Facing serious shortage of cattle fodder because of drought, dairy farmers of the parched district of Perambalur have started purchasing paddy straw even from districts such as Nagapattinam.

Each bundle weighing around 20 kg and is sold in the range of Rs. 160 to Rs. 200. This has been going on for the past two months.

For this district, which has hardly any industry worth the name, the dairy industry is one its most important commercial sectors.

Perambalur district has 172 milk producers’ cooperative societies with about 24,000 members. About 1.4 litres of milk is procured daily of which more than one lakh litres is transported to the Tamil Nadu Milk Producers’ Co-operative Federation in Chennai. Realising the importance of this industry for the district, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa sanctioned 11 chilling centres costing about Rs. 4 crore last year.

The district received only 608 mm rainfall during 2012 as against the normal 908 mm. During the current year, there has been any rain and the total rainfall up to May this year was only around 40 mm.

District collector Darez Ahamed has declared almost 90 per cent of the lands in the district drought-hit.

R. Rajachidambaram, State general secretary of the Tamilaga Vivasayigal Sangam, laments that the dairy farmers were left with no other option but to buy fodder from outside. “There was a time when we used to ignore maize (sola thattai). But now the same is selling like hot cakes,” he says.

R. Venkatesan, a dairy farmer of Eriyasamudram with 35 years of experience and who has 25 milch animals, says it is only those farmers who had wells with good yield would be able to survive.

”Such a situation is unprecedented and that is why many of us have started buying fodder from various sources,” he adds.

He finds fault with the governments at the Centre and in the State, for offering freebies and thus making the farm labourers lazy.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has made these workers sluggish. “Thus we do not get any labour at all to work in the farms, even if some of us have water in our wells,” he alleges.

Although Mr. Rajachidambaram admits that the State government has come out with a number of schemes for improving fodder availability, he wonders how they were going to be effective if there was no water at all.

He is certain that the farmers would have accepted governmental schemes if there is subsidy element. But they are reluctant because of inadequate rainfall. Everything depends upon the monsoon, he adds.

Mr. Venkatesan says shortage of fodder will automatically hit milk production and “time is not far off when milk would have to be sold even for Rs. 50 a litre,” he says.