Journal Article

Holy cows or cash cows? The economic return to livestock in rural India

Date: 23 February 2017
Publisher: The University of Chicago Press Journals
Published in: Economic Development and Cultural Change , Vol. 66, No. 2, pp. 307-330
DOI: 10.1086/695138

This paper revisits recent claims that poor households owning cattle in developing countries settings do not behave according to the tenets of capitalism. We point out that the discussion was based on evidence from one single year only, while cows and buffalos are assets whose return varies through time. In drought years, when fodder is scarce and more expensive, milk production is lower and profits are low. In nondrought years, when fodder is abundant and cheaper, milk production is higher and profits can be considerably higher. Therefore, the return on cows and buffalos, like that of many stocks traded on Wall Street, is positive in some years and negative in others. The fact that in a given year the observed return on a risky asset is negative could certainly not be used as a contradiction of one of the basic tenets of capitalism. We report evidence from 3 years of data on the return on cows and buffalos in the district of Anantapur and show that in one of the 3 years returns are very high, while in drought years they are predominantly negative.