Odisha’s climate refugees: Satabhaya’s cattle farmers suffer in new homes

The once-prosperous community has been left to fend for itself after losing its rich economy to the ravages of the sea

By Pragati Prava
Published: Thursday 11 July 2019
Buffaloes in Satabhaya. Photo: Pragati Prava

Bagapatia in the Rajnagar block of Odisha’s Kendrapada district, is home to 571 families of once-prosperous livestock farmers from Satabhaya, a coastal village that has now been almost swallowed by the Bay of Bengal.

Gokulananda Das, 58, used to lead a prosperous life courtesy livestock farming in Satabhaya. He is now forced into a nomadic existence, looking for pasture throughout the year to graze his buffaloes.

“While we stay at Satabhaya from July to November/December, we move to Patrapur, around 30 km from here, under the Rajkanika block and stay there from February to June. My son stays with the animals and I come out to sell milk and coordinate with the family,” said Das.

Once the proud owner of 40 buffaloes, he now owns only 15. He lost the other 25 to the lack of fodder.

“I get around 10 litres of milk a day and sell it between Rs 35 and Rs 38 at the Odisha Milk Federation (Omfed) outlet or at Rs 40 per litre in the local market,” Das said, adding that he used to get around 25 litres of milk per day earlier.

Das’ neighbours are facing similar losses.

“We manage to feed our animals till we get grass and other fodder materials from the paddy field which we till as sharecroppers. Our nomadic life starts after the fodder materials finish,” said Sarbeswar Das, another inhabitant of the colony.

Showing a lean calf lying with its neck twisted beneath his clay veranda, he added, “The calf was born premature as its mother lacked sufficient food. A calf usually starts jumping a few hours after birth. But even though a week has passed since this one was born, it hardly moves.”

Gokulananda’s brother Sahadev, who is struggling to raise his 22 buffaloes, agreed.

“In Bagapatia, finding a tree under which our animals can rest is a dream. Many of our buffaloes perished for this reason. Diseases like black quarter and hemorrhagic septicemia also took a toll,” he said.

Most unfortunately, each household has to shell out between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,000 to graze their animals on their own land at Satabhaya.

“I possess patta for my eight acres and am paying tax for it even after I relocated to Bagapatia. The same is true for my co-villagers. But I do not know why we have to do it,” asked Gokulananda.

“The forest department has fenced the mangrove forest adjacent to our place of rehabilitation and banned the entry of bovines and humans into it. Had it been flexible and allowed us to collect fodder from the forest, we would not have to lead a nomadic life. The officials fine us if they see us cutting grass in the jungle,” he added.

However, when contacted, Sanjay Pradhan, forester for the Satabhaya section of the Rajnagar Mangrove Forest Division, pleaded ignorance about villagers having to take their animals across the crocodile-infested Baunshagada creek for grazing in Satabhaya as the department had fenced the jungle near Bagapatia.

No prosperity sans bovines

“We used to have a self-sufficient economy in Satabhaya. From our livestock, we used to get a lot of milk and prepare curd, cottage cheese and clarified butter, sufficient to meet the needs of the whole village,” said Sudarshan Rout, a village leader.  

He added: “Similarly, we used to get a bumper harvest of paddy, pulses, vegetables and greens from our land. Most of us used to catch fish, prawns and crabs from the sea and creeks. These things were exchanged between the villagers at a nominal price. We neither sold them outside nor did we buy anything from outside.”

However, large-scale soil-salinisation due to seawater ingress and disappearing pasture resulted in the dearth of fodder and forced farmers to sell off their animals.

In the last one decade, the sea has claimed around 20 acres of pasture land. Shrinking income sources have resulted in a mass exodus of villagers. While men work in other states as bonded labourers, women work as housemaids or go for fishing in creeks.

Apart from this, the difficulties in selling cattle following the ban order on cow slaughter has resulted in further weakening of the economy surrounding the bovines.

“We used to sell old cattle and buy new ones to maintain our livestock. As I faced difficulties in selling my old buffaloes following the government’s ban on cow slaughter, I am under immense pressure to feed them with no pasture land around. Several buffaloes died of starvation even though I tried my best to feed them with my limited capacity. Frustrated, I sold them all,” Kalpataru, another inhabitant of the colony, said.

According to Kunilata Sahoo, who stays with her husband in Satabhaya due to space constraints in the rehabilitation colony, said, “Milk, cheese, curd and ghee used to be the staple food for our children. When they ask for it in the rehab colony, it is not possible for us to shell out around Rs 200 every day to buy these items.”

Her four sons and two daughters-in-law stay at the rehabilitation colony with their children.

“At least 5 per cent of a village’s land should be pasture. If the government knew that it was relocating a livestock-dependent community, it should have made alternative arrangements for this,” Kishore K Mohapatra, Kendrapara Fodder Officer, said.

“There are schemes of the government to support individual cattle farmers in growing fodder for their livestock. But in Bagapatia, it may not be viable as each household won only 10 decimal land. To avail the benefits of the scheme, a farmer has to devote at least half an acre of land. However, the government can support if the people can raise a few acres of land on a community basis,” he said, adding that he will take a stock of the situation and initiate steps to support the farmers.

However, he lamented that the salinity of the area may play spoilsport.

Ranjan Panda, a senior water and climate expert, says that almost about one third of Odisha’s coastline is now vulnerable to sea ingress due to climate change.

“The Satabhaya example should warn policy makers not to be complacent any further on the multiple impacts of sea-level rise,” he said.

“What Odisha now needs is a strong policy to deal with climate refugees and if needed, it should do its best to access global climate funds for making the rehabilitation packages work for such vulnerable communities,” Panda added.

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