Cattle fairs in Rajasthan take a hit as lumpy skin disease rears its ugly head

Hanumangarh (Rajasthan), Aug 29 (IANS/ 101Reporters) For the third consecutive year, Roop Singh Rathod from Barmer has to worry about how to sell his cattle. Rajasthan’s famous cattle fairs bring around Rs 80 crore in business to rearers. But it will fall silent this year as well — this time due to the lumpy skin disease (LSD).

The cattle-rearing business was slowly limping back to normal after the pandemic-weary days, but the new viral infection cast a shadow on the fair schedules.

The LSD has already hit 15 districts of the state, leading to the Rajasthan government prohibiting the organisation of cattle fairs, until further notice.

“The competitive prices we used to get at the fairs were double of what we could manage at home. During the Covid-19 days, a local trader offered me just Rs 25,000 for a cow, which I could have easily sold for Rs 40,000 at the Tilwara fair. Similarly, for a Sindhi racer horse, I was offered Rs 50,000. I sold it for Rs one lakh at Tilwara, though I had to wait for two years,” says Rathod, who hails from Khara village.

Hanumangarh’s famous Gogomedi cattle fair, scheduled for August 11, is postponed indefinitely, as is the case of Parbatsar’s Shri Veer Tejaji fair. Even the Nagar Palika, Nagar Parishad and panchayat level fairs are not happening.

Backbone of rural economy

More than 250 fairs are organised across the state in a year. The high volume of people participating in them ensures that the cattle rearers get a fair price for their livestock and traders get supreme quality animals. Cattle rearers from nearby states also visit, thus promoting cultural relations and state economy.

These fairs also stand as a testimony to the rich history and culture of Rajasthan. Queues of colourfully-decorated animals, the smell of firewood, sounds of folk songs and the tinkling of ghungroo bells are common features of these large-scale events, which are organised by the Animal Husbandry Department to foster business between cattle traders and rearers.

Some say the first cattle fair was organised in the region nearly 700 years ago!

Not simply an event of cultural importance, the cattle fairs also spur the local economy, in addition to bringing national and international tourists. Transporters, ornament makers, food vendors, craftspeople and other small businesses rely on these fairs.

Double trouble

“Local traders will never quote good prices for our animals. We have been suffering huge losses in the last two years,” says Chetram, a cattle rearer from Hanumangarh’s Rampura village. Cut from their main source of income, the rearers are forced to stretch their already tight budgets to spend on fodder. Added to this is the risk of losing their animals to LSD.

“During the Covid-19 days, at least our animals were healthy and the only loss was of business. Now, we are losing our livestock, and also our source of income,” laments Shankar Singh, a cattle rearer from Sangriya.

LSD is a contagious infection that affects cattle with lower immunity. The infected animal develops fever, hypersalivation and nasal discharge, followed by the formation of nodes that look like lumps on the skin. The head, neck and udder are among the spots where these eruptions are most visible.

The infected animal stops eating, and the milk production comes down. In severe cases, they die after suffering from pneumonia and difficulty in breathing. Separating the infected animals from the healthy ones is the only way to check the spread.

“As of now, the disease has affected about six lakh animals in the state, killing nearly 25,000 of them. The situation is serious,” informs Arvind Jaitly, Deputy Director (Disease Control), Animal Husbandry Department.

“We organise fairs in different locations all through the year, as it serves the interests of both rearers and traders. The department also earns during these fairs. But with the present level of spread of the LSD, stopping of fairs for a while is an imperative,” he adds.

According to a news report, the figures in other states have been soaring too — 74,325 cattle in Punjab, 58,546 in Gujarat, 6,385 in Jammu and Kashmir, 1,300 in Uttarakhand, 532 in Himachal Pradesh and 260 in Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been affected by the LSD.

Milk supply, subsidiary activities hit

The cattle population in Rajasthan is already on the way down. According to the Animal Husbandry Department, the cattle population in the state came down from Rs 5.77 crore in 2012 to Rs 5.68 crore in 2019 — a drop of 1.61 per cent in seven years.

Rajasthan is also the second highest milk-producing state in the country — at 187.7 million metric tonne. In India, the per capita availability of milk is 394 gm, while it is 870 gm in Rajasthan.

With the spread of LSD, the production of both milk and dairy items has come down. If the situation persists, milk production is expected to drop further.

Even the subsidiary activities have been affected. Mangilal Gusai, who sells trinkets for decorating animals, says, “Cattle fairs are our only source of income. As they stand postponed, we don’t know what to do.”

Gusai’s family of seven works out of their home, readying the ornaments during the monsoon season — June to September. “We took a loan to buy raw materials. We have products worth Rs four lakh lying at home, with no place to sell them.”

Even the Tourism Department is taking the hit, as it works in conjunction with the Animal Husbandry Department to organise events like the Pushkar Fair, a highly-desired travel experience for a tourist.

“The cattle fairs offer a glimpse into the local culture and rural lifestyle of Rajasthan. The trade, competitions and cultural events happening at the fairs draw huge crowds,” says Bikaner Krishan Kumar, Assistant Director, Tourism Department.

(The author is a Hanumangarh-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)

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