India is not the place many people would search for a steak. Now, though, with increasing global demand for beef – it is forecast to rise 24 percent from 64.5m tonnes in 2011, reports the Financial Times – the nation is filling an important void. Worldwide, beef consumption is growing, mainly due to increased popularity across Asia, the Middle East and South America.

The US department of Agriculture says in a report that “India is forecast to become the world’s leading beef exporter in 2012 due to an expanding dairy herd, efficiency improvements, increased slaughter and price-competitiveness in the international market.” India outstrips Australia, having more than doubled export of bovine meat since 2009, to 1.5m tonnes a year and is closing on Brazil.

Water buffalo are the source of a lot of the bovine meat – considered beef – coming from India, but Hindus in the nation, who form the majority of society and consider cows holy, are concerned for the species more traditionally seen as a source of beef in the west. Slaughter is punishable by jail in some states but in fact, the increased demand for export meat is meaning some Muslims and Christians are finding it tough to get their hands on.

The Financial Times reports that as land owners across the world find more profitable uses for their pasture, India’s relatively new market can alleviate pressure.