Alfalfa is a water-guzzling crop and the water embedded in the alfalfa that the US will export to China in 2012 is enough to supply annual needs of roughly half-a-million families. States are competing among themselves to get more water from the US Bureau of Reclamation, which distributes irrigation water.
Las Vegas has become so desperate for water that its water authority has paid residents $200 million to conserve water by ripping out their lawns. Also, it has proposed building a $3 billion pipeline to import groundwater from hundreds of miles away. Similarly, California too is going to spend $24 billion to improve water supplies, while its farmers convert tens of thousands of irrigated areas to feed cows in China.
Isn’t water getting more expensive than gasoline? It is an example of how far America is willing to go to improve its trade imbalance with China. Thankfully, alfalfa trade is booming and exports to China from America have ballooned from 2,321 metric tons in 2007 to 177,423 metric tons in 2011 and 380,000 tons in 2012. Even though most of the alfalfa is grown in western United States that suffers from drought, alfalfa farming is growing more than any other crop.
By the way, New Zealand is another country whose highest-value export to China nowadays is powdered milk. Don’t you wish Indians learn from this weird trade scenario with China, and grow and sell alfalfa to Chinese?