The National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) says that 47 per cent of a dairy farmer’s profit are from selling milch breeds. For every 10 heads in a dairy, annually, two become unproductive. These male or old animals have downstream value in meat export, which was valued at Rs 26,000 crore in 2016-17, or in the Rs 15,000 crore leather industry. Meat export employs 2.5 crore people, mostly Muslims, while leather is, largely, a Dalit occupation. Without the cosmetic, adhesive, bone china industries, which absorb parts and remains of these unproductive animals, a dairy farmer’s profits would collapse.
Cattle cannot be electronically transferred: They will be visible, prominently, on roads and highways, as they pass from farmer to buyer. But their transportation attracts the wrath of cow vigilantes. So farmers are selling older animals within villages, which has reduced their income. Exclusive cattle-breeders who sell high-quality animals are suffering too. The milk economy has been turned upside down.
In 1951 India had 5 crore buffalos, which doubled to 10.5 crore in 2012, but cows only increased from 15 to 19 crore. The reason is that in Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat, where cow trade is subject to restrictions, dairy farmers are rearing buffalos instead. In Kerala, Assam or West Bengal, the cow population is still high. In their quest to save cows, vigilantes have destroyed cows in north India. This will worsen. Gau Rakshaks often belong to sections of society who do not rear animals, and refuse to understand that oxen have been replaced by tractors.
Earlier, traders bought unwanted animals from farmers, who took solace in not culling it himself, and looked the other way. Indeed, farmer would get Rs 3,000-5,000 for his trade. Now, they have to pay gaushalas to take useless animals. Imagine if unruly men prevented the sale of old cars. Car owners would desert their vehicles, they would not have down payments for their next car. This is the plight of dairy farmers today.
NDDB’s fodder survey finds that each cow needs fodder worth Rs 200 daily. The Grasslands and Fodder Institute reports a fodder shortage: 64 per cent of green and 24 per cent of dry. The 19th Cattle Census, 2012, says India has 53 lakh stray cattle.
If we assume that 5 per cent of milch breeds become unproductive annually, India produces 1 crore strays annually, from its 20 crore cattle population. These strays can survive four to five years in the open. Therefore, five years’ supply of unwanted cattle, four times the usual figure, are wrecking farmer’s fields today. The fodder these animals need won’t come from Pakistan: Strays have fallen in love with green fields, especially of peas, cabbage, mung and rice. Cows don’t enjoy sugarcane as much, so farmers are migrating to the crop, which is already over-produced and whose payments are delayed.
All day, cows sleep under trees and at night they enter fields, forcing farmers to keep vigil. Cows, when shooed, don’t gently retreat. They run helter-skelter, tearing through crops. Neighbours fight over the resulting damage. Barb-wire fences cost Rs 10,000-15,000 a hectare. Farmers are stealing each other’s fences. A fenced-in field requires a foot-long margin or it cannot be ploughed by tractors. Hence, the net sown area is shrinking.
Stray cows, once well-fed, thirst for juicy green meals. They have started getting aggressive when denied access to fields, severely injuring scores of farmers. When entangled in barb wire, they die painfully, for nobody wants care for them.
The salt, not to mention space, needed for their burial is another Rs 1,000-1,500 burden on farmers. Every year, supporting 1 crore cows in gaushalas would cost Rs 73,000 crore. (Rs 200 fodder multiplied by 1 crore cows, multiplied by 365). Can India afford this? This will worsen as it is politically unfeasible to return to the earlier, more natural, system, when milch breeds perished. Now cows will need lifelong support at farmer’s expense.
(Pushpendra Singh is an independent farm activist from Uttar Pradesh)
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