70-yo Ghanshyam Yadav walked 200 kms to keep his cattle alive; it’s an annual affair for farmers in south Bihar
Thousands of cattle rearers in parched south Bihar are forced to migrate hundreds of kilometres to the northern districts along the Kosi river in search of fodder and water for their cattle. They spend the summer months living on machans in mango orchards and selling milk.
Rahul Jha 28 Jun 2023 6:27 AM GMT
The monsoon has arrived in Bihar and it is time for Ghanshyam Yadav to head back home. More than two months back, in the sweltering heat of early April, the 70-year-old farmer accompanied by 32 buffaloes and twelve other herders had walked for fifteen days in search of fodder for their cattle.
Ghanshyam Yadav and his companions covered 200 kilometres from Jamui district in south Bihar abutting Jharkhand to the Kosi riverbank in north Bihar’s Darbhanga district.
“Everything had dried up in our village. The fodder is so expensive that I cannot buy it for my buffaloes. We had no option but to migrate to the greener areas near the Kosi river to keep our animals alive. Selling their milk is the only source of livelihood I have,” Ghanshyam Yadav, a resident of Garhi village in Jamui district, told Gaon Connection.
Thousands of cattle rearers from the southern districts of the state such as Jamui, Munger, Banka, and Bhagalpur migrate to the Kosi region chasing food for their livestock in the summer months.
Bihar, India’s most flood-prone state, has a unique problem. River Ganga flows right across the state and divides it into two distinct regions — north Bihar, which is highly prone to floods; and south Bihar, which faces drought conditions. In the summer months when water crisis multiplies manifold, several farmers from south Bihar migrate to north Bihar.
“We build machans in the mango orchards of the farmers who reside near the Kosi and live on those machans for two months in exchange for milk. When the monsoon arrives and it begins to rain, we head home, again walking two hundred kilometres,” said Ghanshyam.
Chhote Yadav, another cattle rearer from Jamui, had a litany of woes. “A sack of hundred kilogrammes of fodder costs Rs 3,000 and my ten buffaloes consume 50 kgs a day. But I earn only Rs 1,000 a day by selling milk,” he told Gaon Connection. Apart from six kgs of dry fodder and 15-20 kgs of green fodder a day, each buffalo also drinks 100 litres of water daily in the summer season.
“There is no way I can survive without migrating to Darbhanga. Also, last monsoon, it rained less than usual. We are struggling to get enough fodder,” he added.
“We may be able to return home only in July when there is enough rain and vegetation for our cattle to eat in our villages,” he said.
Parmanand Premi, a literary figure and a social commentator from Bhagalpur district, told Gaon Connection that although the tradition of the cattle rearers from Jamui migrating to Kosi river banks is centuries old, their crisis has deepened over the years.
“The sheer number of cattle rearers migrating has skyrocketed. These farmers are facing an unprecedented crisis of shortage of fodder now,” said Premi.
Sanjay Kumar, the Patna-based dairy director in the Animal and Fisheries Resources Department, said that this was perhaps the longest distance the cattle herders have travelled this year.
“The dairy farmers from the southern districts usually do migrate but it is for the first time that we are witnessing the migration of almost 200 kilometres. Officially, we are not aware of such long migrations,” Kumar told Gaon Connection.
Changing rainfall patterns
One of the reasons for this distress migration is the changing rainfall patterns in the state. Last year, the state remained largely dry during the four months of the southwest monsoon period triggering fears of drought. The state government declared 11 districts as drought-hit. But floods hit other parts of the state in October 2022, as reported by Gaon Connection.
This year the situation is equally worrisome. According to India Meteorological Department (IMD), as of yesterday, the state has reported a rainfall deficit of minus 78 per cent between June 1 and June 27 this southwest monsoon season. Against a normal rainfall of 130.80 millimetres, the state has so far recorded only 28.60 millimetres till June 27.
Map: State-wise monsoon rainfall between June 1 and June 27, 2023.
Disappearing water bodies
According to data provided by the Water Bodies - First Census Report, out of 45,793 water bodies in Bihar, 50.2 per cent (22,994) are in use while the balance 49.8 per cent (22,799) are not in use on account of being dry, silted up or ‘destroyed beyond repair and other reasons’.
Ideally, the animals should be bathed twice a day in the peak summers, said Phooldar Yadav, a Supaul-based veterinarian. “But there is no water available to them in their villages between March and July. The ponds, canals, and dugwells are dry. The animals are falling ill from the heat. In such conditions, the cattle rearers have to migrate,” Phooldar Yadav told Gaon Connection.
So they travel, carrying their food grains along with them from their villages. They arrange for straw and bamboo once they get to the Kosi River to build their machans, and sell the milk in the villages nearby.
“It is something we have to do. But it is painful to leave our families back home for such a long time,” said Ghanshyam Yadav. “We will wait for the rains,” he concluded.