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How is fodder crisis rendering livestock vulnerable? (downtoearth)

Editor's Note: Currently, India faces green fodder shortage of 63.5 per cent. The cost of green fodder increased by three times between 2011 and 2016. In drought-hit states such as Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka, the inability to feed livestock is forcing farmers to resort to distress sale of cattle. In the beginning of 2016, Down To Earth travelled to several districts in Marathwada region to find out the causes of this chronic fodder shortage and how farmers are dealing with it.

"Even bottled water is more expensive than milk.” This is the reply 39-year-old Kishore Nirmal gives when asked why he wants to sell off his healthy cow. Waiting for buyers under a peepal tree at a weekly animal fair, the farmer from Neknoor village in Maharashtra’s Beed district says he gets only Rs 12 by selling a litre of milk, whereas a litre of bottled drinking water costs Rs 20.

The highest price Nirmal has been offered for his cow so far is Rs 20,000, which is not even half of what he was expecting. But Nirmal fears that the price of cows in his area will only drop because it is decided on the amount of milk it produces, which depends on the amount of green fodder a cow consumes. “And finding green fodder is a luxury in today’s times when the entire district is reeling from consecutive droughts,” says a worried Nirmal. He adds that Rs 20,000 would be just enough to keep his family of six afloat till the rainy season in June 2016. “I have no option but to hope that the monsoon will not disappoint us this year,” says the farmer from Beed district.

Beed registered a 50 per cent rain deficit during the 2015 rainy season. The deficit reached 55 per cent by December. In fact, the entire Marathawada region, except Aurangabad district, saw 46 per cent rain deficit during the last monsoon. The region recorded 47 per cent rain deficit during the 2014 monsoon.

The gravity of the fodder shortage hits home when farmer Bhaorao Silke, who is also at the fair to sell his ox pair, says, “I am okay even if somebody takes them right now and pays me six months later because I have nothing to feed them.” He says fodder scarcity is responsible for the increase in the number of cattle sellers at the fair. “Generally around 100 sellers came to the fair, but the number of sellers has shot up by three times since December,” he says.

The number of cattle sellers at a weekly animal fair at Neknoor village in Maharashtra's Beed district has tripled because of acute fodder shortage in the area (Photographs: Ganesh Sudhakar Dahiwale)
The number of cattle sellers at a weekly animal fair at Neknoor village in Maharashtra's Beed district has tripled because of acute fodder shortage in the area (Photographs: Ganesh Sudhakar Dahiwale)

What is more worrying is that the worst is yet to come. “The period between February and May is going to be the most challenging when fodder will be used up in most districts,” says Nishikant Bhalerao, an agriculture expert from the region. Even Maharashtra animal husbandry department data shows that most districts in Marathwada will run out of fodder by February (see ‘Out of stock’,).

Seeing the crisis, Maharashtra government announced the setting up of 172 cattle camps by October 2015 and started the Kamdhenu Dattak Gram Yojana under which farmers will be given Rs 1,500 per hectare (ha) and seeds to grow fodder. It also started a water harvesting programme called Jalyukt Shivir, which will create rain harvesting structures in villages. The state has also put a ban on inter-state and inter-district trade of fodder.

According to Umakant Dangat, agriculture divisional commissioner, Aurangabad, the Jalyukt Shivir will cover the entire Marathawada region by 2019. “We have selected 1,682 villages in the Marathwada region that will have access to water by next year,” says Dangat. While Marathwada is the worst affected by fodder crisis, the story is not very different in most of the other drought-hit states (see ‘Pushing the panic button’,).

India faces a green fodder shortage of 63.5 per cent, says the vision document of the country’s premier research institute Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute (IGFRI). The shortage of dry fodder is 23.5 per cent, estimates the national institute that is under the administrative control of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. If the current situation continues then India’s green fodder shortage will reach 66 per cent and dry fodder will reach 25 per cent by 2030 (see ‘Worst is yet to come’,). Traditionally during drought, livestock assumes the role of a shield for farmers, mostly small and marginal. But with the acute fodder shortage, sustaining cattle has become extremely difficult in drought-affected areas. If the situation continues, it will completely derail the rural economy.

