Wednesday July 17, 2024

Feeding cattle, now a challenge, as herders unable to clutch at straw

By Jan Khaskheli
January 30, 2022

HYDERABAD: Increasing prices of wheat straw, the cheapest and common feed for cattle, have compelled small-scale herders to look for substitutes as they are now unable to feed this nutritious fodder to their animals in parts of Sindh.

Hardly a few days ago, the straw was easily available at Rs400-500/maund, which has now jumped to Rs900-1100/maund in all barrage areas of Sindh province, reports reaching here said, adding that the cost may further increase due to it shortage.

Some farmers believe dried fodders like wheat and rice straw as well as sorghum and pearl millet stalks are nutrient-rich feeds for animals during winter.

Sorghum and pearl millet stalks are not available in higher quantities in local markets like wheat straw because of changing crop patterns that have forced growers to drop both the grain crops in many areas.

Muhammad Usman, a farmer from Matiary district, who owns three cows, said he purchased 100 maund (37kg) straw in May 2021 at Rs200/maund, considering it enough for the whole year, but it lasted until late November and now he was paying dearly to feed his animals.

He said in the past, cattle farmers, having one or two animals, used to get sugarcane peeling for feeding their animals free of cost. But this year the situation seems different as greedy landlords and contractors have put sugarcane waste on the sale at Rs60—Rs240/ maund.

Green fodders like berseem and maize are costlier. Some farmers migrate from mountainous areas, owing to drought-like conditions, to suburban areas of Hyderabad city to get cheap vegetable waste to feed their herds.

Reports show prices of wheat straw are the same almost in all the areas like Hyderabad, Matiari, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, and Sanghar districts.

Livestock is considered the second largest source of livelihood for the rural population. Milk, butter, and yogurt are the sources of nutrition for the people.

But now keeping one or two heads of milking animals has become too costly and unaffordable. Landless farmers cannot afford to have animals to earn some subsistence and provide a nutritious diet to their children.

Only a few families still love to keep the tradition alive despite challenges.

Some farmers believe one of the major reasons of local shortage of straw was its indiscriminate supply to large cattle colonies in urban centers like Karachi. Tufail Unar, a farmer, who keeps at least 200-300 maund straw annually for his animals, said his family also bought extra 2,000 maund or more for business. They buy straw at Rs200-300/maund and sell it at higher rates in winter when demand goes up like these days.

Their major clients are cattle farms in urban areas that require more stock and take it instantly.

Though there is no fresh data about livestock population but it is said Sindh province has 46.28 million animals, including six million in Tharparkar district.

But reports show livestock population in many rural parts has declined due to different reasons, like depletion of natural grazing fields, range lands and increasing cost of fodder.

Furthermore, landlords cover 100 percent of their families' lands with seasonal crops, leaving no space for animal rearing there.

According to reports, the trend of cultivating crops in quick succession without allowing the soil to recover and excessive use of chemical input have already ruined the fertility of farmland, which ultimately loses productivity.

Sindh has lost a major chunk of fertile lands in different areas including the coastal region where hundreds of thousands of acres have become barren and were unable to produce even fodder for animals. In these areas a wide portion of land is available but the people living near there have already sold their assets after experiencing disasters in the shape of sea intrusion and water logging.

According to locals, these disasters have drastically reduced farmland productivity amid water scarcity, leaving people in helpless situations.

Some reports show that most of the riverine forests that used to provide habitat to livestock and contributing even more, have been wiped out. Man-made deforestation that started 30 years ago to clear land for agriculture has destroyed local livestock economy, the reports added.

Activists living near Mayani forest range villages said the government’s forest department officials have retrieved some portion of land and started reforestation along with developing artificial fish ponds and maintaining groves to attract tourists. They plead that forests are the most important component of the ecosystem, especially wildlife conservation and livestock rearing, benefitting the communities.

They said local herders are not allowed to graze animals in the newly established forests, despite the fact livestock contributes to soil fertility.

The increasing cost of fodder is another blow to the poor farmers, posing threat to their food security.