Cow dung 'Rakhi' and incense sticks adding to the villagers' income

A range of inventive cow dung products is helping villagers in Chhattisgarh shore up their income

Cow dung 'Rakhi'  and incense sticks adding to the villagers' income

Yashwant Dhote

Cow dung rakhi being sold on Amazon? Chhattisgarh has taken the lead in promoting these rakhis—ornamental ribbons and baubles in floral designs placed on small cow dung cakes that sisters would be tying on the wrist of their brothers this year. The brisk sale point to the interest generated by the novelty.

But that is not all. In Chhattisgarh, people are buying incense sticks made with cow dung. So much so that former RBI Governor and Professor of Economics in Chicago University Raghuram Rajan, on a visit to Raipur confided that one of his students is actually doing research on the cow dung economy’s impact on people in rural areas.

Even BJP leaders are grudgingly complimenting Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel for the initiative. Congratulating Baghel, BJP national spokesperson Sudhansu Trivedi admitted that the Chhattisgarh model had lessons for other states.

Former state minister and BJP leader Brijmohan Agrawal’s father was in fact felicitated by the state government for selling cow dung worth nearly Rs 18 lakh from the private gaushala (cow shelter) that he operates.

Chhattisgarh has two types of cow shelters: The ‘gaushalas’ run by individuals and Trusts etc. which receive grants and maintain their own cattle; and the ‘Gauthans’, the dedicated 5-acre plots where all the cattle of the village are kept. The centralised system helps farmers and makes it easier to collect cow dung and cow urine in bulk.

Emboldened by the response, the state government is now trying to develop the Gauthans as rural industrial parks. Several Gauthans now generate bio-gas that is being used to operate oil mills.

While most of the cow dung collected is sold in bulk as fertiliser and pesticide to farmers, the Gauthans have been designed in such a way that cattle are lined up next to a drain so as to collect the urine in a special tank.

The long queues of farmers to buy the fertiliser is indicative of the scheme’s success. Agriculture minister of the state Ravindra Choubey informs that the government had sanctioned construction of 10,624 Gauthans, of which 8,400 have become functional.

Cow dung 'Rakhi'  and incense sticks adding to the villagers' income

While cow dung is being sold at Rs 2 per kilogram, cow urine costs double at Rs 4 a litre. While the government buys up to 200 kilograms of cow dung every day from bigger dairies, it buys everything that small and medium farmers offer.

Almost half the beneficiaries, 46% or so, are said to be women. But the earning from cow dung—cash transferred by the government into the rural economy—is helping a host of other people.

In Jashpur, farmer Pavan Agrawal claims that sale of cow dung goes to pay the EMI for his tractor. Rural artisans and craftsmen too acknowledge that the ‘extra’ money has come in handy. Cow dung is also being used for novel purposes, including in painting walls.

Agriculture advisor to the state government, Pradeep Sharma, claims one of the reasons for the rise in input costs for agriculture is declining productivity of the soil due to the use of chemical fertilisers. The increasing use of cow dung, he hopes, would be able to address the issue.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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