Not far from Delhi, within the northern capital region, lies a significant part of western Uttar Pradesh. At one time, nearly all rural households in this region were engaged in animal husbandry. Rearing cattle is how most of the area’s women made money—while the men often worked in farms or migrated to urban areas for employment, the women stayed at home. Their day began with washing and feeding the cattle. They sold the milk for cash, and used this money for their household expenses including food and the children’s school fees. The income from this work was often these women’s only source of personal funds or their meagre savings.
But the COVID-19 related lockdown and steady inflation caused a drastic decline in profits from animal husbandry and also in the population of cattle in western Uttar Pradesh. The price of a good cow or buffalo has risen several fold in recent years. The lockdown forced many to sell their cattle but the rising inflation in subsequent months has left them with little means to return to cattle rearing. In the past year, the cost of fodder and grains for feeding animals has increased dramatically. The price of fodder has risen fourfold in three years. Before the pandemic, a quintal of fodder would cost close to five hundred rupees. It now costs between Rs 2,000 and Rs 2,500. Meanwhile, rampant infertility and diseases such as the lumpy virus—a skin disease affecting cattle across India at present—are further reducing the animal population.
Santoshi Devi is a 45-year-old resident of Gurana village in the Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh. Her husband works as a mason. They have four children and the family owns one buffalo. “Earlier we used to keep two buffaloes. But there was no work in lockdown, so we had to sell a buffalo,” she told me. Selling the milk of two buffaloes used to keep them afloat, but they struggle financially these days. “It is difficult to run the house. Everything has become so expensive,” she told me. Santoshi Devi said that the fodder that earlier cost them anywhere between Rs 500 and Rs 800 now costs Rs 2,500. “A buffalo gives hardly 10 kg of milk and we sell the milk at Rs 45 rupees per kilo. It costs around Rs 400 rupees a day to feed the cattle. How will I be able make do like this?” she continued. “The price of a buffalo goes up to Rs 1 lakh these days. How can a regular labourer buy one? It is a loss-making deal.”