The deficit pinches different states differently. Ajit Singh, a dairy farmer from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, is a worried man. The reason: he has not earned profit in the past six months despite having 23 healthy cattle that produce nearly 180 litres of milk every day.

“The cost of fodder, which accounts for 70 per cent of the input cost, has doubled in the past six months,” says a worried Singh (see ‘Out of reach’,). Uttar Pradesh, like Maharashtra, witnessed consecutive droughts in 2014 and 2015. Government data suggests 50 out of the 75 districts in the state faced drought-like situation in the two years. “The cost of green fodder has increased from Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,500 per tonne in the past six months. We are compensating the green fodder shortage with feeds that are substantially more expensive,” he adds.

While for Punjab and Haryana, where nearly eight per cent of the total cultivable area is used for fodder, the shortage is limited, it is acute in arid regions like Bundelkhand, which grows fodder on less than two per cent of its cultivable land. Similarly, Odisha is also struggling with severe fodder shortage. The Odisha government has asked banks for insurance of rabi crops because of the poor kharif crop. Deficient rainfall during kharif has severely affected agricultural production in 139 blocks of 21 districts. “As farmers are likely to face scarcity of cattle fodder, particularly in drought-affected areas, banks will also finance fodder cultivation this season,” says chief secretary G C Pati. A study by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) shows that lack of adequate amounts and quality of fodder is one of the biggest constraints Odisha farmers face. “Odisha is facing an emergent fodder crisis necessitating urgent redirection of strategies to bridge the widening demand-and-supply gap as well as ensure quality feed to boost livestock productivity,” the study says. It estimates that there is already a shortfall of 48 per cent in green fodder availability and 24 per cent in dry fodder in the state. By 2020, there will be 57 per cent deficit in dry fodder availability, taking into consideration the fact that one farmer will require at least four kg every day for a large ruminant.

Despite several state governments rolling out schemes to address the fodder shortage, Union government agencies maintain there is no fodder problem. They dismiss the shortage on the flimsy ground that no comprehensive data exists on fodder production. “There is no credible survey or study that assesses the ground situation. Whatever studies are in the public domain are just guess work. Logically speaking, such a huge deficit should have affected the country’s milk production, which is only increasing. This year, the production will touch 145 million tonnes, which will increase to 162 million tonnes next year,” says S S Kandpal, director, department of animal husbandry under the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare. He says the shortage in the Marathwada region is a local problem. “We had spoken to the Ministry of Railways to supply fodder from Punjab and Haryana to states that are facing shortage. But not a single state has asked for fodder,” says Kandpal.

However, private players in the feed industry have a different explanation for the increase in milk production. The huge fodder gap, they say, is being bridged by their industry. “The crisis of green fodder has boosted the feed industry. This explains the consistent rise in India’s milk production despite severe fodder scarcity,” says Amit Saraogi, chairperson, CLFMA, a consortium of 250 feed companies. According to government data, there are more than 500 feed companies in the country. A report by CLFMA says India’s feed industry, which is already worth $15 billion, is expected to double by 2020. According to The Indian Feed Industry-Revitalizing Nutritional Security Knowledge, a report published by Yes Bank in 2015, many companies are eyeing the huge feeds market. “The sector is growing by eight per cent every year,” says Saraogi.

Maharashtra government
has announced the setting
up of 150 cattle camps in
drought-hit districts
Maharashtra government has announced the setting up of 150 cattle camps in drought-hit districts

Neglected by all

Government apathy, changing farming pattern and lack of innovations are reponsible for India's fodder shortage

Farmers have ditched
fodder crops for cash
crops and pulses that
get government support
Farmers have ditched fodder crops for cash crops and pulses that get government support

Experts say the reason behind the crisis is that nobody really cares about fodder in the country. This, despite the fact that the contribution of livestock in agriculture production is around 35 per cent and its contribution to the GDP is 4 per cent. The sector also provides livelihood to 70 per cent of rural population. According to the erstwhile Planning Commission’s report of the working group on animal husbandry and dairying, the livestock sector has been growing faster than the crop sector. The report adds that the livestock sector is expected to emerge as an engine of agricultural growth in the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17). Umakant Dangat, agriculture divisional commissioner of Aurangabad, says fodder has always been the last priority at times of drought. “When there is a water scarcity, we only think of drinking water and never think about fodder,” says Dangat.

