India’s beef exports take a beating amid Covid-19 curbs

A large number of Indians have always been at odds over the country’s rank as one of the world’s largest beef exporter, but it appears that the Covid-induced nationwide lockdown may have brought an unexpected consolation.

Exports of beef — meat of water buffaloes and not of any other cattle — is set to drop by 23% for the third straight year  in 2020, while production is expected to fall by 12% amid transport restriction and slaughterhouse operations, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

At the same time, the water buffalo population is expected to rise by more than 1% to 303.1 million head this year. Cows are held sacred and the slaughter and export of cow meat is prohibited.

“The coronavirus outbreak in China and consequent worldwide pandemic has not only depressed domestic trade, it also dimmed Indian carabeef (water buffalo meat) export prospects, particularly in the last four months, as traditional buyers shied away amid uncertainty in the international market,” the USDA said in a recent report.

“Fresh export orders, if any, during or after the holy Ramadan month.may lift market sentiments, but need to be matched by logistic support and port clearance services, which may be a challenge both in India and across importing nations.”

India’s beef export sales last were flat on a volume basis last year and $218 million lower in value on year.

Even though the lockdown has been eased since last month, the meat processing sector will need to follow tough new operating procedures including social distancing to prevent virus outbreaks. 

India,  which only exports frozen, boneless carabeef, is expected to retain its position as the third-largest exporter, trailing only Brazil and Vietnam. 

Processing of beef has come under fire sporadically in the country, and violent incidents have occurred sometimes when groups of vigilantes have attacked people over suspicion of cow slaughter.

Biman Mukherji is a columnist and consulting editor at He has worked for international news organisations such as Reuters, The Wall Street Journal as well as for newspapers like The Times of India. He can be reached at

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