Farm, don’t harm

August 31, 2018

Compiled from posts by Aparna Rajagopal and Manjira Bagchi

There was a time when animals, particularly cattle were the heart of every agricultural unit. They were the generators of all the manure for the fields and the dairy products all of which contributed immensely to sustainability. Even after their death they gave their leather and horns for saddles, sandals and horn manure. They were worshipped because they were so useful and were integral to agrarian life.

Today the tractor and urea in every farm has replaced animals and all the animals have gone to factory farms where they stand in assembly line from morning to night and wait for a very slow agonising release from a very unremarkable life. No one knows the names of these fast vanishing indigenous breeds of cattle anymore and do they care? Traditional cowshed management practices are dead and forgotten and ayurvedic medicine systems to care for them have given way to the promotion of a pharmaceutical industry that pumps in horrid vaccines and antibiotics hitherto unheard of.

No one grows the crops that once meant more fodder for them, those traditional Millet’s that gave food and fodder; Bajra, Jowar, Kangini, Kodo, Sama, Mandua…! They are just multigrain sold in a urban organic stores for the upper class now. No one cares that we mono crop now instead of multi crop, grow more cash crops instead of food crops and worry about yield instead of soil and milch instead of mulch.

No one cares that agriculture is dying as a vocation. Farmers are starving, indigenous seeds are vanishing and traditional practices are all but extinct. Multi-cropping, intercropping, companion planting and crop rotation are greek and Latin to the modern crop of farmers who are all children of the green revolution. Farmers children don’t want to do agriculture anymore and feel ashamed to say they work with soil. They are all in cities, many in menial jobs earning a paltry sum while their lands lie waiting or are being grabbed bit by bit by developers and land sharks.

While our lands wait and our farmers starve, the Government is leasing land in Brazil and Mozambique to grow food. More and more subsidies and loans are being offered to farmers as we speak to buy chemicals and grow food and destroy precious top soil. The companies which make chemicals and fertilisers also make the medicines for cancer.

Beautiful cows with sad eyes languish in dark, damp dairies giving birth again and again until they are exhausted and then are towed away to be eaten. They cannot nurture their calves or feed them. They watch their babies starve to death and have their male calves snatched from them for slaughter. The tiny calves who could become the sturdy beautiful bulls we all are fighting for today are thrown into trucks with their legs broken for an early grave. All so that our human babies could be nourished with the milk and we may make more sweets, shakes and ice creams than we will ever need; much of which is thrown and wasted. What a tragedy. When cow slaughter is banned, the buffaloes who are also indigenous cattle take the brunt. The Government has now decided to export buffalo meat to China.

Those cattle that are not in factories are in Gaushalas that run unsustainably on crores of rupees that come by way of donations. These funds are often misused while hundreds of cows and bulls wait without proper food, water, sanitation and medical facilities. Above all they have no freedom. Many Gaushala are nothing but dairies. The animals stand in their own refuse amidst a cloud of flies and mosquitoes. No one visits them, volunteers or helps contribute to their welfare.

Do you know why India is the largest beef exporter? We surpassed Brazil in 2015 by pushing them to the second slot. Operation Flood in India began in 1970 under Lal Bahadur Shastri who appointed Verghese Kurien to lead the initiative of making India the largest dairy producer. It successfully happened by 1998, when India’s produce surpassed USA. We increased and showed demand for milk and its various products like butter, ghee and chhena. It slowly increased to paneer, then cheese especially with the arrival of the pizza chains in the 90’s, then confectionery, desserts and the list only grows every day, cakes and shakes.

A cow whose standard lifespan is 20 years approximately is used and overused by the dairy industry for 6–7 years at the maximum, after injecting them with with hormones and antibiotics to increase production and artificially inseminate. Now after they run dry of milk, what do you think would happen to them? Some kind farmer or industrialist would kindly keep them for another 14 years and spend on their food and if required, medication, because they’re a housepet? Well no! They’re sent for slaughter because it’s an economic activity which gets everyone beginning with the dairy to the meat shop, lots of money.

Mechanisation makes the life of a farmer easy but it has also made farming communities lazy. Less work has meant a life of idleness and consequent rise of crime and gang wars in rural areas. We have contaminated soil, water and air and the very food we eat by making cattle irrelevant to a farm. We need to demechanize agriculture in small holdings and encourage farmers to adopt practices that have a low carbon footprint. We need to revisit our traditional agrarian systems, value dung over milk and bring our cattle back into our farms.