“Today’s crisis is a result of decades of negligence. It is a side effect of our development process,” says S B Pawar, director, Marathwada Agricultural University, Regional Research Station, Aurangabad. The current shortage is a result of government apathy, coupled with shrinking common land and lack of research work on fodder crop. Pawar says the country has achieved self-sufficiency in food grain at the cost of fodder. The traditional fodder crops have been replaced by cereals and cash crops. Government data clearly shows rice and wheat have reduced the area under cultivation of traditional fodder crops such as barley, millets and other coarse cereals. Maize is the only fodder crop the cultivation area of which has increased in the past 50 years because 60 per cent of maize is used in the feeds industry (see ‘At the cost of fodder’).

“Traditionally, the Marathwada region would grow drought-resistant coarse cereals such as sorghum, millet, maize and pulses,” says Pawar. “But in the absence of any assured price for traditional crops, farmers opted for cash crops such as cotton, soybean, sugarcane and wheat, prices of which are assured. It made the traditional crops marginalised, triggering chronic fodder shortage in the region,” he adds.

The shift was possible because of government apathy towards fodder crops. For starters, India has does not have a national fodder policy. In fact, the recent crisis has prompted Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh to formulate a fodder policy. In November 2015, Singh asked IGFRI to prepare a draft policy. The country also does not have fodder census, unlike animal and crop census. “We do not have a system in place to monitor the availability of fodder. We have now asked the statistics unit to conduct a study on the same. The survey starts next year,” says S S Kandpal, director, department of animal husbandry. Vikas Kumar, scientist (agricultural economics), IGFRI, says one of the reasons for the neglect is that fodder, despite being a crop, comes under the animal husbandry department, which is equipped to deal with veterinary subjects. Sanjay Bhoosreddy, joint secretary, department of animal husbandry, justifies the limited role of the Centre in the sector by saying that fodder is a state subject. “So the Centre cannot intervene. We can only issue fodder advisories to the states,” says Bhoosreddy.

P K Ghosh, director of IGFRI, says a national fodder policy is essential. “Like other agriculture crops, the Centre should have a national policy of fodder. The policy should fix minimum support price on fodder crops, provide fodder loans to farmers and subsidies to private investors for production of hybrid fodder seeds,” he says (see ‘Fodder, at present, is nobody’s priority’).

Fodder, at present, is nobody's priority

India urgently needs national policies on fodder production and grazing practices

P K Ghosh, director of the Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute (IGFRI), speaks to Jitendra on the current fodder shortage in the country. In November 2015, the Union agriculture ministry had asked IGFRI to submit a draft fodder policy. Excerpts from the interview

How serious is the fodder scarcity? Why has the government rejected your assessment of the fodder shoratage being acute?

Unfortunately, there is no authentic data available to objectively assess or figure out fodder scarcity. Our vision document on grassland and fodder situation is based on the comprehensive assessment of the past and present trends.

Our study shows that only 5.4 per cent (around 7.8 million hectares) of total cultivable land is engaged in fodder production in the country that has one of the world's largest livestock population. If the current situation continues then India's green fodder shortage will reach 66 per cent and dry fodder will reach 25 per cent by 2030. Even the feed industry will not fulfil this deficit, so fixing the problems is imperative.

In December last year you submitted a memorandum to the Union agriculture ministry. What was it about?

IGFRI submitted a memorandum after Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh raised concerns over fodder deficit in November 2015. He felt the need for a national fodder policy. We made suggestions such as assured minimum support price for fodder crops especially coarse grains, fodder crop loans and attracting private investors for production of quality hybrid seeds of fodder.

