A combination of drought, increased reliance on technology-intensive cash crops and lack of fodder has resulted in Jhabua farmers selling off their cattle, most of which are smuggled to Gujarat, according to sources.

The weekly cattle haat in Raipuriya block reveals a disturbing pattern of cattle sale that is actually a self-perpetuating vicious cycle involving changing agricultural practices.

These haats have been a common part of rural life in Jhabua. However, the reasons for selling cattle have changed from being primarily exchange or upgrade-based in the past to being distress-based now.

Extensive use of herbicides in this region has resulted in a steep decline in fodder cultivation alongside the main crop. This, coupled with a shift to non-fodder cash crops such as tomato and chilli, means there is nothing to feed the cattle with.

The only option is to sell them. And since most of them are largely malnourished, they fetch less than encouraging prices in the market.

Also, the current crop trends in the region require the farmers to hire tractors and threshers, often forcing them to sell off their bulls and other cattle. This means they lose out on a crucial livestock product — cow dung — which is used both as cooking fuel and organic manure.

As a result, farmers have to grow cotton (especially MCH-1) in the lean January-February season as cotton stems serve as cooking fuel to make up for the shortage of cow dung. This has further resulted in an increased BT cotton cultivation in the area.

Also, a shift to chemical fertilizers becomes inevitable since there is no organic manure.

Asked why they were selling off cattle, all except one cited maintenance reasons. “What do we feed them with, there is no fodder. The common grazing land has been encroached upon and they are growing strange plants on it,” said Likhmi, a woman selling goats.

S.K. Dhuriya, Assistant Veterinary Doctor, Petlawad, agrees that there has been a decline in cattle population, but disagrees with distress being the cause.

“There has been a decline primarily because of the use of grazing lands for agriculture,” he says. “Also, people have fewer but better cattle now than before.”

The village commons, used for community cattle grazing, has increasingly been taken up by the State government for growing Jatropha, the much-hyped “bio-diesel” plant. Rows of Jatropha plants can be seen dotting grazing lands and “protected” forest lands.

At the same time, while the number of cattle has declined, meat production in Madhya Pradesh has increased consistently, from 10,200 tonnes in 2001-02 to 23,300 tonnes in 2008-09, according to data from the MP economic survey.

Dalaals flourish

The distress cattle sale in the region has spelled good business for a lot of middlemen, called dalaals.

When approached, these dalaals offered any number of any cattle for sale secretly. “People are ready to sell, but since the markets are down, nobody is willing to pay a good price. If you are willing to pay up, I can get you any number of buffaloes,” said a dalaal.

“Some of them are also sent to Delhi. But we have to be very careful, as VHP men are constantly on the lookout for us,” he said.

Sources said that while some of the cattle are bought off within the village, most of them are smuggled to slaughterhouses across the border to Gujarat.

The district police, however, are reticent in admitting this.

“I don’t believe there is any organised illegal cattle trade in this region, but there have been some incidents and we have intercepted vehicles carrying animals to Gujarat from time to time,” says Abhay Singh, Jhabua SP.

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