When in drought, save the livestock

What is the impact of drought on farmers and their livestock? Expert Sajal Kulkarni speaks to India Water Portal.
Sajal Kulkarni Sajal Kulkarni

The Marathwada and Vidarbha region of Maharashtra have been witnessing drought and drinking water crises for a long time. A drought situation always makes headlines for its impact on human lives, but rarely for the effect it has on the livelihoods of these farmers. Livestock are their lifeline and extreme climatic variations are bound to affect them adversely. The recent drought in Maharashtra testify this. The impact of drought on livestock in Maharashtra has hit the overall economy of the farmers to such an extent that they were forced to sell their animals for cheap to save themselves and their families from financial burden.

Sajal Kulkarni, researcher associated with non-profit BAIF (Bhartiya Agro Industries Foundation) Institute for sustainable livelihoods and development, Nagpur and an expert of livestock spoke to India Water Portal about the impact of drought on the livestock and farmers during a round table discussion organised by Centre for People’s Collectives, Nagpur. 

What is the current scenario of livestock in Maharashtra?

The animal husbandry department conducts a census on the livestock every five years and collects information related to population and the disease outbreak. As per the 19th livestock census (2012), the total livestock in the state is 324.89 lakh and ranks 6th at the national level. There is an overall decrease of 10 percent of the total livestock from the previous census. 

There is no study in India about the livestock which can tell people about which livestock is better suited for their environment, and there is no fodder policy and grazing land management policy (to improve the nutritional needs of the animals) in most of the states in the country. So the overall situation is not very good. Livestock should be seen as an asset of the people because the animals provide not only food, fibre and labour, but also manure for the fields.

Is there any impact on livestock due to drought? Do we have any data?

Drought in Maharashtra has not only impacted human lives, but also affected the livestock. The census does not have any data of the affected livestock during drought.

What happens to the health of the livestock during the drought?

The health impact of the livestock depends on the breed quality and their resistance to the climatic conditions. During crop failure, the availability of fodder for animals decreases which has a direct impact on the productivity of the livestock. For example, the milk and the meat production decrease, so does the immunity of the animals. Also, physiological stress is noticed among the animals and they are prone to new diseases which lead to economic burden.

How are farmers affected due to these changes?

Most of the farmers in Maharashtra have livestock. During drought, the agricultural production fails and the economic dependency of the farmer shifts to the livestock. In extreme conditions, most of the farmers migrate to distant places. But migration is risky. During migration, some of the animals even die due to lack of food and water resulting in economic loss.

The farmers who are in debt sell their animals at a very low price. For example, the cattle that cost Rs 70,000 during good market condition would be sold for Rs 30,000 during drought. Some farmers even take loans to sustain their livestock.

How can we mitigate economic problems of the farmers who have livestock?

There is a need to document best practices adopted by the farmers across the country for managing and sustaining livestock during drought. There is an urgent need to review government strategies on livestock development for drought mitigation and to develop a policy to address issues of livestock in the country.

Are there any livestock insurance schemes in India?

Yes, we do have livestock insurance schemes, but the problem is that they do not cover expenses related to some specific diseases like Pesti des petitis ruminants (PPR), commonly called as goat and sheep plague, that mostly affects the livestock during migration when they come in contact with other affected animals. Moreover, since the drought is a natural calamity, the farmers do not get any benefit of the scheme. 

Do we have fodder banks for supporting livestock?

At present, most of the states do not have fodder banks at village level for farmers. The Andhra Pradesh government, in April 2016, provided directions to all government officials to create fodder banks at the village level to facilitate livestock management at the villages. But in the state of Maharashtra, the government has developed Chara Chawanis or cattle camps near sugarcane factories where animals get fodder and water from these factories and milk production is facilitated here. The fodder banks or cattle camps do not provide for 100 percent feed requirements but supplement the dry season forage. The planning commission’s fodder and pasture management report reveal that the present fodder availability in the country is well below the requirement.

Is there any institution or agency to steer the management of grazing lands and fodder resources in the country?

No, there is no such system till date. There is an urgent need for such institution at the central, state, district, block and panchayat level to steer the management of grazing lands and fodder resources in the country. There is also a need to decentralise the decision-making processes.

 

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