It took Pandurang Shinde three trips to the weekly Khandoba cattle bazaar in Parbhani, one of the eight drought-hit districts of Marathwada, to find a buyer for his pair of bullocks. After much heckling, he managed to sell his coveted pair at Rs 50,000, half the price at what the animals had cost him.
The weekly cattle bazaar, held on Thursdays, at Parbhani taluka is packed these days, full of distressed farmers selling off their cattle like Shinde with the hope to keep themselves afloat as water scarcity pushes them to the brink.
The cattle trade in the region — in the five districts where no cattle camps have been set up so far — is at an all-time low with just 25% of transactions as sellers far outstrip buyers, said traders.
“I got four bags of soyabean and all of 20 quintal of cotton from my 50 acres farm last year. My income has been literally nothing. I have eight animals but when there’s no water for my family, how can I manage to provide water and fodder for them? Which farmer would like to sell off his prized pair of bulls?” said Shinde.
He said for the past month, his family like others in his village Mangangaon, spend six to seven hours to just ensure there’s enough water for drinking and household requirements.
And, he may have no option but to abandon some of the animals as the situation gets more dire.
The BJP-led government’s beef ban – one of its first decisions since it came to power – has only exacerbated the impact of the third consecutive year of drought to push the price of the cattle down, leaving aggrieved farmers with not even this last resort in times of a deepening crisis.
Buffaloes fetch better prices and they are herded straight from the bazaar unto big trucks to be carried to abattoirs. A majority of this livestock is being brought by big meat brands and exporters.
“With beef ban and the drought, the entire cattle market is in on its knees. There are no cattle camps in Parbhani despite 35 pending applications forget ‘goshalas’ that the government had promised as shelters for cows. And we voted this government to power. Bulls are going at half their price, even jersey cows are selling at just Rs 25,000,” said Uday Thakur, a cattle trader.
“Only buffaloes, depending on their size, can fetch from Rs 40,000 to Rs 60,000 and everyone knows where they are going,” he added.
Many farmers like Amol Harkal from Pedgaon village in Parbhani have sold all their cattle – including milch cows - for prices as low as Rs 15,000.
“My four acres is like a wasteland. When and if it rains, I’ll have to manage without cattle. No one wants to sell their old animals to an abattoirs but in such situations it’s either that or just abandoning them.
That last option of an abattoir was a part of the earlier farm economy,” said Harkal.
Harkal’s farm, where he grew cotton and soyabean, yielded nothing last year. He sustains with the food security dole of the government, where rice and wheat is being distributed through the public distribution system at Rs 2 and Rs 3 a kilo.
With cattle guzzling up anywhere from 40 litres to 80 litres of water a day, this is a luxury that is no longer affordable in the yellowed, barren lands of Marathwada today.