In the current deluge in Sindh, livestock owners, especially some poor farmers have been forced to sell their animals at throwaway prices while Eidul Azha is just round the corner. But many are struggling to first fend for themselves.
Their cattle face shortage of fodder and dry space where they can stay under some sort of shelter. Unnourished, they are more vulnerable to attack of diseases in the absence of official supply of drugs and vaccines.
Visiting the rain-effected areas, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani claimed that 64,000 cattle heads had been lost in 21 districts of the province. According to Sindh Livestock Department Secretary Laeeq Memon, only 12,066 cattle heads were lost during the monsoon rains till September 10. Of these, 729 were cows, 1,154 buffaloes, 3,505 sheep and 6,068 goats.
“About 1.4 million cattle have been treated or vaccinated in rain-hit districts. We are not giving exaggerated figures,” he remarked.
The rains continuing since August 11, first hit Tando Mohammad Khan, Badin and Mirpurkhas districts badly and then engulfed more and more districts displacing rural population, mostly farmers. The peasants have shifted to banks of different drains, canals and patches of high lands along with their cattle amidst miserable conditions. Cattle pens have either collapsed or washed away by rains.
While the displaced peasants are somehow managing to live in improvised tents, their livestock is suffering under open sky as insects continue to attack them. Milk production has also suffered under these conditions.
A rush of cattle was seen in the cattle market of Badin during the first spell of monsoon rains in August. Considering that Eidul Azha is one-and-a-half month away, the cattle farmers were offering their animals below the usual market prices. An average goat that was sold for Rs15,000 to Rs16,000 last year was available for Rs10,000 to Rs11,000 now. Shortage of sacrificial animals couldn’t be ruled out during Eid this year.“The prices have certainly dropped and that is a direct loss to the rural economy,” says Mehmood Nawaz Shah, general secretary of Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB). He says 50 per cent of agriculture’s GDP is contributed by livestock sector directly. “The value of milk production alone is more than the combined value of wheat and cotton production,” he claims. He believes that figures of cattle losses are more than what the prime minister and the Sindh Livestock Department have declared.
Cattle farmers state that they haven’t got any medical services for their livestock nor any vaccination has been provided to them. “We are just looking after our cattle on the roads to protect them against theft. Our houses are submerged in rainwater we can’t go there,” says a peasant who brought his cattle to Tando Allahyar bypass.
“I have lost seven buffaloes and three goats. I couldn’t rescue them from deep water even though I tried hard but they died,” says a cattle breeder, Tariq Arain, from Digri. According to him carcasses of a large number of livestock were scattered between Digri and Tando Jan Mohammad.
According to the Sindh Chamber of Agricutlure chief, Dr Nadeem Qamar, losses to livestock are colossal because cattle easily fall prey to such disaster. “If you have 10 goats, I am sure, three or four of them will perish in these circumstances,” he says and lambasts Sindh livestock department for doing nothing. “For us, this department is non-existent regardless of official claims,” he remarks.
Assessment of actual losses to livestock will only be possible after the rains stop completely. Rate of mortality among goats will be higher as small ruminants need more care.