HYDERABAD: Farmers in the drought-stricken Achhro Thar (white desert) are currently dealing with sickly and weak animals mainly due to nutrition deficiency.
Muhammad Saleh Chaneho, a herdsman from Achhro Thar, said weakness among animals was a major problem farmers faced during the drought. “The main reason is nutrition deficiency among animals, because the drought has burnt vegetation and plants, leaving animals in a helpless situation,” he added.
Only camels, goat and sheep were able to survive in the desert, as they eat all kinds of shrubs and plants, which big animals (cows) do not take.
Saled could not provide any authentic data on animal deaths; however he said herders and farmers feared high mortality because of the dryness and unavailability of fodder.
Belonging to village Tarr Verahi, Saleh claims to have around 400 goats, a dozen cows, and seven camels. Their family’s sustenance depends solely on livestock rearing. Presently, like other herdsmen, they are also afraid of losing their animals in case the dryness persists.
“Because of the drought, we do not have any option other than selling animals at cheap rates to sustain our families,” he said.
Saleh brought his animals with his sons for vaccination at sand dunes near the famous Village Haji Banko Chaneho, near Khipro town, Sanghar district on the last day of “International Training Workshop on bovine reproduction and artificial insemination”.
The workshop was organised jointly by Sindh Agriculture University, Higher Education Commission (HEC) Pakistan, and Sindh Agriculture Growth Project (SAGP) Livestock Component at Sindh Agriculture University Tandojam.
Four teams of veterinary practitioners, 10 in each, were engaged in administering vaccinations to animals during the day long camp at sand dunes. Five other teams, representing leading pharmaceutical companies of Pakistan also contributed medicines for the animals.
A large number of men had brought their herds, including cows, goats, sheep, buffaloes, and camels for vaccination from nearby villages.
Dr Pershotam Khatri, associate professor and chairman, Department of Animal Reproduction, and coordinator of the workshop, said they had brought medicine stock for 25,000 animals in the most ignored Achhro Thar desert.
Dr Khatri, who also belongs to the desert area, said the indigenous Thari cow breed was now rare because of ignorance on part of the government to preserve this threatened indigenous specie.
“We have come here to provide access to herdsmen residing in remote areas of the desert to get their animals vaccinated,” Dr Khatri said, appreciating livestock farmers, who travelled long distances to reach the camp.
He claimed this was the first move taken by the SAU to help the most ignored white desert herdsmen.
Herder Rasool Bakhsh Chaneho said some families in the desert still had as many as 500 to 800 goats and similar numbers of cows, sheep and camels. Livestock rearing was their sole livelihood, he added.
“Presently, we have observed that underground water table has dropped further, and people have to face problems in fetching water from traditional wells,” Rasool said.
Talking about common diseases among animals, Rasool said they have traditional methods of treating animals by local herbal plants. “But animals are hungry now, and we have no fodder to feed and save them,” he lamented.
Haji Arisar from Village Haji Osman Chaneho, who brought his 60 goats and sheep at the vaccination camp, said small animals were infected by swine flu because of dryness.
Only some farmers could afford to bring fresh green grass from the canal areas on camels, the others herded their animals in the area for dried plants and vegetation, he said.
Dr Dileep Kumar, representing a pharmaceutical company and originally from the Thar desert, said there was an absence of political will to save livestock, which was the major source of income for the residents of the desert.
“These people having the largest herds of about 100-1,000 animals per family, do not like to sell their assets. But now they are compelled to do so at low rates,” Dr Dilip said.
Pointing at those who exploit the situation caused by the drought, Dr Dilip said that traders bought goats at Rs2,000 or Rs3,000 from these herders.
“The price is as much as one kilogram of mutton costs at an urban restaurant,” he said.
Milk was also sold at a mere Rs30-Rs35 by the herdsmen, which was as cheap as a small bottle of mineral water in the city, the doctor shared, while pointing out that the same milk was sold at Rs90-Rs100 in urban neighbourhoods.
“Arid zones like Thar, Achhro Thar, Kachho and Kohistan are main contributors in the supply of meat and mutton products. These people feed the country through their products, milk, meat, and dairy, but they are unable to feed their children, who are dying of hunger and malnutrition,” Dr Dilip said.
At the concluding session, Prof Mushtaq A Memon, a livestock specialist from Washington, who conducted the training sessions, said there was need to involve veterinary practitioners for advising livestock farmers. He asked veterinarians to implement what they have learned during the workshop and help livestock farmers in the fields.
He appreciated the participants, who learned a lot throughout the sessions and also in the field, while vaccinating, performing surgeries, and advising herders.
Prof Dr Gerhard Schuler, from Giessen University of Germany said he hoped this workshop helped farmers and professionals learn to deal with cattle heads and increase productivity. He was inspired by the farmers who travelled long distance from remote areas to reach the camp with animals for vaccination.
Atta Chaneho, a local influential person, who facilitated the herdsmen at the camp along with SAU organisers, said the area was experiencing the worst drought. “The community people and their animals need support at this difficult time,” he added.
The herders demanded the government to set up subsidised fodder banks in accessible areas to save the animals and livelihoods.