Agriculture

Farmer’s Notebook: Native Cows Could Help Prevent Farmer Suicides

Owning a desi cow breed could enable farmers to cut most agriculture costs and also earn money from cow-based products, saving them from debt.

Products made from cow dung. Credit: M.J. Prabu

Products made from cow dung. Credit: M.J. Prabu

Agriculture is no longer the work of illiterate farmers who depend on middlemen and grow crops using obsolete methods, doing the same run-of-the-mill job day in and day out.

The IT revolution has brought sweeping changes to India’s agriculture industry. The skinny, dhoti clad, unshaven farmers of the past have been replaced by young, educated men in jeans, Nike sneakers and Ray Bans, who are taking a new, more sophisticated approach to the profession.

A good example is S. Vinoth Reddy who hails from an agriculture family near Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh.

After he graduated with a B.Sc degree, Reddy’s family wanted him to work in a private company but he had his own ideas.

“I have been doing research on the current agriculture process and was getting a lot of information from farmers and the issues causing farmer suicides. My question is why do these farmers commit suicides? What is the reason behind this? My search continuously made me travel to different places, helped me meet several farmers, question them and at last I came to know that the main cause is debt,” said Reddy.

He explained, “How does this debt come to a farmer? From buying inputs like seeds and fertilisers. And mostly farmers buy fertilisers on credit for which a small interest is charged by the fertiliser retail shops. Monsoon failure or [using the] wrong methods [of cultivation] cause him to fail and he goes back to the shop to buy more inputs hoping he will succeed this time, not realising that he has not rectified his earlier mistake. Again he losses and finds himself under debt from which he can never come out. The easy way out of his emotional turmoil is committing suicide, which makes it easy for him to escape the humiliation, leaving his family permanently damaged.”Farmer's Notebook.

“I wanted to make a change, at least try to create a change in which I would be an example,” emphasises Vinoth. “At least try to stand up to tell others, see I am doing it and am successful if you like you can follow me,” he adds.

But his family was not going to accept his idea because they thought it was not worth the risk and quite dangerous. To them, a monthly income from a stable company was a safety cushion.

But Vinoth persuaded his family to give him three years time. He said, “If I failed in three years I would toe their line, I promised.”

He started working on his small farm as part of his research. As he had previously observed that farmers suicides mainly occur due to one reason – debt – he decided to start from there and bought four desi breed Punganoor cows.

In my opinion, desi cow-based agriculture is the only solution for preventing farmer suicides. Reddy can avoid most of the expenses of agriculture by developing seeds, preparing fertilisers and chemicals at home.

Reddy makes 18 cow-based products such as tooth powder, cow dung cakes, dish washer soap, wall hangers, face packs, phenyl, dung bricks, pain relief oil,  sacred ash, mosquito repellent and garlands; and sells them online through agriculturalinformation.com and indiamart.com websites.

Vinoth Reddy holds up a product made from cow dung. Credit: M.J. Prabu

Vinoth Reddy holds up a product made from cow dung. Credit: M.J. Prabu

“We get email and Whatsapp messages when a user requests cow-based products through these websites,” explained Reddy.

Presently he is trying to make 180 shapes of dung cakes with the help of the Bangalore Institute of Technology (BIT).

According to Reddy, a desi cow can help farmers financially, preventing them from falling into crippling debt.

Here are some short snippets of my conversation with him.

I asked Reddy that when labour itself is scarce and the monsoon is playing truant, how can one expect a farmer to keep native cattle?

“Every region/ district in a state has its own cattle. These are quite sturdy and do not need special attention like jerseys or HF (Holstein Friesian) breeds. Also, today in organic farming the solitary desi cow can help a farmer cultivate three acres of land with ease without much expense. This has been proven true in nearly 25 villages across Chitoor district. The sad part is that Telengana, which is hardly 80 kms from here, is a hotbed of farmers suicides and it will do the state’s farmers good if they can come here and see us, we can help them more than what the government says or has not done,” he smiled confidently.

Reddy also explained why the Punganoor cow breed is particularly popular in the state, in addition to Ongole.

He said, “The Punganoor cow is an amazingly efficient milker with an average milk yield of 3-5 litres a day on a daily feed intake of 5 kg. It is also highly drought resistant, and able to survive exclusively on dry fodder. It is known as poor man’s cow.”

Reddy compared the cow to a deer to explain his point further, “The body language of the cow is similar to a deer. The breed’s milk has a high fat content and is rich in medicinal properties. While cow milk normally has a fat content of 3 to 3.5%, the Punganur breed’s milk contains 8% . The body of the breed slopes downwards from front to hind quarters; tail touching the ground; slight mobile horns, almost flat along the back and normally at different heights from each other.”

Despite being such a useful animal, the breed is nearly extinct today. Reddy said, “Today the breed is on the verge of extinction, with some 20-odd animals remaining all over the state. The cattle are being reared mainly on the government livestock farm, Palamaner, in Chittoor district, while a small informal group of private breeders are also working on reviving the species. It is not officially recognised as a breed since there are only a few animals remaining.”

He continued,  “We can say the Punganur cow has become a craze, a status symbol among wealthy people. They are shelling out Rs 1-6 lakh to buy the cow, which is believed to bring good luck. In Andhra Pradesh today the poor man’s cow has become rich people’s property.”

Reddy offered some ideas on reviving the breed, “If the government is keen then scientifically, the breed can be developed through the artificial insemination process. There are some local breed cows available which would be suited to develop the breed by inseminating them with Punganur semen. The first calving can get 50% characters, and by the third or fourth generation 100% Punganur characteristics  can be developed.”

Finally, Reddy ended with, “But why wait for some government body to do this. I have started it and am going on with this. Those interested can reach me at [email protected] and I am ready to help, share my experiences.”

Vinoth Reddy: 09440230052, Prakruthi, Eguva Thavanampalli Village, Thavanampalli Mandal, Chitoor District- 517131.

  • Rohini

    Reddy’s work is excellent – the sort of innovation that is required for the wealth of organic materials that can replace the environmentally harmful chemical based solutions we all have adopted unquestioningly.
    Somehow, over the last 25-30 years, we have watched as old newspaper wrappings or cloth bags were replaced by plastic bags, jute gunny sacks by plastic sacks, shikakai powder and henna by multi-national made branded chemicals for our hair, face etc., leaf-based disposable plates/bowls etc by plastic cutlery, matka cups by plastic cups …the list goes on.

    The choice for us Indians is clear – are we to hanker after environmentally damaging chemical based products or develop our traditonal ingredients further and market them in convenient, easy-to-use forms?

  • K SHESHU BABU

    If agriculture in India is to develop and unemployment reduce, such educated students must come forward and take up the profession. The educated should also share their farming techniques with illiterate and uneducated rural peasants and develop agriculture as a remunerative sector instead of using their skills in serving corporates. Agriculture is the backbone of India and it can boost economy if proper care is taken