Stray cattle menace: UP farmers refuse to diversify crops over depredation

Abandoned cows prefer new, different crops but losses equally distributed if everyone plants sugarcane, say farmers

By Shagun
Published: Thursday 01 June 2023
India has a stray cattle population of 0.5 million and UP has about 0.11 million stray cows, according to 2019 census. Photo for representation: iStock
India has a stray cattle population of 0.5 million and UP has about 0.11 million stray cows, according to 2019 census. Photo for representation: iStock India has a stray cattle population of 0.5 million and UP has about 0.11 million stray cows, according to 2019 census. Photo for representation: iStock

Stray cattle destroying crops are increasingly turning into an unmanageable nightmare for farmers, but there’s one more unsuspecting victim of this menace — crop diversification. Farmers are opting not to sow different crops in an attempt to stave away abandoned bovines. 

Down To Earth spoke to several farmers in western Uttar Pradesh (UP), who said they have stopped diversifying into crops other than sugarcane and wheat because of chhutta pashu or stray cattle. 

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Farmer Parvinder Kumar from Ranchhad village in Baghpat district sows sugarcane and wheat every season. In 2020 and 2021, he tried to grow maize, black gram (urad) and chickpea (chana) crops in a hectare. But both times, stray cows destroyed the crops. 

“The animals ate everything in a day and didn’t even allow the plants to grow. I had to suffer sowing losses,” he said. 

Kumar said he was aware of the benefits of adding varieties to the crop cycle and how it also boosts soil health. “Ideally, I should be sowing different crops to maintain the quality of my wheat crop also, but after suffering losses twice, I don’t have the will or resources to invest in other crops,” he said. 

Farmers in the region said they have stopped diversifying into other crops altogether. “If we start sowing other crops, then we will have to stand in the fields 24 hours. I sowed sugar graze, a green fodder crop, in 0.4 ha in the Rabi season, but the stray cattle emptied the field,” said MS Tarar, a farmer from Shamli. 

Fields with new crops other than the ones in nearby farms attract more strays. The cows only find it in a few fields, as opposed to a crop like sugarcane, which is found in almost every field in western UP. 

“If everyone sows sugarcane, then the stray cattle graze a bit from everyone’s lands. This way, the loss gets distributed between farmers in a particular village. But if certain farmers have taken up newer or different crops, their field will be completely destroyed,” explained Sudhir Tomar, another farmer from Ranchhad. 

Read more: Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections 2022: Is dung procurement a solution to UP’s stray cattle problem

Tomar also thought of diversifying his produce by sowing maize and black gram last year. But failed attempts by other farmers in his village discouraged him. 

Manish Bharti, an organic farmer from Meerut, said crop diversification is quintessential but he hasn’t been able to take up different crops. “In organic farming, it’s all the more important to diversify to get better yields and high overall sustainability,” he said. 

The stray cattle issue seems to have made a dent in the central government’s plans for crop diversification for sustainable agriculture and increasing farmers’ incomes. 

Western UP is one of the regions where the central Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has been implementing the Crop Diversification Programme, a sub-scheme of ‘Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana’ (RKVY), along with Punjab and Haryana. 

The three were the original Green Revolution states and the programme, running since 2013-13, was aimed to divert the area of water-intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane to alternative crops like pulses, oilseeds, coarse cereals, nutri cereals, cotton etc.

Stray cattle issue in the state has been boiling since the BJP government came to power in 2017. Its several policies, including the Uttar Pradesh Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, prohibit the cow or its progeny’s transportation for slaughter. The practice is now illegal in 18 states in India, which includes UP. 

Read more: Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections 2022: Rs 355 crore spent on stray cattle, but problem persists

India has a stray cattle population of 0.5 million; 48 per cent of this is available in just two states of UP and Rajasthan. UP has the second highest population of stray cattle (after Rajasthan) at 0.11 million, as per Livestock Census 2019, which has the latest official figures.

Ideally, stray cattle should be taken to the many cow shelters or gaushalas in UP, but several cowsheds have also closed down and functional ones are maintained poorly, according to farmers. Many cows fall sick and die in the gaushalas.

“The nearest gaushala is 11 kilometres away and they ask for Rs 5,100 for a stray,” said Kaluram from Kamkhera village in Muzaffarnagar district. 

The government, under the Sahbhagita Yojana, gives Rs 900 per cow per month to farmers rearing destitute cattle. The same amount is given to cow shelters. 

“Fodder rates are skyrocketing and Rs 900 per cow per month is not enough even for its survival,” said Bharti. 

On May 28, Gujarat agriculture minister Raghavji Patel said the problem of stray cows would be solved only if society treats them as mothers and finds value in all their products. Patel was speaking at cow-based investment summit GauTech 2023. 

However, this argument finds no resonance among UP who are facing tough times. 

Read more: Simply Put: Cattle class in UP

Recently, increasing cases of attacks by stray cattle have also been reported, adding to farmers’ worries. In Gujarat, a 60-year-old woman died after she was attacked by a cow and gored by two more in March this year. A 78-year-old man was also reportedly attacked and killed by a stray last year in November. 

Farmers have come up with solutions like fencing their fields, but it also requires high investment. They have to spend Rs 5,000 to fence five bighas of land. In some villages, farmers have hired guards at Rs 1,000 per household for six months to keep the stray cattle out of the farms. 

Following sleepless nights over their destroyed crops, farmers in other villages have also tied up with cattle traders, who then take the stray cattle for slaughtering. “But this cannot happen very often; traders are also afraid because of increasing lynching cases,” said another farmer.  

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