Nothing bullish about Jharkhand's largest cattle fair as low rainfall and fear of drought hit sales
Every Sunday, hundreds of farmers in northwest Jharkhand, and their cattle in varying sizes, colours and breeds, make their way to Pathar village in Palamu. While monsoon is the time of the year the trading of cattle does brisk business, this year there are few takers for the bulls as deficient rainfall has affected farming activities.
Ashwini K Shukla 27 July 2022 9:06 AM GMT
Pathar (Palamu), Jharkhand
For Rajaji Chaudhary, it is an important Sunday. He has walked 12 kilometres to Pathar, a small village in northwest Jharkhand's Palamu district from his village Bhikhahi, in Garhwa district. The 65-year-old hopes to sell the two bulls he has brought along at the cattle fair in Pathar village.
"These are of the Sahiwal breed," Chaudhary told Gaon Connection, as he ran his hands over the back of his bulls. The Sahiwal bulls are reddish-brown in colour and are prominently found in parts of northwest India.
Every Sunday, hundreds of farmers like Chaudhray, and their cattle in varying sizes, colours and breeds, make their way to Pathar village that lies about 10 kilometres away from the nearest town Daltonganj. Pathar is one of the largest cattle markets in the state and its air is filled with the musical sound of cowbells and raised voices of their owners.
While monsoon is the time of the year the trading of cattle does brisk business, this year there are few takers for the bulls as there has been scant rain.
In the monsoon season so far, Jharkhand has reported a deficient rainfall of minus 50 per cent. According to the India Meteorological Department's data, as against its normal rainfall of 455.9 millimetre (mm), the state has received only 228.3 mm between June 1 and July 26 this year.
Palamu district, where the cattle fair is held, has reported a rainfall departure of minus 67 per cent. Rajaji Chaudhary's Garhwa district has a deficient rainfall of minus 72 per cent. There are fears of a drought year in the state as half the southwest monsoon season (June to September) has ended.
Map: District-wise rainfall in Jharkhand (June 1-July 26, 2022)
As paddy fetches a good price usually, many farmers in western Jharkhand cultivate it. Paddy seedlings are ready by the end of June, and transplanting starts in July. However, the lack of rainfall has been a stumbling block this kharif season and the demand for bulls has also plummeted. Cattle sale is an important source of income for the local villagers.
Farmers on the edge
Vijay Thakur, a 30-year-old resident of Burhibir village, about seven kilometres away from Pathar, paced anxiously, hoping to catch the attention of some buyers. He had brought his dehati (local breed) bull to sell for Rs 10,000.
"I did not want to sell it, but I am in urgent need of money," Thakur told Gaon Connection. The farmer had taken a loan for the construction of his new house and had to repay his debts and hence wanted to sell his bull. This was Thakur's third consecutive Sunday trip to the fair and he was running out of hope.
"If I don't find a customer today, I might not be able to sell it this season. It is already late for agriculture, by this time the paddy seedlings should have been ready, but look, the land hasn't even been ploughed yet," he said.
Like Thakur, Chaudhary from Garhwa district hoped to sell his younger bull at Rs 15,000 and the older one for Rs 10,000. But, his optimism was rather low as the day progressed. "So far, I have not spoken to a single customer. I don't know if I will be able to sell them today," he said, worriedly.
Chaudhary said that he had 10 acres (4 hectares) of land, out of which he cultivated paddy in 10 bighas of land [one bigha is equal to 0.74 acre]. Like other farmers in the region, he is dependent on rainfall for farming, but the state has received scarcely any rainfall so far.
"There is no water anywhere, how will farming happen, when there is no farming, what will you do with the bulls," the 65-year-old farmer asked.
Suraj Pal, a 40-year-old farmer from Burhibir village had rented a tractor and therefore decided to sell his bull. Pal owns 10 bighas of land, out of which he cultivates paddy in 8.5 bighas, and maize and pulses in the remaining.
"I have invested close to Rs 10,000 in setting up paddy seedlings but there is no rainfall yet so I don't know if I will be able to cultivate paddy this year," said Pal dejectedly.
Last year, owing to a good yield, Pal said that he sold about 46 quintals of paddy making a profit of around Rs 50,000. When asked what he would do if it didn't rain, he said, "We have gambled, either we will win or we will lose," he shrugged.
Drop in animal sales
"Bullock sales are directly related to rainfall; if the rain is good only then will the sale of bullocks be good," Gopal Prasad, the Rayait holder, told Gaon Connection. Prasad is the owner of the land where the fair is held every week. He also organises the fair and collects a percentage of the amount that exchanges hands during the buying and selling of the cattle. "Last week 15 cattle were sold of which only eight were bulls," he added.
While the advent of tractors have also reduced the buzz in the cattle market in the past few years, small and medium land holding farmers still depend on the bulls to plough their lands. "This fair used to be filled with oxen, it used to be so crowded that there was barely any space to walk," recalled Ram Naresh Dubey, a local farmer who has seen the market closely for over two decades. "But with no rainfall this year, who will need bulls," the 60-year-old asked.
Abbas Myia was at the Pathar fair too to buy a bull. The 38-year-old from Chhipadohar village in the neighbouring Latehar district (reporting a deficient rainfall of minus 63 per cent), walked around examining bulls and asking their price.
"I have a very small piece of land, so I use bullocks. There is one bull at home, I came to buy one more," Myia told Gaon Connection. "I can pay up to Rs 6,000, but can't find a good bull for that price," the farmer said, who owns 5 katha (1 katha is equal to 1/27 acre) of land.
For Myia and small land-holding farmers like him, bullocks are a better means of agriculture. "The tractors are very expensive. This season, the rent per hour is Rs 1,200, how can a poor farmer pay this price," he wondered.
Negotiating a sale
Tohid Ansari from Chhapardaga village of Garhwa district had the most expensive bull in the market. The muscular, light coloured bull of a local breed had caught the attention of several buyers, but Ansari said he will not budge from his price.
"The final price is Rs 20,000. My bull is still young, you will not find such a bull in the entire district," he told a prospective buyer, Nandu Chaudhary. Latter, a tenant farmer from Jamune village, had been looking for a strong bull for the last two months.
After over half an hour of hard negotiation, Ansari and Nandu shook hands at Rs 16,000. Nandu told Gaon Connection that he used bulls for all agricultural activities including plaguing, levelling, post-harvest work and even for carrying grains to the mandi.
"I have been to cattle fairs in other districts, I even travelled to villages in Bihar, but I could not find what I was looking for. But I am happy with this bull," he said.
Meanwhile, Rajaji Chaudhary, who had come walking 12 kilometres from his village in Garhwa district, managed to sell his older bull, at half the cost of what he had wanted. And, with Rs 6,000 in his pocket, he made his way slowly out of the fair, leading the other bull home.
Vijay Thakur found no buyer at all for his bull, once again. He might return the following Sunday, but he knows in his heart that in a drought year, finding farmers to buy his bull is going to be a tall order.