The makeshift shed covered with tarpaulin and straw, next to his family’s thirteen cattle, will be home for 72-year-old Pandurang Baglani until the next monsoon. As the oldest member of the family, Pandurang was sent to the fodder camp, 5 km from his village, Kakadhira in Beed district, to tend to his family’s most valuable assets this year.
At Palvan-Talegaon cattle camp spread across 35 km, the biggest in Beed district, Pandurang has for company another 3,200-odd cattle and 400-odd villagers from across the district. Many are senior citizens like himself, sent to take care of their animals.
“Nothing remains on our farm, with 8 acres of soy bean wiped out. Our means of survival are the milch animals here. Some have been left behind and may not survive this year. I stay with the animals as someone has to be with them,” said Pandurang.
In this, the third scarcity year to hit Marathwada, fodder and water for cattle are running out. And cattle camps like the one at Palvan, where the state government pays Rs 70 a day for the upkeep of every big animal and Rs 30 for a smaller one, are in much demand.
This is the first time that fodder camps have been set up before the end of the monsoon. But, not all of the livestock will get accommodated in the camps, even if hundreds are set up over the coming months.
Around 100 km away from the Palvan camp, in Karunwadi and Yelda villages of Ambajogai taluka, the drought threatens to derail a success story scripted by sugarcane cutters over the last decade - their subsidiary dairy business.
“We have about 10,000 cattle in our villages. Each family owns at least 10 animals. In the last month alone, nearly 300 buffaloes have been sold from our villages to butchers. This drought could put us behind by at least 5 years and turn many of us back into labourers,” said a former sarpanch of Karunwadi, Devidas Shivaji Deokate.
Sankar Vashisht, a small dairy businessman, had to sell off 12 of his buffaloes at nearly half of their price to an abattoir. “On a good day, I can get up to Rs 70,000 for a healthy, milk-giving buffalo. But, in times like these, prices have fallen by half. I have kept 10 cows, and hope that the money from the sale will help me tide over the next year.”
The nearest cattle camp for Vashisht is 100 km away. That’s his last option.
In adjoining Osmanabad district, Bhoom taluka is affected the most by the fodder and water scarcity. Here, at least one farmer, Pandurang Gapat, committed suicide. With two sons yet to complete their education, a bank loan and a failed crop, the prospect of sustaining 10 to 12 animals, whom he was failing to feed properly, seemed like a lost cause.
A month after Gapat’s death, the administration inaugurated one of the biggest cattle camps in Hadongri district, just 3km from his village Dindori.