India's complex relationship with leather

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India struggles to balance development and economic growth with an ancient and widely held practice of venerating cows


India accounts for just over 13 percent of the world’s leather production, processing about 3 billion square feet of hides per year and making 9 percent of the planet’s footwear. The industry is now one of the top 10 export earners, bringing in US$4.42 billion in the most recent fiscal year, according to the Council of Leather Exports.

But it’s not just the scale of revenues that leather brings. The industry is also a major lever for development. Leather is labor intensive, creating about 250 jobs for every US$200,000 invested, according to Invest India: The National Investment Promotion & Facilitation Agency.

The industry provides jobs for about 4.42 million people, mostly from disadvantaged sections of society. About 30 percent of the workforce are women, and 55 percent of all workers are below 35 years of age, according to the council.


AmCham's Apparel, Footwear & Supply Chain committee is organizing a delegation tour to India in September: For more details click on this link


The sector’s growth rests on the abundance of raw materials: 190 million cattle and a further 115 million buffaloes, Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries data show. That’s about a fifth of the global herd (and more than half of the world’s buffaloes).

 
Most of the animals are reared by small scale and marginal farmers, often women, and are prized for their milk. India is now the world’s biggest producer of milk, with 70 million households engaged in dairy production and an average herd size of just two animals per farmer. 
 
Unfortunately, India’s cattle pose the same problems for their owners as cattle in the world over. There are too many males and as females age, their milk production begins to decline.
 
That creates a dilemma in a country where more than 80 percent of the population are Hindus and by and large revere the animals.
 
Still, in the context of India’s grinding poverty, malnutrition and development agenda, the beef industry takes on an enormous importance that weighs against any religious and spiritual arguments. 
 
Most cows past their milk-producing age end up being turned to leather and beef.