The Late Krishna Kumarsinhji Bhavsinhji, Maharaja of Bhavnagar and first Indian Governor of Madras, was instrumental in changing the fortunes of the Brazilian dairy industry in the 1940s. Susan Philip tells us how…
Ten-year-old Krishna travelled all the way from Bhavnagar, India, to Brazil, South America, and founded a dynasty there. We’re not talking about a man here. We’re talking about a bull!
This bull from Gujarat played a stellar role in changing the fortunes of the dairy industry in a distant land.
Krishna and other heads of Gir cattle were given by His Royal Highness, the late Krishna Kumarsinhji Bhavsinhji, Maharaja of Bhavnagar, to Celso Garcia Sid, a cattle baron from Brazil, in the 1940s. For Celso, it was ‘love at first sight’, according to his grandson, Guilherme Sachetim. When he saw a photograph of Krishna, Celso felt he must have him.
Today, 80 per cent of the Gir cattle that are contributing to the South American country’s milk production are reportedly descendants of Krishna. Brazil, most of which lies in the tropical zone, found that Indian cattle breeds which have evolved to withstand heat, were ideal for its conditions. Records show that right from the 1890s, Brazil has been importing strains of the Bos indicus, which has long played a crucial role in the subcontinent’s agriculture and commerce. The humped bull has been depicted in pre-historic cave paintings and Indus Valley seals and is associated with Lord Shiva. There are several sub-species of this domestic breed, also known as Zebu. Chief among them are the Gir, the Ongole, the Nellore, the Kankrej and the Red Sindhi.
Milk of Kindness
The Gir originated in the Gir region of Gujarat (hence its name), better known for the National Park, which also takes its name from the region, home to the endangered Asiatic Lion. This breed of cattle has a shiny red or speckled and spotted coat. Apart from the characteristic hump, they also have drooping ears, large dewlaps and horns that curve back. But their physical appearance was not their chief attraction. What made the Gir so desirable to Brazil was its milk-producing capabilities.
Brazil now has about 40 lakh heads of Gir cattle. A well-cared-for Gir cow is capable of yielding an average of 30 to 40 litres of milk a day, and this can even go up to 60 to 70 litres. That’s a humungous amount of milk that the Gir contributes! Animals with impeccable heredity get a Pure Origin India (POI) certification from the Association of Brazilian Zebu Breeders, an apex body of that country’s dairy industry. So highly is this breed thought of that a Gir cow can command a price of around USD 10,000, according to reports.
In recognition of the Gir’s role in the country’s economy, it finds a place on Brazil’s coins; and, in recognition of HRH Maharaja Krishna Kumarsinhji Bhavsinhji’s contribution to its dairy industry, the country has erected a statue of the late ruler near its Parliament House.
Boosting the Numbers
Sadly, India’s own population of pure-bred Gir cattle lags way behind Brazil’s. Government and private efforts are under way to boost awareness, and consequently, the numbers and value of this indigenous breed in its home country, and protect the purity of lineage.
The Gir and other native breeds of cattle such as the Vechur from Kerala are well suited to the food, terrain and climatic conditions of the subcontinent and resistant to diseases prevalent here. Hence, they’re easier and less expensive to maintain than foreign breeds such as the Jersey and Friesian. Also, the milk of the indigenous cows is rich in the A2 allele gene, which makes it healthier.
Other NRI Breeds
Gir is not the only sub-species of the Bos indicus to have found favour on foreign shores. The Ongole, the Nellore and the Red Sindhi have also been well-appreciated in South America and Africa, for instance. In Brazil, they all contributed in some measure to the white revolution, although the lion’s share of the credit goes to the Gir.
And cattle are not the only natural wealth from India to have been integrated into life abroad. Brinjal, pigeon pea (tur dal), drumstick (moringa), ginger, mango and jackfruit are some food plants that originated in India but have spread far, being valued not only for taste but also for medicinal benefits.