(Reuters) - Armed with the latest monsoon rainfall data, weather experts finally conceded this month that India is facing a drought, confirming what millions of livestock farmers around the country had known for weeks. For over three months, even state agencies have been providing free fodder to those most vulnerable to a shortfall in India's annual monsoon -- farmers who eke a living out of small landholdings and the milk provided by cattle.
At the end of April, Bhimrao Chavan and his wife abandoned their land in western India and headed for a camp that doubles as a centre for the provision of free fodder. Their scrawny cattle and a couple of goats amble around a hut made of straw, leaves and plastic sheeting that Chavan and his family share. At first, there was just a handful of families at the makeshift settlement on the outskirts of a small town some 320 km (200 miles) southeast of Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra. But as the monsoon rains failed to show week after week through June and July, turning fields across the region from luscious green to parched white, the numbers there swelled.
Today, the Mhaswad settlement has the air of a refugee camp, teeming with some 6,500 people and nearly twice as many animals: cows, bullocks and goats that would have gone for slaughter or faced starvation had they not made the journey.