While inaugurating the 23rd International Grassland Congress in New Delhi November 20, the Agricultural Minister, Sh. Radha Mohan Singh said “Fodder sources in India are from crop residues, cultivated fodder, forages and forests, permanent pastures and grazing lands. Currently, India is facing a deficit of about 35.6 per cent of green fodder and about 10.9 per cent of dried fodder.”
The Honourable Minister went on to mention that the Government would bring out the National Fodder Policy to boost domestic production. Thus, facing shortage of fodder majorly due to shrinking of the country’s grassland, the Centre’s plans seems clearly aimed towards addressing the issue at the earliest before it becomes a chronic problem.
Being the World’s highest milk producer with highest livestock population in the World of approximately 512 million, this is a very real issue with a long lasting impact in the livestock sector.
The National Dairy Plan on the other hand is focused on the aim to double its milk production over 2012- 2027. The milk production in India has grown stably in the last decade and today it produces around 140 million tonnes of milk and contributes a whopping 17% alone to the global milk production – majority of which comes from small farms. Addressing fodder shortage is thus, a priority for the National Dairy Plan as well.
However, in order to keep up the above figures and also, reach the end goal, India now stands at the point, where it is necessary to take some very strong steps of damage control of Fodder Shortage. The Government of India has also reportedly decided to expand the network of fodder research stations to address this problem.
Fodder Shortage : The problem
As can be deduced from above, there is considerable demand for fodder in India. Green fodder in particular is very important for dairy animals as it boosts milk production, being nutritious. Besides that, it keeps the animal healthy, aids in digestion, absorption of nutrients. It is also crucial for better reproductive efficiency.
India is facing a severe green fodder crisis due to two major reasons:
1. Inadequate grassland
Today, India has 38 million hectares of grassland as opposed to 70 million hectares in 1947.
Besides this startling statistic, a survey based on remote sensing techniques and field observations conducted by Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute (IGFRI) has also reflected the decline in major grasslands, adversely hitting their animal-carrying capacity.
To address this problem, one of the road maps being discussed is, the development of database of common property resource and a national programme for rejuvenation of grassland.
2. Burning of Crop Residue
Despite it being provenly harmful for the Environment and also the wastage of dry fodder material, farmers in India continue to burn crop residue, to get their field cleared for the next crop. India is facing a deficit of about 35.6% of green fodder and about 10.9% of dry fodder. If farmers across the country stop burning crop residue, it would substantially decrease the deficit of dry fodder. Following observations pointed out by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in a bulletin titled “Crop Residues Management with Conservation Agriculture: Potential, Constraints and Policy Needs” are important to understand about the impact of this practice:
Approximately 500 million tons of crop residue is produced annually by India
A large portion of this is burnt in the fields, mostly to clear left over straws post harvest. This happens due to unavailability of labor, high cost of residue removal, increasing use of combines, lack of availability of residue picking field machinery.
All this ultimately leads to:
Destruction of the dry fodder
Hazards to human health
Production of greenhouse gases
Loss of plant nutrients such as N,P,K & S
In the above context, the honorable minister also mentioned “Law should be made to stop burning of crop residues so that it can be utilised as fodder. Besides increasing the supply of fodder, the move will protect environment.”
Fodder Shortage affect on the market
With severe fodder shortage, the prices of both fodder as well as feed have increased phenomenally. This alone accounts for 60 to 70 per cent of the production cost of milk, meat and other items.
The prices of milk, meat and a host of other livestock products has spiraled upwards. This has hit the market
hard. The demand has grown due to which the limited supply but the root cause lies in the shortage of and thereby the high cost of fodder and feed. There exists a low productivity of Indian farm animals-currently in a range of an alarming 20 to 60 percent lower than the global average. Animal Scientists have identified the lack of fodder and feed as one of the key reasons behind this.
Fodder and feed is crucial for any interventions in animal husbandry and/or production to work. Nothing can be fully realised, in terms weight gains or milk production from advanced interventions, until animals are provided with optimum nutrients.
The way forward
Besides twin situations of shrinking grasslands and widespread burning of crop residue, at the moment, less than 5 per cent of farmland in India is devoted to fodder farming. The budgeting for fodder development in total animal husbandry budget is also considerably low. The National Fodder Policy can change the situation for better. The statements made by the Honorable Minister gives an indication of a strong political will and key understanding to an issue which has been discussed across several platforms.
The National Fodder Policy aims at solving the key problems of livestock nutrition and ability to respond to interventions to increase production which would also boost investment in the sector. This would bring in more money to support a better and more sustainable growth in times to come.
One of the crucial aspects in this Fodder Shortage situation which may have often been overlooked is the non availability of fodder seeds. Seeds can be safely pegged to be the most critical factor in expanding fodder crop average and raising yields. However, this remains an area where a lot is yet to be done. While IGFRI reports the existence of over 200 high-yielding varieties of fodder crops, grasses and other types of forage, including the leguminous plant species capable of enriching rangelands with nitrogen, these are yet to reach the farmers. Today hardly 15 to 20 per cent of the seed demand for forage crops is being met. Technologies and techniques to suit farmer needs and methods of storage are also expected to come into the purview of The National Fodder Policy. This could directly address the situation of crop burning encouraging farmers to access suitable alternative measures, like converting the collected residues into densified complete blocks or pellets, in order to produce a complete balanced feed, as an alternative to green fodder based feeding system.
There has been a key shift from the Government’s side leading to prioritising the finding of a solution to this crisis. The declaration of the intent of coming out with The National Fodder Policy is a very positive step and is sure to snowball into raising livestock productivity and increasing supplies of animal products and reducing the market prices in the times to come.
In this article inputs have been taken from Economic Times