17 January 2012   |  
Posted By: Ilana Martin

My Cow Wears a Necklace

So I’m travelling in India, and thinking that this would be a good time to buy a gold necklace. After all, there is probably no country in which there is as much investment in gold jewelry as in India. But then I remembered that the price of gold is rather high right now, so I decided not to invest.

Indian cow with necklace

I was not expecting, however, to encounter cows wearing necklaces (and blankets) in Bihar. Not just one or two, but rather a lot of cows with brightly colored strands of beads. Not gold but necklaces nevertheless!

The obvious hypothesis to this is that cows, being considered somewhat akin to holy, should thus be adorned as gestures of divine reverence. I don’t think that is the explanation, however.
The real answer begins in the field of the smallholder farmer and owner of this cow. My picture here shows a treadle pump in a field of vegetables being grown in the post-monsoon season. Cauliflower, carrots, beets, potatoes, etc., all fetch a good price in this season. The simple treadle pump combined with some sensible agronomic practice has resulted in a significant increase in productivity, that is, a lot more food grown and a lot more income produced. Not just one or two farmers. Lots.

These Bihari farmers often invest next in a cow or water buffalo. A bunch of reasons to do this: milk production, animal traction, farm saving and dung production. So the small plot farmer with his/her treadle pump can capitalize his/her farm operation through the investment in a cow. Adult cows in Bihar are worth as much as $400 or more if healthy.

Cows in Bihar, India

It is winter in Bihar at present (January) and the nights get a bit chilly. I don’t know if this is truly necessary but I saw a lot of cows wearing “coats” for warmth, in addition to their necklaces. From the farmers’ perspectives, these animals are so important that one should make the effort in treating them with respect and consideration.

Now, I don’t actually own a cow, and if I did, I doubt that it would actually wear a necklace. Nevertheless, if I walk a little in the footsteps of the smallholder farmers using treadle pumps to increase their incomes and household asset base, I can begin to appreciate just how valuable the opportunity get ahead a little is. And if putting a necklace on a valuable farm animal which it was thus possible to acquire with the earnings, then I am fully on their side!

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