By RCZI team
Glitzy glass and chrome finished facades of offices of multinational corporations and Information Technology giants is a strange contrast to the lives of peri-urban dairy farmers. These farmers live in the “in-between spaces” or the peri-urban fringes of Bhubaneshwar, the capital city of Odisha. They rear their animals which may be just two or four or five, some not even in healthy condition, in the hope of earning some money through the sale of milk. While some of them have turned their homes and courtyards into animal pens, rearing cattle for commercial use only, others have taken to part time labour and odd jobs since money from dairy farming is not consistent and enough to meet their subsistence needs. To get a better understanding of the drivers that shape the peri-urban dairy farmer’s profile in Odisha, the study team of the PHFI/RCZI-ILRI India Research Initiative met the Veterinary Health Officer in Bhubaneshwar who has served stints in Kalahandi and Dhenkenal districts and was also with the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI).
General structure and pattern of dairy farming in Odisha
The city of Bhubaneshwar has four zones and being a coastal area, is ideal for milch animals. Most dairy farmers here keep cattle to supplement their income. Peri urban farms are seen in different districts like Puri. Most of these farms supply milk to the city of Bhubaneshwar. There is only one government owned and run Cooperative while the others are private. The marketing network for the milk that gets produced through dairy farms is not very well oiled.
Usually these are family-run enterprises with each member assigned specific tasks, from getting the fodder, feeding the animal, keeping the pens clean, milking the animal and finally going either street-to-street to sell the milk or handing it over to a trusted middleman who does the same.
In peri urban settings there is an over crowding of animals leading to easy spread of disease. Common diseases seen at the farm level include fungal infections of hand and at the consumer level, it is mostly TB, brucella and listeria. Some bacterial, viral, fungal, algae infections are also passed on from animals to farmers and others. The most common bacterial infection is mastiff and amongst viral infections, it is the common cold, flu and few reproductive diseases such as brucella. According to veterinarians, the most common problem reported by dairy farmers is of their animal aborting frequently and in the absence of strong and robust diagnostic facilities, a post mortem examination of the animal is rarely done.
Challenges faced by farmers
Weather conditions affect the health and upkeep of the dairy farm and with insufficient resources, farmers are unable to equip themselves adequately. Ignorance and poor economic conditions perpetuate unhealthy farm practices and insufficient dietary/nutritive intake. Poor hygiene standards, such as not washing hands before and after milking creates greater vulnerability to infections such as mastitis which also have potential to spread to other farm animals.
Since many of the peri urban dairy farmers are not part of any cooperative dairy system, preferring to sell milk directly to the consumer, their animals too are rarely insured, unless they do so themselves which is quite rare. However, were they to go through a cooperative, not only would their animal be insured but the farmer would also be given feed for his cattle.
Small holder dairy farmers have a mental block about going through a cooperative. They feel it would be time consuming and tedious. Besides they feel more secure managing the operation from cattle rearing to selling milk. As far as basic medicines are concerned, they get the same from the government outlet. Since the veterinary department is not always equipped with infrastructure and modern facilities, diagnostics and training to farmers, they are further convinced about fending for themselves and their animals, never mind the meagre resources and wherewithal at their command.
The behaviour of the farmers is difficult to change although they tend to get influenced by their peers and fellow dairy farmers.
Availability and access to outbreak/extension services
Disease symptoms of the animals is done mostly at the farm level. The farmer is wary of taking his animal to the veterinary college or veterinary department since taking the animal through the crowded city is a daunting task. A repeated plea by farmers is to have the vet arrive at their farm in time to diagnose and treat the animal. Although each veterinary hospital has 3-4 paravets, it is not easy for the farmer to bring the animal to the hospital. Approximately Rs400-500 is spent by him on transport and even after that there is the likelihood of his losing a day’s milk since the animal has been traumatised by the trip. Although sometimes a group of farmers do hire a vehicle by pooling in money and bringing their animal to the hospital for testing and vaccination, they usually stick to calling a private practitioner home and paying him anything between Rs100-500 for a visit.
It is not uncommon for the farmer to hide the animal’s condition. Stigma attached to a sick animal is damaging and word goes around, jeopardising his chances of disposing off the animal to an unsuspecting buyer and/or continuing to sell milk that is not of good quality. Self administration of antibiotics is an irregular practice though these are easily given on the recommendation of the paravet. These too may be discontinued once the animal starts responding favourably. Completing the course of antibiotics is not sufficiently emphasised and therefore not taken very seriously.
Special schemes targeted at small holder farmers, especially in peri urban areas
There are few subsidies and entrepreneurship related schemes under the Dairy Entrepreneurship Development Scheme and Promotion of Dairy Entrepreneurship, but the peri urban farmer is excluded from these. He continues to have very little knowledge about the legal system or about bank loans, insurance and other incentivised initiatives. This year, for the first time, the brucellosis vaccine would be given to the farmers, but again the peri urban farmer will have to take his animal to the veterinary hospital to avail of the same. The government can play a big role in regulating this neglected industry and bring it under the ambit of regular programming. By stepping up farmer awareness to strengthening facilities in veterinary services, providing more technical information, ensuring vaccinations are completed on time, making doorstep visits by trained and licensed vets and most importantly, guiding every farmer on taking up animal insurance will go a long way in securing the lives of these small holder dairy farmers and also standardise the quality of milk that comes from their homes into the city.