THOOTHUKUDI: The prospects of cattle herding and the flora and fauna along Thamirabarani look bleak as the grasslands along the river are being converted for purposes such as industrial growth. A study by an environmental organisation has revealed the worrisome conversion.
Armed with the data, the research scholars foresee an extinction of these ecologically crucial pastoral lands. In the first column of this two-part series, TNIE takes a look at how the cattle rearers are digesting the new normal.
In 2001, the Tamil Nadu Animal Husbandry Department issued a Government Order (G.O.) protecting the grazing fields (meichal porambokku) from being converted for other purposes. If the conversion is essential, an equal piece of land should be made available for grazing, the order stated. The grazing fields comprise fallow, dry and barren lands.
Agasthyamalai Community Conservation Centre, an unit of Bangalore-based Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) conducted a five-year study on the grasslands of Thamirabarani river plains. The study focussed on the disappearance of grazing fields in the Thamirabarani river plains and its impact on the dependent flora, fauna and cattle herders. The study was centred at grazing fields at Paruthipadu and Peikulam.
Speaking to TNIE, M Mathivanan, Senior Research Associate who worked on the research, said grassland is an important ecosystem essential for the environmental balance and food chain. Thamirabarani grasslands have a distinctive flora and fauna. However, the lands are being allotted for various non-agriculture purposes, including real estate, he said.
The community that depends on grasslands
Konars aka Edayars are the traditional cattle herders who count on these grasslands. A herder, on an average, rears 150 to 200 goats/sheep at any given time and earn between Rs1.5 lakh and Rs2.5 lakh in a year.
Across the traditional route
The herders guide the cattle across the grazing route stretching up to 100 km in a span of 5-8 months. The grazing fields that received rains are the apple of their eyes. The paddy harvest season is a preferred period for the herders to set up temporary cattle camps aka kedai on private farms. The idea is to replenish the soil with manure nutrients.
Perumal, a cattle herder of Peikulam near Sathankulam, said every year he drives a flock of 160 sheep to Manimutharu located 100 km away via the traditional route. According to Perumal, in the recent times, it has become impossible to let the cattle in all grazing fields across the stretch, as some have been fenced and some house industrial units.