During the 1960s and 1970s, when modernisation and development first hit the Third World, the water buffalo was rejected as an unfit animal as far as its economic utility was concerned. But their thinking isn't the same anymore.

"Water buffalo is not merely a work animal but a dependable producer of milk and meat needed for an expanding international market," says David Steane, a British livestock geneticist.

A recent report by the United States department of agriculture (USDA) compared the nutritional value of water buffalo meat with beef and chicken. According to the findings, Asian buffalo meat has 41 percent less cholesterol, 92 per cent less fat and 56 per cent fewer calories than traditional meat. The USDA study reinforces what the Asian 'traditionalists' had been saying for years; to find a substitute for our good old water buffalo is easier said than done.

Of the world's estimated 155 million water buffaloes, India alone accounts 82 million (90 per cent). China with 23 million comes second followed by Pakistan.