‘Our Cattle May Starve Due to Lockdown,’ Rue Aarey’s Dairy Farmers

“Other businesses can lock up factories, we can’t stop feeding our animals,” Aarey dairy farm owners raise concerns.

4 min read
Dairy farmer Sunil Mishra inspects cattle feed.

In Mumbai’s Aarey milk colony, more than 17,000 cattle may starve amid the 21-day nationwide lockdown as it affects transportation and factories producing and delivering cattle feed. Since it is difficult to replenish stock, all 30 units of dairy farmers in Aarey, comprising 365 dairy farmers, are forced to reply on each other to feed their animals.

Dairy farm owner Rahil Salim Nandolia has 250 cattle and barely enough cattle feed to last a week.

“Cattle feed is brought in from deeper Maharashtra and Gujarat. Since there’s been a lockdown at the border, there’s been no movement. Our cattle feed is not reaching us. We mix four to five different kinds of cattle feed for our buffaloes but the ratio is being disturbed now. As a result of this, we are not able to provide proper nutrition to our cattle and as a result, this is affecting the milking yield.”
Rahil Nandolia, dairy farm owner 

Stocking up on cattle feed, which includes grass and grains, for more than 10 days is not an option due to the chances of insect infestation. Also, the suddenness of the lockdown left dairy farmers unable to anticipate the impact it would have on the fodder.

Dairy farmer Sunil Mishra has no grains or grass left to feed his animals. With each animal consuming at least 18-20 kilograms of food, he is forced to beg and borrow from his fellow dairy farm owners.

“Each one has a certain amount of cattle feed stocked, some have 10 days’ worth of food, some five, some two days’ and some have no food. Those who don’t have any cattle feed are asking their neighbours for help. Because we are all in the same business, we are trying to help each other today and are left to worry about tomorrow,” says Mishra, pointing out milk production has decreased due to rationing cattle feed.

Dairy farm owner Sunil Mishra has run out of cattle feed for his animals. 
Dairy farm owner Sunil Mishra has run out of cattle feed for his animals. 
Photo: The Quint

Rising Cost Due to Logistical Woes

Cattle feed is usually brought to Mumbai from the interior districts of Maharashtra, including areas like Satara, Sangli, Pune and also from states like Gujarat, Karnataka and Telangana. Dairy farmers claim that due to hurdles faced at check-points while transporting the stock, transporters now seek double the amount to cover return charges as well.

“The transporter says that they don’t get the return fare, thus the transportation charges double, they include return charges. The factories say that they won’t get any raw material, and they can now sell only the leftover materials.”
Firoz Patel, President, Aarey Milk Producers’ Association  

Sunil Mishra, who earlier paid Rs 15,000 to the transport company that delivered cattle feed to his doorstep in Aarey colony, says he paid Rs 35,000 for the same now.

Factories manufacturing fodder have also allegedly run out of raw materials, driving a spike in cost. Cotton seed cake for instance, cost Rs 20 per kg earlier and has now shot up to Rs. 26-27 per kg as manufacturing units anticipate supplies running out in the near future.

“We can only get food if it is manufactured but that’s not happening as all factories are closed right now. All the mills are closed and the labourers are going home. The business owners are saying that we will provide (cattle feed) till we have stock. It all depends on how much they have manufactured.”
Indrajeet Singh, dairy farm owner 

Mass departure of migrant labourers has reduced the manpower at each dairy farm by about 30 to 40 percent, affecting milking and feeding cows.

Wholesale Milk Prices Slashed

With most restaurants, shops selling sweets, and ice-cream parlours shut as they don’t meet the essential services criteria, the demand for milk has reduced drastically. This has affected the selling price quoted by dairy farm owners. Prices have almost halved overnight.

“Our main customers were sweet shops, restaurants and paneer shops. Since restaurants are shut right now, they don’t need milk for paneer, sweets. 60 percent of our milk was used for these purposes. Only 40 percent of it was local customers. Because of this, our rates have been slashed. Our official rate is Rs 68.50 but now people are buying our milk for Rs 35-40. People are taking advantage of our condition.”
Sunil Mishra, dairy farm owner 

At this point, dairy farmers are worried that their business and animals may not survive unless the government announces certain measures to protect the sector.

“Loss is secondary because we have faced and have to face a lot of losses but more importantly, somehow we have to save this business and we need to feed the cattle. Other manufacturers can lock up their factories, but we can’t stop feeding the animals, we need to feed them two times a day and we are more worried about their food than ours,” said Indrajeet Singh.

25 percent of the milk supplied in Mumbai is sourced from Aarey milk colony. On an average, a dairy farmer in Aarey owns about 50 cattle. While buffaloes cost approximately Rs 1 lakh, cows cost anywhere between Rs 75,000-80,000. If the lockdown continues, each dairy farm owner stands to lose approximately Rs 5 lakh each month on average.

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