We all know of Aadhaar, the 12-digit unique random number that establishes the identity of every Indian, by capturing his/her name, gender, age, etc. and linking this basic demographic information to that person’s biometrics such as fingerprints and iris scans.

We are also aware how this number, unique to every individual, has helped in de-duplication and elimination of ghost beneficiaries in various government welfare and development programmes, thereby ensuring their transparent, targeted and fair delivery. Aadhaar is today the world’s biggest — indeed, the only one of its kind — digital and online database of virtually the entire human population of a country.

While the Aadhaar unique identification number (UID) has attracted much attention, debate, fanfare, flak, controversy and even litigation, another giant database — this one relating to livestock information — is currently being created in India. The nodal agency and repository for this Information Network for Animal Productivity and Health or INAPH is the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). The similarities with Aadhaar are striking: INAPH, too, assigns a unique random identification number to each animal, while capturing a host of data and information useful for the effective and scientific management of India’s livestock resources. When completed, it will also be the biggest global database of animals.

The INAPH project, in its first phase, would cover the country’s 94 million-odd productive “in milk” female cow and buffalo population — all indigenous, nondescript, crossbred as well as exotic milch animals. The exercise will subsequently be extended to all bovines, including males, calves and heifers, old and stray animals. Each animal will be provided a thermoplastic polyurethane ear tag bearing its 12-digit UID. The data being captured by it includes the species, breed and pedigree of the particular animal, apart from information relating to its calving, milk production, artificial insemination (AI), vaccination and feeding/nutrition history. To that extent, this database is more comprehensive than that offered by the Aadhaar for humans!

The objective behind INAPH is to enable proper identification of animals and traceability of their products, be it milk or meat. Through this, farmers, processors, animal husbandry department officials and healthcare professionals can devise appropriate strategies for livestock management. A major cause of zoonotic diseases and challenges in addressing them today is the absence of animal identification and traceability mechanisms, which are also impediments to accessing global markets for Indian livestock products. If our dairy and livestock industry has to meet internationally-accepted sanitary and phytosanitary standards, a robust and comprehensive animal information system that allows traceability of products to their source is sine qua non. With INAPH, it will be possible to protect product integrity and quality. The products obtained from healthy or premium animals can be separated from those originating from diseased or nondescript ones.

The animal UID — Pashu Aadhaar, as it may be called — aims to address these very issues. So far, nearly 22.3 million cows and buffaloes have been assigned UIDs and their complete data uploaded on the INAPH database. This is only the beginning. The next step should be to leverage this data for scientific and risk-based management of animals to deliver better health and reproduction outcomes, enhanced productivity and improved livestock product quality.

India has the world’s largest livestock population and is also its biggest milk producer. However, the foremost issue plaguing the country’s livestock sector is its abysmally low productivity, apart from poor animal health, prevalence of economically debilitating diseases, and pedigree testing/genome selection for breeding based on non-scientific and anecdotal methods. Much of this is attributable to the absence of a reliable animal database. The plethora of information through INAPH, including on the ancestry and production performance of animals, would help identify healthy and productive livestock for breeding, assist in rejuvenation of the weaker ones, plan for better nutritional management and systematically manage diseases. The data available can be used to select disease-free, high genetic merit bulls and fertile cows for breeding — including for indigenous breeds that are low on productivity, despite their inherent resilience to disease and climate vagaries.

While the ubiquitous Aadhaar Card has given almost all Indians a unique and universal identity of their own, the INAPH UID or Pashu Aadhaar can do something similar for our cattle and buffaloes (299.60 million, as per the last 2012 Livestock Census). But the INAPH database goes beyond just establishing animal identity. Just like Aadhaar seeks to provide good governance along with efficient and transparent delivery of government services, so does INAPH. In fact, it aims for more.

Take AI, one of the longstanding programmes implemented across the country. It has so far met with limited success in terms of boosting overall animal productivity. One reason for it is simply the use of not-so-good quality semen from low genetic merit bulls. And that is linked no less to the poor records of the AI status of most cows or the source/pedigree of the donor bulls. The AI programme will definitely get a shot in the arm with more reliable data on the insemination history of each animal made available through the INAPH. Likewise, more efficient nutrition management through ration balancing can be achieved, wherever the database throws up relevant information on the feeding status of each animal. The list and possibilities are endless: The entire chain, from inputs (AI/breeding, vaccination, feed and fodder, and nutrition) to output (milk and meat), can be managed in a manner that assures enhanced animal productivity and improved product quality.

At the end of the day, the future generations of our livestock need to be healthier in order to contribute more to the well-being of both the farmer and the consumer. We have embarked on assigning individual identities to each of India’s cattle and buffaloes using the best available digital technologies. The database generated should be seen as a significant step in heralding the next White Revolution and making livestock a vehicle of rural prosperity.