The dairy industry in the heart of Gujarat, Banaskantha, has been the continent’s largest milk producer supplying the whole of Gujarat and beyond. One village, Thawar, alone produces around 70000 litres of milk. Earlier, people in the rural belts had animal husbandry as their side business, but the recent water scarcity has made them rely completely on their cattle.
Banaskantha is one of the driest regions in the whole of Gujarat. If one were to cross small bridges across the district, one would see a visible water scarcity. As far as the groundwater is concerned, after a point, it became impossible for the farmers to get a borewell installed as it cost over 6 lacs, with no certainty whether they would even get water. In certain areas of the district, there is no water even as low as 1000ft below the ground.
Farmers who formerly practiced farming in all three seasons are now compelled to do so only post-monsoon. This led to an increase and shift to animal husbandry that over 90% of villagers in the major dairy hub, Thawar, practice now. But are the farmers happy with what they are getting out of the business?
Price hike and Inflation
“The cattle fodder price is rising extensively and is getting out of control. Ow do we manage with such prices in an absence of subsidy?” questioned Dinesh, a small-scale farmer. Only three years back, as the farmers narrate, the prices of fodder were as low as Rs600-800, while the same now has doubled up. “There is no fodder less than Rs1400 a bag today. Even the one that comes from the govt coop costs this amount.”
Rural Gujarat is accountable for around 60% of the total population in the State. In the year 2017, as the BJP govt came into power, they came with the promise to double up the income of the farmers. But the contrary has happened. The fodder prices doubled up against only a rupee or two hike in the milk prices. This has led the farmers into dire straits. Many are resorting to other businesses, and the small-scale farmers with no land and fewer cattle, work under a big farmer as their employee.
Situations are not very easy for the big farmers either. Dhyanji Patel owns 8 acres of land apart from the 100 cows and buffaloes he owns in total. He resides in a corner of Thawar village and has all the possible equipment required. His stable has six employees apart from the automated milking machine and equipment that releases water for the cattle to drink.
Narrating the regular expense and what he saves, Dhyanji said that all he was left with was to be used in his home for daily expenses. He narrated,” I own 100 cattle in total. After all the expenses and salary given to my employees are added, it sums up to around 14000Rs. I sell 500lts of milk daily, which gives me somewhere around 20000Rs a day. Out of the total, I am left with 6000Rs a day which is to be divided among five brothers.” Had the fodder been cheaper, Dhyanji narrates that their situation would not have been this bad.
Lumpy and dilapidating health of cattle
The year 2022 with the lumpy skin disease in cows brought a series of problems for the farmers in North Gujarat. Purchasing one cow costs around Rs80000 to them, apart from the regular expense they make for the fodder of the cattle. This comes with uncertainty as most cows they buy often stop producing any milk one year from when they are brought.
With the lumpy skin disease adding to the problems of the cattle, the situation is not very good for the dairy farmers of Gujarat. Dinesh had 18 cows in total and is a resident of Malotra village. He lost all 18 of the cows this year within a month due to lumpy. “I lost my cows, it amounted to a loss of over 14 lacs that I had invested, and now I only have the two bighas of land where I can grow only cattle fodder and sell it off. The output that I get out of it is not sufficient for me to repay the debt I am in.
Farmers not just from Gujarat but Bihar and Jharkhand also report an increase in the deteriorating health of cattle these days. “ Every second month, there is a new disease or a virus that spreads among the cattle. In the past 2-3 years, there has been a need for vets at least twice a month to check some or the other cow that falls ill,” says a farmer from Jharkhand.
Leading to a further expense in the business, cattle falling prey to such diseases amid a rise in fodder prices leaves the farmers in a position to quit.
Low-quality milk and new technology
Since the small-scale farmers are unable to feed their cattle well, the milk produced is not so rich in fat. Hence, the prices they get at the govt co-op is lesser than the one a usual farmer gets. Pramod, a 45-year-old farmer, during the summers, faces a return of at least 10lt of milk twice a month owing to the quality of fat.
Whats bizarre is that the farmers do not have the literacy to even check if the fat content shown to them at the dairy is correct or not. Most of them are complete dropouts and are unaware of why the content is low. In recent times, around a month back, the farmers saw a new technology come into play with milk production. This was like the Fat EVM, equally unknown to them, and a computerized system to detect the amount of fat in particular milk.
No matter how low the quality of the milk is, if it makes it to the dairy, it sells. However, the prices here have a huge disparity. For the milk that a farmer gets Rs25/lt, sells at Rs 60/lt in the market and malls.
Amid the current inflation rate, there seems to be a shift to other businesses and daily wage in North Gujarat. With no possible govt aid, the animal husbandry industry stares at a bleak future in the heart of dairy, Banaskantha.