One in three farmers gave up rearing; animal feed, labour gets costly

In what is an oft-quoted figure, many rightwing organisations cite the decline in cattle population – as much as 1.5 lakh cattle in five years – as a result of the “menace of cow slaughter and thefts” here. However, officials of the Department of Animal Husbandry, attribute it to a larger agrarian crisis.

The quinquennial (every five years) All India Livestock census reveals that in 2007 there were 3.96 lakh cows and 15,000 buffaloes in the district. In the 19 round of survey conducted in 2012, the provisional figures drop to 2.5 lakh cattle and 3,570 buffaloes – or 36 per cent and 75 per cent decline respectively.

To understand the decline, the figures of households involved in livestock rearing must also be seen. Not considering poultry, one in three farmers has given up their livestock in the five-year period, implying the younger generation has not continued the same agricultural practices.

Reasons

While commenting that cattle population had declined across the State — oxen are being phased out due to mechanisation of agriculture — K.V. Halagappa, Deputy Director, Department of Animal Husbandry, said the decline was far steeper in Dakshina Kannada.

With fragmented land holdings, no gomala land (pastures), a farmer has to rely on supplied fodder and feed, which was expensive, he said. “Labour is also a major problem here, while the children of farmers are moving away from agriculture. All contribute to the decline,” he said. From around 12 heads of cattle in 2008, to just two now, Giri Shankar, a farmer in Peramogeru village in Bantwal, said the cost of cattle feed and labour costs have shot up. “We don’t get workers easily. We cannot sustain dairy farming along with our other agriculture activities. Only those with large herds and exclusively into diary farming can make a profit,” he said.

Though the procurement price of milk has nearly tripled in four years, these factors overweigh the benefits of cattle rearing. The economic viability is further stark when the trends in breeds of cattle are observed. A little more than half of indigenous breeds – generally low milk-yielding breeds – have gone out, while exotic crossbreeds such as Jersey have a better-off 16 per cent decline.

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