As a gift of nature huge landmasses started rising in the Bay of Bengal since the 1970s, which are locally called chars. The Thengar Chor officially named Bhashan Chor is at the southernmost landmass facing the sea under Noakhali District is of about 12/15 years old. The government of Bangladesh carried out forestation in the char by planting trees like kewa in the centre of the island which grew well and turned into cluster forest to hold soil but the area remained inhabited due to flash water during high tide and the natural calamity.
Other than the forest area, the vast open grassland facing the mainland kept growing. It has provided an opportunity to the people to venture into buffalo farming in the khas land ignoring the danger of natural calamities and other uncertainties. Over the years, this has turned into one of the biggest landmasses to support such herds numbering thousands. They flourished in both, the forest area as well as the vast open grassland. The government's decision to settle displaced Rohingyas from Myanmar in Bhashan Chor has bought in a new reality for the area. The forest area being little higher and stable has been encircled by a flood/cyclone protection dam and the area inside is being used for a huge project for displaced Rohingya settlement. However, the cattle farming is continuing outside the area earmarked for the Rohingya settlements.On the northern part of the island as far as eyes could see, a huge open grassland exists. At far distance grazing buffaloes in thin black lines could be seen. At close proximity bathans in the form of thatched huts are built. In this island, buffaloes numbering in thousands are reared for milk. The bathan is managed by 10/15 people and they look after the cattle. Here it needs to be mentioned that the owners of the buffalos are many. Each owner has 30/40 of them. For ordinary people, it is hard to recognise which animal belongs to whom. But surprisingly the caretakers can do it quite easily though the number is huge and all look alike.
In bathans, there are huge cages made of wooden planks to house the calves for the night. Nearby a pond is dug and with the help of a pump sweet water is refilled. All the female cattle with their calf gather in the bathan with the fall of the sun. Calves are put in the cages locally called kathara and all mothers pass the night in the nearby yards under the open sky. With the rise of the sun workers also known as bathannyas release the calf one after another and as they start cuddling milking is done by hands. Each buffalo gives about 3/5 litres of milk a day. They have a special pot made from bamboo for milking them.
The bamboo made milking pots speak of skilled workmanship. At the top and the bottom it has a plating of shiny brass and in the body has rounding of thick threads at even gaps. It also has a beautiful wooden handle. Milking is a difficult task and it is time-consuming too. Once it is over, the calves and buffaloes are released and they slowly move towards the vast grazing ground. It was learnt that the life expectancy of a buffalo is 15/20 years and it can give birth to 5/10 calves depending on their health conditions. When the mother and calf get closer to bathan with the fall of the sun for night stay and delivery of milk in the following morning males never get closer though only a very few of them are seen in the bathan pond. After milking, with the departure of the buffaloes bathannyas relax.
The bathan people work hard, from milking in the morning and managing and also caring the animals for the entire day. On top of this, day's milk collection is also carried in huge plastic drums to the ghat for putting them on trawlers to take those to Shuborno Chor, Noakhali. From there Milkvita Company representatives take them to the factory to produce different milk products.
It was reported that the buffaloes are susceptible to hot weather and they get crazy for water or swampy land to wet their body and drink. With the rise of the sun during mid-day they return to bathan pond for fresh water. In the middle of the field, a high ground is there. The heaped up excavated soil serves as a cyclone shelter for the cattle. This was the only arrangement to face calamities but now though they are driven out of the shady forest area due to the ongoing settlement development work.
Yet the embankment still serves the purpose of the cyclone shelter to save lives of the buffaloes during calamities. It appears that if concerted efforts are taken in a planned manner the Bhashan and similar kind of Chars could be turned into huge areas for cattle grazing and producing milk that could address the nutritional demands of the country. Here it also needs to be remembered that the specific needs, especially safety and security of people who take care of these cattle should be ensured.
The writer is a freelance contributor