These two 2 years young bullocks of the Hariana desi breed cost us Rs 14,000 with a wooden plough thrown in. Purchased from a local Gujjar farmer in the Mangar hills, they are hardy and well suited to our environment. Shamsher and Dalsher are easy tempered, and they now get nourishing feed to make them strong for the next 10 years of service to our land. We would have loved to get a pair of big, beefy, white Nagori bullocks but that entailed an expense of Rs 40,000 to 60,000 and transport from West UP or Rajasthan – too much effort and money.
The bullock cart is 50-60 years old, from Western U.P., restored lovingly to its original self. When we drive around on the village road, villagers passing us in their cars road look at the cart – surprised, quizzical and zapped, just as they used to look up from their carts at the rare car that whizzed past them 30 years back. How the world changes, and remains the same.
These two bullocks suffice for our small farm. I came across a useful extract from a report from the United Provinces Director of Agriculture written in 1948, and nothing has changed in 2013: “The cultivator generally expects to run 10-15 acres with a good pair of bullocks under moderately intensive farming in the west of the Province. In the east of the Province, with ordinary bullocks, he controls 5-8 acres. A pair of bullocks is thus sufficient for the cultivation of 6-15 acres, depending upon the kind of agriculture and the strength of the animals. To keep a pair for a much smaller area is uneconomic but it has to be done in a large number of cases.”
Are bullocks relevant in this age of tractors, and sophisticated mechanical farming attachments? Yes ! they are appropriate technology for the 100 million small and marginal peasants (less than 5 acres) who constitute 80% of all farmers in India. (Yes, this is data for 2010, not 1948). Tractors cost a fortune to a peasant on the fringe of survival; they guzzle diesel worth tens of thousands a year and ruin the national trade balance; and they produce tons of noxious greenhouse gases that poison all of us. All three are good enough reasons for us to think and support of alternate ways to till the soil.
Thus – unlike the tractor – the bullock is inexpensive, needs minimum maintenance at low cost, does not harm the environment, provides dung as inputs to the gobar gas plant, for fuel, and for fertilising the field. The relationship with these simple animals is a bonus, and connects us to life in a way no machine ever can.
However, this does not sit well with the urban Indian or with the modernising mindset – we are impatient for progress, without knowing the costs to society and quite oblivious to how most of our rural economy is structured. If there are no bullocks in the US or Europe, that’s good enough for many of us. Large farms need tractors, but these (more than 10 acres) constitute less than 8% of our farm holdings. We need solutions for the vast impoverished majority along with the (relatively) richer minority. In any case, farming is not a money-making profession, even for the larger peasants. A peasant will make more money – and lose his way of life and his self-respect – by driving your car rather than farming his 10 acres.
The government can support a scheme of “shared bullocks” in villages that can be rented by the marginal farmer; and can breed better (hardier, stronger) desi breeds of bullocks – as well as save the current ones being born today from the slaughter house where most land up. There are many ways, if there is the desire and capability of alternate thinking.