We even recommended a national grazing policy that will involve local governance institutions to manage common/ pasture land. This is important because no initiative can sustain till the time the local community is not engaged. For example: In a village, grazing should be allowed in a portion of the common land at a time, so that the remaining portions get time to regenerate. Our community should learn about rotational grazing. We also recommended the setting up of the National Grassland and Fodder Authority, on the lines of the Rainfed Area Development Authority.

Why do you think a body on the lines of Rainfed Area Development Authority can be the solution?

Let me make it clear that fodder is right now nobody's baby. It never got any attention from any quarter despite playing an important role in the rural economy. If an authority is formed, at least senior government officials would be accountable for fodder shortages. So the body can be a good start to build on.

India’s development has come at the cost of its common spaces that were traditionally used for grazing. According to the 54th round of NSSO in 1999 on common property resources (CPR) , just 15 per cent of the total geographical area in India was under CPR. The survey also states that these resources have been declining at the rate of two per cent every year. CPRs include village pastures and grazing grounds. They have traditionally been a source of economic sustenance for the rural poor and have played an important resource-supplementing role in the private farming system.

Ghosh says this problem can be fixed through a national grazing policy implemented at block and panchayat levels to engage communities. “Village residents should be involved to ensure that encroachment and overgrazing does not happen on common land,” he adds. The failure to promote fodder crops with high productivity has worsened the situation.

of Rapeseed-
Mustard Research,
Rajasthan, is
working on a
forage rape
plantation that can
be used for grazing (Photo: Eklavya Kumar)
ICAR-Directorate of Rapeseed- Mustard Research, Bharatpur, Rajasthan, is working on a forage rape plantation that can be used for grazing (Photo: Eklavya Kumar)

Scientists say that the problem is not just with research but also with the government’s failure to popularise the innovations among farmers. Pawar says that his institute developed hydroponics, a fodder variety that requires little water, grows quickly and takes little space. “But the variety failed to pick up because proper demonstration was never carried out,” says Pawar. “It should have been demonstrated on a large scale in areas that regularly face droughts,” he adds. Scientists at ICAR-Directorate of Rapeseed-Mustard Research, Bharatpur, are also maintaining and working on forage rape, which is also known as Chinese cabbage (Brassica pekinsis). “Mustard or canola is an oilseed brassica which is not really suitable for grazing by livestock, but forage rape, which is a member of the brassica family such as radish, turnip, and cabbage, will provide high quality feed when pasture quality is low, or its quantity is limited,” says Dhiraj Singh, director of the Bharatpur institute. The variety will provide quick feed, with high digestibility and energy.

Additionally, there are no seed standards for perennial grasses and legumes. The IGRFI vision document points out that rampant use of uncertified, poor quality seed is adding to the problem. “Usually farmers do not produce seed. And in the absence of standards, the seeds available in local market are of poor quality,” says S N Pandey, agriculture expert with Jhansi-based non-profit Development Alternative. Kamal Kishore, a livestock expert with Ahmedabad-based non-profit Foundation for Ecological Security, says the reason new varieties never pick up is because farmers do not want to grow fodder. “The government should make it mandatory to dedicate small portions of farmland to fodder crops,” says he.

Everything's not lost

Little steps in the right direction can arrest the shortage

Ethiopia, which
largely depends on
livestock economy,
has a policy of
collecting and
preserving fodder for
lean periods (Photo: Thinkstock Photos)
Ethiopia, which largely depends on livestock economy, has a policy of collecting and preserving fodder for lean periods (Photo: Thinkstock Photos)

In the middle of the fodder crisis, residents of Devbani village in Tonk district of Rajasthan are showing the way. The village has identified 25 hectares of common land to collectively grow fodder. Under the initiative, the panchayat manages the fodder and then individual farmers cut the fodder from the common land according to their livestock needs. The initiatve is encouraging, especially because it is happening in Rajasthan, which has the highest livestock population in the country and faces droughts every alternate year.

