Majority of the rural poor in India depend on livestock rearing as a means of livelihood. In resource fragile regions, semi-arid and arid regions, in particular, livestock plays a critical role in ensuring the sustainability of agricultural production systems and increasing the resilience of food supply systems. It makes a significant contribution to rural food and nutritional security, particularly in case of women and children.
For small-scale livestock keepers, who are the majority in rural India, the importance of livestock goes beyond its food production function. It plays a vital role in supporting livelihoods by providing transport and valuable draught power and their wastes are used as manure and fuel. Most importantly, in rural economies, livestock act as cash, are considered potential savings and insurance against crop failures (India Country Report 2003). Due to this, farmers and pastoralists have, over time, developed and managed diverse local breeds that are adapted to the environment and the local feed resources they live in (RLN Vision document 2010). Centuries of efforts by India’s pastoralists and livestock-keepers in raising livestock on natural vegetation has led to a large diversity of breeds that are adapted to very specific eco-systems. These breeds have the impulse to forage for themselves and have learnt how to access the various feed resources in their territory (Saverio 2009). Over centuries, these breeds have developed certain traits in order to utilise the sparse vegetation and harsh environmental conditions in resource fragile areas. These special traits are ability to walk long distances, drought resistance, natural resistance to diseases and parasites, ability to ingest and digest roughage, thermoregulation, fertility and good mothering instincts, (Köhler-Rollefson and Mathias, 2010).