Jodhpur, Mar 3 (ANI): The basis of all human civilizations across the world and from times immemorial has been the struggle for survival. In the arid desert region off the Thar, this struggle reflects the starkness of the terrain and the harshness of the climate.
Extreme heat and dryness, scarcity of water, sparse vegetation mark the lives of the desert communities and their animals who play a vital role in sustaining rural livelihoods and the desert economy as a whole.
Traditionally the cow has occupied the pride of place in a desert economy; its ownership mainly with large farmers and animal breeders. Its milch producing feature has been the basis of dairy farming, one of the main economic activities in the region. Sheep are also kept both for their milch producing features and wool too. The goat used to come way below these two favorites.
There has been an interesting shift in the patterns of animal husbandry. A shift, which reflects the way communities, respond to crises and protect their livelihood and sources of income during such times. This coincides with the years of drought and famine.
Between the period 1988 to 2003, the region was wracked by five famines with 90-95 percent districts affected by drought. According to the Animal Census by Rajasthan Animal Husbandry Department, the number of cows registered a decline from 1,09,16,000 in 1988 to 1,08,53,000 in 2003. The number of goats on the other hand rose from 1,25,93,000 in 1988 to 1,68,08,000 in 2003.
People say maintaining a large animal like a cow during famine is a big drain on their diminished resources. Getting adequate fodder is difficult which leads to a decrease in milk production. With the wheels of rural economy slowing down, people are unwilling to spend money on items like milk, leading to a fall in prices.
The last option remains to sell the cow but this too is a hurdle. There are simply not enough buyers with required finances. In extreme situations, the cows are simply let loose to wander about and to eventually meet their painful destiny.
As an age-old proverb of desert says goats do not die of hunger in famine. They can survive on dry branches and leaves. Village communities vouch for this and are seeing the merit of shifting to goat breeding. According to locals, there is hardly a plant that the goat does not eat, even bitter ones like Mudar (Aak), and Tumba (Indrayan).
Goats also produce milk although in lesser quantities. Yet there are advantages. A person could own between 10-12 goats, which would correspond to owning one cow. It is far easier to sell a goat, even during famine, with prices of animals falling, Villagers say that one can find a buyer within the village itself, thus sparing the efforts to go to large cattle fairs or markets.
There is yet another advantage which makes goat rearing in the words of a local villager ' a dependable business for us'. Goats multiply faster and in a year the number of goats in a family could easily double. For the desert community, it is a win-win situation. As Dera Ram, a farmer from Aada Gaon says " We look at our goats like a fixed deposit in the bank and sell it according to our needs."
Indeed it works admirably like a security deposit to be broken down for liquidity at any time. No wonder then the goat is the new currency in the desert.
The shift in patterns in animal ownership represents, the ground-level response to meet the challenges of a drought-ridden region. The shift indicates a level of maturity and even business acumen amongst the rural poor for managing their economic activities more flexible and remunerative. The entire desert economy would benefit from this shift.
Yet the policy in place seems to lag behind and has not woken up to this new reality. Programs and schemes for animal protection are still weighed in favour of animals; the cow, bullocks, sheep that had dominated the scene earlier.
The reasons are manifold. Traditionally 'cow protection' is a culturally accepted norm backed by 'Gaushalas' and several religious bodies. They are a formidable lobby for policy intervention and claim to represent the socio-cultural sensibilities of people.
Still that is not the sole reason for the Government's support for these animals. The basis for milk-producing industries is the cow while for wool-based business houses, the sheep in invaluable. Massive funds are thus earmarked for breed improvement, healthcare, insurance, production, marketing and research of these 'privileged' animals.
There are no corresponding efforts for goat breeding or protection during normal times, much less during famine. It is not included in the Famine Code and thus no provisions of water, fodder and grain during famine from the government.
There is another dimension. It is clear that goat breeding as compared to other animals is accessible to a far larger section of rural society and plays a critical role in ensuring their livelihoods in times of crises. Even the weakest and most vulnerable sections like women, dalits, elderly could possess 10 goats or so, thus having the potential to broad-base economic progress across and within rural society.
The trends initiated by local communities in the Thar are unmistakable and should not be taken lightly. Infact this ear to the ground should be the basis for shaping and formulating policy.
Six to eight percent growth rate may be reachable for the economy as a whole but for the benefits to accrue to the lowest common denominator, a whole new thinking needs to pulsate through our policy mechanism. An innovative and nuanced response is called for, tuned to the myriad needs on the ground.
One that will draw out the potential of local communities across diverse regions, creating an environment for their growth. Charkha Development Communication network feels that Goat Protection in the Thar desert is certainly one of them. (ANI)