“Due to small land holdings and frequent droughts, village residents struggled to feed their livestock,” says Kuldeep Arora of the Indian Institute of Rural Development (IIRD), a Jaipur-based non-profit that helped the village residents in the initiative. The village has set up a panchayat-level committee for the management of the common land. In 2013, IIRD helped the village residents to grow nutritious and highly regenerative fodder. “It took us time to convince them about how common land could help the entire community,” says Arora.

“The regional centre of IGFRI helped us with the fodder variety Dhaman, which is highly nutritious and regenerates in 20 days.” Devbani residents reaped the benefits of the initiative for the first time during the 2014 droughts.

Another example is found in the Baijnath block in Himachal Pradesh where farmers from three villages have come together to grow fodder. Till 2011, farmers in Kharnal, Panter and Paprolakhas villages spent half of their income on buying fodder from Punjab. As a result, they decided to start growing fodder on a 10 ha common pastoral land that was largely infested with weeds. The village residents used the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme to remove weeds like parthenium, lantana, and ageratum. The common land had lost its native vegetation to infestation by exotic weeds over time. Akshay Jasrotiya, president of Tehsil Kisan Sabha Samiti, a people’s organisation based in the block, says that in 2012 they arranged for native fodder seeds such as bracheria and steria that are suitable to germinate in the mid-Himalayan region from IGFRI and Kerala Livestock Development Board.

The initiative hit a road block in 2013 when the forest department stopped the farmers from growing fodder by claiming it was a forest land. But this did not deter the farmers who started growing the fodder varieties on a portion of their farmland. Seeing the success, in 2014, the farmers decided to reclaim their rights on the land through the Forest Rights Act (FRA). “The process is underway and we are hoping a positive decision in the coming months,” says Jasrotiya.

Ghosh says such examples can be replicated in drought-prone regions across the country. “This will be possible if the government sets up a national authority for grassland and fodder development,” he says.

India can also learn from Africa. “The conditions in Africa and India are similar. The government in Ethiopia, which has the largest livestock population in Africa, supports a policy of collecting and preserving fodder for lean periods,” says Assahi Ndambi, livestock scientist, Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers, a Nairobi-based institution researching on livestock and fish in Asia and Africa. He adds that governments of India and African countries are supporting big investors’ farms, instead of lending sustainable support to rural economy. “In India, the government is framing policies that help big farmers. It needs to understand that the support livestock extends to the rural economy is indispensable,” says Ndambi. What Ndambi says makes sense when one sees that most states are providing subsidies to private feed companies to compensate for the fodder shortage. This is reducing the urgency with which the government should rejuvenate the practice of growing fodder.

Interestingly, there is enough space to revive fodder in the country. “India has nearly 25 million ha of fallow land which can be easily used for production of fodder,” says Kumar. “And even if we cultivate fodder in 10 per cent of the fallow land the current deficit can easily be met,” he adds.

The revival of several natural grass varieties that would earlier grow in the wild—cenchrus, heteropogon, chyrsopogon, cynodon dactylon and sawan grasses—can also help. Till 25 years ago, these wild grass varieties fed 70 to 80 per cent of the livestock population in rural India. They were completely rainfed and did not require any support from farmers. But encroachment of common land over the years has substantially reduced these fodder species. “They were drought-tolerant and as a result provided fodder even during the lean summer season,” says Sunil Kumar, head of division (crop production), IGFRI. “Now they have been replaced by exotic varieties such as lucerene and berseam grass,” he adds.

Pandey provides another solution when he says pulse crops that have high fodder content need to be incorporated in the farming system. “Pulses such as cowpea and pigeon pea can be used for feed especially during the dry season,” he says.

Finally, the main reason fodder production should be revived is that livestock in India helps rural poor come out of poverty. According to the 11th Planning commission report, the incidence of rural poverty is less in areas with high livestock population. This happens because about 80 per cent of livestock are owned by marginal and small farmers. And the cattle reduce their dependency on agriculture, which is largely rain-dependent.


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