Cattle in Karnataka on the brink of starvation as water bodies dry up, fodder supply falls | india-news | Hindustan Times
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Cattle in Karnataka on the brink of starvation as water bodies dry up, fodder supply falls

In Karnataka’s parched Kolar district, poor rainfall has led to a sharp fall in fodder supply and the worst hit are the state’s dairy farmers.

india Updated: Apr 29, 2017 17:00 IST
Vikram Gopal
A dried up temple tank at Seeti village of Kolar near Bengaluru.
A dried up temple tank at Seeti village of Kolar near Bengaluru.(Arijit Sen/HT Photo)

For the past few months, Narayanappa goes to the local football stadium every morning. But the octogenarian is no sports aficionado.

He spends hours under the scorching sun, waiting for a government tractor to bring cheap fodder to his village of Vemagal, one of thousands in Karnataka’s parched Kolar district pushed to the brink of collapse by the third successive year of drought.

Unlike other states, in Karnataka, humans aren’t the only victim of dried up rivulets and depleting groundwater. Tens of thousands of cows are starving as the government struggles to provide fodder to the animals.

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“I have five cows that are starving because there is no fodder,” Narayanappa said. His face has lit up because the fodder tractor has arrived early. But his joy is short-lived, despite the government selling fodder at Rs 2 per kg instead of Rs 10.

“They only provide us 5kg of dry fodder per animal, while the general requirement is around 10kg per animal per day,” Narayanappa complained. “And they distribute fodder only thrice a week,” he said.

In Kolar district, for example, the demand for fodder outstrips daily supply by 80 times, despite moves to source it from neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

There is an obvious trigger for this crisis: Deficient rainfall. “Both the southwest and northeast monsoons were deficient last year,” said KA Eeranna, a farmer at Belamaranahalli village. The state received 18% lesser rainfall during the southwest monsoon. However, the northeast monsoon was even worse with deficit of 71%.

But the underlying reason for the crisis is a sweeping change in cropping patterns in the state that has sapped groundwater. “Farmers have moved towards horticulture and cash crops, which are capital and water intensive, and produce fodder of lower quality,” said TN Prakash Kammaradi, chairman of the Karnataka Agriculture Prices Commission (KAPC).

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Statistics make for bleak reading. Between 2005-06 and 2014-15, the total acreage under crops like paddy, ragi (finger millet), and jowar fell by 13%, while that under cash crops zoomed by 87%.

Kolar, too, has followed this trend. “Even though it is an arid zone, people have switched to horticultural crops like tomato and moved away from ragi, which requires far lesser amount of water,” Kammaradi said.

The ensuing drought and shortage of fodder has hit the only profitable sector for farmers: Dairy.

“No government has done anything for Kolar,” said Eeranna, who has three cows. “Dairying was our last resort as all crops have failed, but now with our cattle starving, milk yield has taken a beating,” he said.

Farmers in Kolar have increasingly depended on milk production as the Karnataka Milk Federation procures milk from farmers at Rs 22 per litre, with an additional incentive of Rs 4 from the government. However, this is the rate for highest-quality milk.

“Even when we do get fodder, it is dry paddy fodder, which is of lower quality and does not help cows produce better quality milk” said Ram Reddy, a farmer in Belamaranahalli. “The yield of the 10 heads of cattle in my farm had reduced to about a quarter,” Reddy said.

The government says around two-thirds of the district’s 276,000 cattle are milch but fodder procurement is far lesser than demand.

“Procurement is dependent on availability. It is not as easy as farmers think,” said Chennakeshavaiah, the deputy director of the animal husbandry department in Kolar. “We have been proactive. We have come up with a new scheme under which we have distributed maize seeds free of cost to farmers who have access to water. We are also paying them Rs 3,000 to grow the crop and sell it as fodder to other farmers at Rs 2 a kg,” he said.

A man seen carrying fodder for his cattle at Belamaranahalli village of Kolar. (Arijit Sen/HT Photo)

However farmers say the schemes only help the few who have access to water. “Farmers whose borewells have not run dry, or who have money to keep digging borewells are making a killing,” Eeranna said. “Instead of selling the green fodder to us at Rs 2, they demand as much as Rs 10 a kg,” Eeranna said.

Chennakeshavaiah dismissed these allegations. “If not for our efforts milk production would have collapsed.”