Drought in Bikaner: Cattle die of starvation, fodder costlier by over 150%

West Rajasthan stares at drought, records rainfall deficit of 24% till September 7
Drought in Bikaner: Cattle die of starvation, fodder costlier by over 150%

Scant rainfall in the already arid Bikaner district of Rajasthan has triggered a fear of acute drought and distress. Reports of cattle dying due to starvation have started trickling in.

The district received rainfall only once in July, followed by a scant spell in the first week of September in a few areas, according to farmers.

It recorded a cumulative rainfall deficit of 17 per cent till September 7, according to India Meteorological Department (IMD) data. 

West Rajasthan as a whole, including districts like Jaisalmer and Barmer, is currently staring at a drought. The region recorded a rainfall deficit of 24 per cent till September 7. Overall, the state has 8 per cent deficit. The state government, however, has not declared a drought yet.

Om Prakash Godhara, a cattle rearer in Bikaner, has lost five of his cows to starvation in the last week. “There is nothing for them to eat,” he said.

He added: “There is no fresh grass and fodder prices are skyrocketing. I took the animals to a firing range some 37 kilometres away, which is our usual place to go every year. But it was all dry. I couldn’t save my cows.”

Godhara has 75 cows, 12 goat and sheep and two camels.

The prices of fodder have increased by over 150 per cent: To Rs 1,000 per quintal from the usual Rs 350 per quintal.

Dairy farmer Hadmanaram from Bikaner’s Dhani Bhopalaram is worried he may lose his cows too. He wants to migrate with his 20 cows to greener pastures, but they are too weak to walk the distance. He has three camels too.

“Since the whole area is dry, I thought of covering a longer distance. But the animals are too weak to walk,” he said.

He also has three camels. He has currently taken a loan of Rs 20,000 from a private moneylender to buy fodder, which is not enough. One cow on an average consumes some 10 kg fodder a day and a camel 20 kg a day.

“I am not able to provide them even half the diet they need. The cow that used to give 10 kilograms of milk is now giving only 2 kg,” he said.

A few farmers migrated to Punjab and Haryana in early July and August when there was less to no rainfall.

Farmers usually don’t migrate between July and October as they get fodder in the nearby areas after monsoon. But there was an increased migration activity till last month this year, said Rameshwar Lal, secretary and executive member, Urmul Setu Sansthan, which works with farmers and cattle breeders in Rajasthan.

“We also have received reports of distress selling of cattle. Some have even abandoned their cows,” he said.

Cattle, goat and sheep rearing is one of the major occupations in Rajasthan. The state has 13 million cattle, according to 2019 livestock census.

Farmers and cattle rearers are also not hopeful about the stubble that comes from Punjab’s districts after harvesting paddy crop, which is as fodder here.

While some say that sowing has been less in numbers this time, others say that they came to know that some of the crop got destroyed due to excess rainfall.  

Sukharam, another farmer from Dhani Bhopalaram village, said this was the fourth consecutive year without normal rainfall: “We are used to droughts, we did not get the scanty rains that we do. There has been no rainfall in my area since July.”

Sukharam has 50 cows and 15 goat and sheep. He also wants to migrate with his animals but they are not fit to walk. “I came to know that Ratangarh in Churu district (some 120 km from his village) has received rainfall. But my cows can’t walk that distance.”

Sukharam, who is also a farmer, had sown guar, moth and bajra in his 13-hectare agricultural land, most of which he has lost. “Even if it rains now, it will not matter. The crop has already failed.”

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