Faced with water and fodder scarcity, Gahinath Bonde and his wife Sunita left their home last September to take their 14 malnourished cattle to an animal shelter in Kada, near Ashti in Beed district.
The Bondes are among the 1,000 people from 17 villages who left their homes and braved the hard winter at the hilly, open-air 50-acre animal shelter at Kada to ensure their cattle don’t die of hunger. With crops failing across central Maharashtra, farmers are pinning their hopes on dairy farming to earn them money. Ashti tehsil rears most of the 50 lakh cattle in central Maharashtra, and is one of the largest milk-producing tehsils in the state. But the water and fodder shortage has brought down milk yield by 30% to 40% in the tehsil.
“We were among the first batch that came here with cattle in September because we needed water and fodder for our cattle to survive. The money we earn from them will sustain us through the season,” said Gahinath. Sunita helps him feed the cattle – dairy cows, buffalos and bulls — housed in a temporary shed built by the family.
One of the eight shelters in Ashti tehsil, the Kada cattle facility has 3,000 animals. It is being run by Mahesh Cooperative Sugar Factory, which could not start this year because sugarcane crops failed miserably. According to government norms, each shelter can house up to 3,000 animals. The government gives shelter operators Rs60 daily for 15kg fodder for every big animal (cows and buffaloes) and Rs30 daily for 7.5kg fodder for every small animal (calves).
It’s a hard bargain for farmers as they have to set up their own sheds using their own materials. Those who live in villages close to the shelter get food from home, while others cook at the shed. Some people have travelled with their cattle from villages as far as 40km to 50km from the shelter.
While farmers complain that not enough fodder is provided at the shelter, operators say that the paltry government grant for fodder, which has recently been reduced by Rs20 for each animal, is insufficient. “The fodder quantity should be doubled because cattle such as jersey cows need more food,” said Gopal Pache who has 23 malnourished cattle, most of which he bought for Rs50,000 each.
Suraj Mandhare, deputy commissioner (revenue), Marathwada division, said the government readily approves shelters when there is demand. He did not comment on the grant, but said money was made available in advance to the district administration.
Shivaji Vishwanth Kolhe, Mahesh Sugar Factory’s nodal officer, disagreed, “If that is the case, then many of us have not got our costs reimbursed. The administration takes months to give us money and also deducts deposits from our money.”