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Part 4 - Cattle Camps: the last resort

Don't forget, this is a land that reveres the cow. To lose cattle would be a grave setback from which farmers may never recover. So, when drought turns otherwise fertile land barren, it sets off a cycle of migration and displacement. Drought-stricken families leave their homes and move to cattle camps set up to offer refuge to their livestock. Here, each animal is given 15 kilograms of fodder. Far from adequate, but it keeps them alive. Milk is collected and sold to run the camps and support the families. But there is a vicious edge to this life-saving move. Sugarcane, a water-intensive cash crop, forms part of the animals' fodder, and demand for it has shot up, a development that could prolong the drought. From interior Maharashtra, Neelima Vallangi reports for Greenpeace India on the worst drought to plague the region in four decades.

Cattle are the last means to earn a living for the drought-affected farmers of Maharashtra. Due to failed crops, there isn't much fodder left for the animals. Even though people own acres of fertile land, it is as good as barren land without water for irrigation.

To lose cattle to the drought would be a grave setback from which the farmers might never be able to recover. So when cattle camps were set across few districts, many people arrived to find refuge for their cattle. However, this is a temporary solution that has displaced thousands from their villages to live in miserable conditions with the silver lining being their cattle gets to live.
 

Scenes from cattle camps in drought-hit Maharashtra (Photographs by Neelima Vallangi)

More than 800 cattle camps have been set up providing free water, fodder and shelter for about 6.5 lakh animals across the state. In this camp near Ashti, Beed, around 800 people from nearby villages are taking care of close to 3,000 animals. 

   

Each animal is given 15 kilograms of fodder per day that consists of cut-down pieces of sugarcane, grass and corn. However, the cattle owners say that 15 kilos is not sufficient for the healthier animals.    

 
At least two people from each family are required to take care of their cattle in the camps forcing many villagers to set up temporary camp in makeshift tents, living along with the animals.
 

This is one such makeshift home of Dattatreya Bhunvar and his sister-in-law, who have been here for the past four months to take care of their 13 animals. Family members bring them food every day.
 
 
Even though these people are landowners, the drought has forced them to live like nomads. This is a makeshift bathroom for the women. To attend calls of nature, there isn't any provision other than the vast open lands around.
 
 
Nilesh Pawar, a young student who has just given his Class 10 exams, is spending his summer holidays helping his family take care of the cattle. He hopes to join college once the rains start.  
 
    
If not for the cattle camps, the cattle owners would've been forced to sell the animals but now they are earning money by selling milk. It is reported that the milk output hasn't gone down due to these relief measures.  
 
 
Milk vans come and collect milk from the cattle camps to sell it in the markets.
 
  

Since sugarcane has been used as fodder, the demand for the already water guzzling crop has shot up. Farmers have more reason to plant sugarcane crop that can cause further long-term damage to the water deprived regions. 

 PREVIOUS: Part 3 - Chronicle of a drought foretold  |  NEXT: Part 5 - Is death the only fate for animals? 

Moved to action? Support Greenpeace India's effort to support the farmers' movement to get back the water that has been allocated to industries in the drought-hit regions of Maharashtra.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Neelima VallangiNeelima Vallangi is a writer and photographer from Bangalore. She has been travelling in India for the past few years unearthing little-known places of the country. She travelled with Greenpeace through the drought-hit regions of Maharashtra to find out the reality of the situation in the region. Follow her writing on her website and on Facebook

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