A couple of weeks back, Sagar Borhade sold his 3-year-old Holstein crossbred at the cattle market in Chakan near Pune for Rs 30,000. “I couldn’t believe it because only a year ago, some traders had offered me Rs 75,000 for the same animal. But I badly needed the money for my daughter’s marriage”, states this farmer from Charholi Budruk village of Pune district’s Haveli taluka.
Part of this price decline can be explained by farm-gate realisations on milk itself dipping in the last one-and-a-half years or so in Maharashtra, from Rs 25-27 to Rs 15-18 per litre. But Borhade believes the real reason for his having to dispose of a good milch cow yielding an average 20 litres daily for Rs 30,000 had to do with the decision by the Devendra Fadnavis-led NDA government in the state to comprehensively ban culling of all cattle — whether cows, bulls, bullocks or female and male calves.
The amendment to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act 1976, which received presidential assent in March last year, makes any purchase, sale or transport of cows and their progeny for slaughter purposes a criminal offence inviting 10 years of rigorous imprisonment. Till January this year, 207 cases had been lodged under the amended law across the state.
But for farmers like Borhade, what the ban has done, more than anything else, is to kill the secondary market in animals. “There is simply no demand from either farmers or traders today because they’re not sure what to do when the cow stops giving milk or delivers a male calf”, he points out.
Borhade’s complaint has some basis in the average trend of prices for animals at Loni in Rahata taluka of Ahmednagar district. Four-year-old cows producing 20 litres a day are currently fetching roughly Rs 45,000 at this weekly cattle market, the largest in northern Maharashtra. A year ago, these rates averaged Rs 80,000 per animal. The same goes for bulls: Prices of four-year-old animals in good health have fallen from Rs 50,000 to Rs 30,000 in the last one year.
“The ban has hit the business hard. The weekly turnover here, which used to be Rs 3-4 crore, is now down by half”, admits Uddhav Devkar, secretary of the Rahata agricultural produce market committee. The Loni market sees arrivals of about 5,000 animals every Wednesday, when it is held, of which 700-800 get bought.
But the interesting part pertains to buffalo prices that, between now and last year, have actually risen from Rs 40,000 to 60,000 for four-year-old animals.
However, since the Loni market largely deals in cattle, a more representative trend can be got from Ghodegaon in Ahmednagar’s Nevasa taluka. This market, about 80 km from Loni, specialises in buffaloes with a yearly turnover of over Rs 150 crore. Devdatta Palve, secretary of the market, informs that since the imposition of the tough anti-cattle slaughter law, prices of even 7-8 month-old male calves have gone up from Rs 10,000 to Rs 25,000.
Gollu Seth, a trader in Pune’s Manchar and Chakan markets, confirms the same trend for adult buffaloes. Their price has risen from Rs 40,000 to Rs 70,000. This, he claims, has happened “because today only buffaloes are allowed to be slaughtered for beef”.
For farmers in Maharashtra, the collapse in milk prices on top of back-to-back droughts has only compounded matters. While in the past, sale of animals acted as an insurance of sorts during droughts, the beef ban has rendered even that a loss-making proposition.
Vikram Mokal, who farms four acres at Jatpade village in Malegaon taluka of Nashik district, has, in the last 10 months, sold 3 of his five cows at the Loni market. “Not only have my crops failed successively, but the droughts have also made green fodder hard to get. Un-remunerative milk prices added to that has left me with no option but to sell my animals to meet immediate needs”, he notes.
But for Mokal, too, the beef ban has only added insult to injury: “I sold two of my cows for Rs 20,000 each and the last one at Rs 25,000. All the three were young milk-yielding animals that should ordinary have fetched Rs 60,000-plus”.
Haji Badaruddin Pirzade, a cattle trader at Loni who has been in the business for 20 years, says that it was an established practice for farmers to change their cows every 4-5 years once their milk yields per lactation cycle had reduced. They, then, sold these in exchange for younger cows giving more milk. Old and infirm animals, especially bulls, were also sold to traders, who, in turn, supplied them to slaughter houses. Since the ban has come into place, this trade – essential for sustaining the farmers’ own dairying operations through regular replacement of old with new productive animals – has practically stopped.
“Farmers are no longer coming to the market for buying new animals. I used to sell more than 10 cows a day, but now I am lucky to even sell two. Prices of bullocks (oxen) have also hit rock-bottom: A healthy pair that would earlier fetch Rs 40,000-45,000 now sell at just Rs 10,000. And desperate farmers are driving down the market further”, observes Pirzade.
With the secondary market for cattle finished, farmers in many areas of Maharashtra, struggling to procure water and fodder amidst drought, are resorting to abandoning their old and infirm animals. Alternatively, they are simply letting them die in their households.
Suresh Take, a farmer from Undirgaon village in Ahmednagar’s Shrirampur taluka, estimates that at least a tenth of the animals are being abandoned. “The cycle of selling old and infirm animals in exchange for newer and healthier animals has been broken”, he sums up the situation.
Ironically, such problems are less for those owning buffaloes. Mahchindra Bhaldant, also from Undirgaon, recently sold his animal for Rs 60,000, whereas “only a year ago, it would have fetched barely Rs 40,000”. Datta Lahane, a dairy farmer from Ghodegaon village in Pune district’s Ambegaon taluka, is equally lucky, having got Rs 80,000 for his buffalo. Traders have, in fact, even taken to contacting farmers with buffaloes directly, instead of waiting for them to come to the market.
So much for an anti-cattle slaughter law that, far from protecting cows, has actually ended up giving a boost to the buffalo trade!
Since April-May 2014, milk realisations for farmers have collapsed by around Rs 10 per litre.
Maharashtra farmers are currently selling cow milk, with 3.5 per cent fat and 8.5 per cent SNF (solids-not-fat) content, to private dairies at roughly Rs 16 per litre, compared to Rs 26 one-and-a-half years ago. During the same period, farm-gate prices in northern India for buffalo milk, containing 6.5 per cent fat and 8.5 per cent SNF, have dropped from Rs 39-40 to Rs 29-30 a litre. Read more here.
Female bovine bias
The drop in cattle population in Maharashtra is a cause of concern, especially when the decline is more on account of indigenous cattle breed. Also, the drop in numbers is more in males.
Fall in Maharashtra’s cattle population from a total of 180.72 lakh to 154.84 lakh between 1997 and 2012.
While this may be apparent cause for concern, it, however, masks two significant trends.
The decline in the number of indigenous cattle breeds, which have shrunk by 37.81 lakh.
Rise (11.94 lakh) in the number of exotic/cross-bred cattle. Thus, it is the desi animals — as opposed to those containing genetic material of videshi breeds like Holstein Friesian and Jersey — that have suffered a decrease.
Secondly, as the accompanying table shows, the drop in cattle numbers is more in males than females. This bias towards females is clearly due to cattle being valued largely now for milk, rather than for draught or even breeding purposes. The latter roles have increasingly been taken over by tractors and artificial insemination technology.
But cattle being viewed mainly as milch animals also means a preference among farmers to rear crossbreds, which give more milk.
Increase in Maharashtra’s cross-bred female population by 13.28 lakh between the 1997 and 2012 Livestock Censuses.
The same trend can be seen for buffaloes, where the depletion is essentially in males. While female numbers have remained more or less unchanged, they could well go up following the implementation of the Maharashtra government’s comprehensive cattle slaughter ban legislation.
– Partha Sarathi Biswas and Harish Damodaran