Ludhiana’s peri urban dairy farms unlike any others in the country

Ludhiana’s peri urban dairy farms unlike any others in the country

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    By Anjana Tomar
    Think of Punjab and the mind’s eye conjures a hardy lot of farmers mowing tractors in lush fields of wheat and mustard. A state where five rivers run through, prosperity has historically been their bedfellow. Post the turbulent 80’s, even though much of the unrest has settled,  the Punjabi spirit of enterprise, risk taking and enthusiasm continues. This is perhaps one reason why peri urban spaces – the so called neglected, marginalised, forgotten areas that dot the periphery of busy and industrialised townships like Ludhiana are so different from their counterparts elsewhere in the country. Households here are nowhere like those in Bhubaneshwar, Udaipur, Guwahati or Bangaluru – project sites for the PERIURBAN Study.

    Is it really a peri urban zone?
    The transition from the urban precincts of Ludhiana – a megapolis, which is one of the most affluent ones in the country to the peri-urban zone which lies on the outskirts, just before opening out to the rural hinterland is marked by concrete roads, brick and mortar houses, religious places of worship and local bazaars. The transition is subtle and seamless. Unless told otherwise, you assume that the peri-urban setting here is a mere extension of the urban cluster itself. The changes, if one looks closely enough are more cosmetic in nature. The houses are more cramped and the facades not as ornate. Instead of the gardens, there are paved courtyards and in place of the BMWs are cattle sheds housing few cows and  more buffaloes.

    In the main city, maintaining “home dairy farms” is banned. This has its origins in a cultural and social climate where traditionally, homes in the state of Punjab have always had their own cows and buffaloes to meet their domestic requirement of milk. Not only was a home dairy setting a sign of wholesome living, it was also a way of life, something that had been followed since time immemorial. The government’s decision to ban home dairies from the city, led to their being shifted to the northern part of the city or in a dedicated complex that has a dedicated dairy farm area. For the rest, it was the peri urban that became the new address for them and their cattle.

    In Ladiyan village there are approximately 250 households. Many of these families came from Pakistan post independence. The average number of domestic animals in each of these homes is 4-5. If they have chosen not to have a larger brood it is not because they cannot afford them but because they do not have the space to keep the animals, especially since they are quite clear that they do not want to co-habit with animals and would much rather have a separate area demarcated for them. In many ways therefore, dairy farms run in peri urban settings of Ludhiana have come to acquire traits that are quite different from other settings.

    5 unique attributes that distinguish Ludhiana’s peri urban dairy farms from other settings

    1. Better economic conditions: The primary source of income in most households comes from farming or from money sent from overseas. Practically every other household has instances of young people studying and/or working abroad. While most are in unskilled professions in Canada and US many have used their professional education in the field of nursing, laboratory sciences, hospitality, tourism or engineering to find jobs in the West. Some traditional farming families have settled their children in countries like New Zealand where they are running successful farms and dairies. The economic stability has helped families build homes of brick and mortar on large plots of land. Their homes are equipped with modern amenities and geared to house extended families. Most families have seen merit in educating their children and get them absorbed in “office jobs”.
    2. Milk for self consumption primary motive: The traditional mindset and socio-cultural significance of having one’s own cows and buffaloes who can give enough milk to meet the household’s consumption prevails in most homes. Over and above this if there is milk remaining, the family sells to a middleman or directly to households or cooperative/company like Verka. Milk and milk products that come from the house is a sign of comfort and prosperity. Having to buy milk for the house is considered as anathema and virtually unthinkable.
    3. Outsourcing mundane farming chores: Majority of homes in the peri urban setting follow a patriarchal family structure. While the eldest male member takes most decisions, his sons handle the home and farming activities. Grandchildren are mostly studying or working in the city or abroad. Children clearly are not wanting to do this work. It is those young kids who have either failed to study and find a job or clear their IELTS and go overseas who are managing the dairy business. Families however, are not worried because they know that there are contractors who will do the needful. Dairy activities therefore are mostly outsourced to paid help. Womenfolk are usually busy with cooking and other household commitments. For milking it is the father and son who are most likely to assume responsibility, undertaking the task morning and evening.  By hiring help to clean animal sheds, procure fodder, feed and bathe the animals, bulk of the physical work gets done.
    4. Mixed distribution patterns: A typical household on an average has three buffaloes and cows. The family grows vegetables, wheat and cow fodder. After keeping aside the milk that they need, they sell the remaining to local households. Most of the cost related to maintaining their dairy farm pertains to arranging for green fodder and dry fodder. While the former they grow, the latter they buy from the market. If the animal gives less yield – below five litres a day, they try and sell it off at the weekly cattle fair. Some of the villages in the peri-urban cluster have a tie-up with large companies like Verka and other dairy firms from Gujarat. The companies invest in them by training them, taking them to their manufacturing facilities, guiding them on loans and helping them increase their yield and then buying the milk from them. In such arrangements they even pay for the fodder and animal’s treatment when sick.
    5. Cattle sheds away from the living area: Most houses have a separate shed for the animals, which could be an extension of their residential plot or be located a few hundred metres away. Many families have more than one plot of land in the area. Interestingly, housing their animals at a distance from their living and cooking quarters was more to do with cosmetic reasons than protecting themselves from diseases that could be transmitted from them. The farmers and their families were vaguely familiar with the idea of such an eventuality though they had never heard of the term zoonoses. This meant that they did not really take any precautions when maintaining proximity with the animals. They were also not very well informed about the negative impact of indiscriminate antibiotic use. They trusted their local vet and had an idea of some basic antibiotics which they self administered in case the animal was sick.

    How can the government help?
    In each of the project villages around Ludhiana – Ladiyan, Thakkarwal and Bhukhri Kalan, dairy farmers were unanimous in saying that they could ill afford a sick animal. While they could identify key distress signals and call for the veterinarian and also not consume/sell the milk that the sick animal yielded, they did not have the patience, space, wherewithal or extra resources to nurture a chronically ill cow or buffalo.  The help they want from the government then is to compensate them financially for managing the entire cycle of the sick animal – from initial treatment, to drop in milk yield and finally to the sale of the animal at a much lower price than what they would spend in buying a new animal. Economic loss to them for a severely sick animal amounts to approximately Rs65,000 but when they sell the animal they get barely 50% back. If the remaining can be compensated in some form, they would be able to buy a new animal without feeling the financial pinch.

    Interactions with the dairy farmers in the peri-urban areas of Ludhiana made it clear that although the PERIMILK project may not drastically alter the nature of dairy farming in these settings, it most certainly would have an impact on their knowledge and perception levels, translating into some degree of behaviour change. This could then be a significant base to build upon.

    Anjana is with the PHF/RCZI team and is currently the Project Coordinator for the PERIMILK project.

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