Tribune News Service
Mumbai, June 3
Officials in drought-hit Maharashtra are asking farmers to cut down the standing sugarcane crop for use as cattle feed as the state is running out of fodder.
As on June 1, the Maharashtra government has opened 1501 cattle camps most of which are in worst-hit Marathwada region.
"There are more than ten lakh milch cows and buffaloes in the cattle camps for which the contractors have to arrange for fodder," says an official from the Animal Husbandry departement.
According to sources, the price of dry fodder has doubled to Rs 18-20 per kg.
With contractors operating the cattle camps expressing their inability in finding fodder for the animals, the Maharashtra government has allowed them to chop down small shrubs, trees and plants in surrounding areas.
Environmentalists have warned that indiscriminate destruction of foliage would reduce the soil's capacity to retain water causing long-term damage to agriculture.
Last month, the state government asked sugar mills to stop crushing sugarcane. Water supply for irrigation has also come to a halt, forcing farmers to sell their standing crop to the cattle camp contractors.
"If the monsoons are late by even a few weeks, there is a possibility that the farmers will lose the entire sugarcane crop. Hence they are allowing the immature crop to be harvested," says an official from the agriculture department.
But the measures are still not enough as the demand for starting cattle camps is increasing as the summer peaks.
"The state government has increased payments to contractors at the rate of Rs 100 per fully-grown animal per day while it is Rs 50 for every calf," says a state government official.
According to sugar cooperatives, cattle camp contractors are buying sugarcane at the rate of Rs 4 to Rs 5 per kg from farmers.
A fully-grown animal requires at least 15-20 kgs of fodder every day. Water for the camps is being supplied by government tankers. The water is being rationed even though there are complaints of animals dying of thirst.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra's Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Chandrakant Patil announced last week that the state government would set up fodder camps for sheep and goats as well.
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