A 20-year-old computer science student has set up the first fodder camp in Nivdunge village in Ahmednagar district. The five-acre farm, which provides fodder and water to at least 500 cows, has provided crucial backup to 200 farmers in the drought-affected Pathardi taluka of the district.
But Sharad Markad, who set up the camp with funds he raised himself, has received little help from political parties contesting in the elections in Ahmednagar on April 23.
“We are running out of money and have to pay Rs 6 lakh that were given as loans, but are yet to get the state’s grant, which amounts to Rs 90 for a large cow and Rs 45 for a small one,” said Sharad, himself a farmer’s son.
“Farmers are facing acute distress from water scarcity and low rainfall. There is no work at farms. But party leaders ask me why am I taking on this work at such a young age,” said Sharad, who joined the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana — Maharashtra’s largest union of farmers.
A final-year BSc student at Dadapatil Rajale Arts and Science College at Kasar Pimpalgaon, near the village where the farm has come up, Sharad’s efforts to help farmers began last year, when the Sanghatana made him the Pathardi taluka president. He started raising money to set up a fodder camp for cattle and filmed the story of Bandu Markad, a pomegranate farmer who destroyed his crop as he was unable to get even Rs 10 per kg for the produce at the local market last year.
“The video of the tearful farmer Bandu went viral and people and organisations sent in funds to the tune of Rs 1.5 lakh,” said Sharad. Several other organisations donated generously. Family and friends also assisted Sharad, so that by November, he had managed to raise Rs 12 lakh, and with Bandu’s help, set up the fodder camp.
“There are many more farmers like me. At this camp, we were able to provide water and fodder for 200 farmers,” said Bandu. The donations, some of which Bandu used to repay part of his loans, were used to supply water through tankers to the farmers worst affected by the drought.
However, the grant from the state is yet to come. “We were the first ones to set up such a fodder camp in November across the state,” said Sharad, adding that the state only sanctioned the camp recently.
“There is severe water scarcity and I require two tankers of water (12,000 litres) daily for the pomegranate farm,” said Bandu.
At the cattle camp, too, Rs 30,000 is required daily for water and fodder. The gravity of the fodder shortage is also seen in the fact that farmers are now investing in smaller cows so that they can sell them later. But milk production is declining — compared to 15-16 earlier, a cow now produces a maximum of 8 litres per day, Sharad said.
Among several farmers who have been staying at the camp since November is 55-year-old Laxman Gondhane. “I have six cows at the camp. It takes Rs 10-20 to travel by autorickshaw to my place and I need to save as I also have to pay back several loans,” he said.
Subhash Markad, who has five cows at the camp, is also angry. “Why has it taken so much time for the state to recognise this camp and give us a grant?” he asked. He criticised the manner in which the installment of Rs 2,000 under the Pradhan Mantri Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) scheme was allegedly withdrawn after being deposited recently. The PM-Kisan scheme is an initiative by the Centre to support small and marginal farmers who have less than five acres of landholding by crediting Rs 6,000 in their accounts.
But 73-year-old Dnyandev Sherkar dismissed that any such move had been made and alleged that the state had not fulfilled its promise to waive loans. “Instead, authorities come here at 2 am and make us sign papers,” he claimed.
Recently, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had told the state assembly that at least 86 hectare of land and 82 lakh farmers in 151 talukas and 20 revenue circles were affected by drought this year, which means at least 60 per cent of farmers have been hit by drought.
Prashant Patil, Resident Deputy Collected, Ahmednagar district, said sanction had been given for 466 fodder camps this year. Till March 31, the grant was as per the old rate of Rs 70 for a large cow and Rs 35 for a small cow. Accordingly, Rs 17-18 crore has been sanctioned and we are waiting for the funds, Patil added.