Decreasing area under grasslands, combined with an increasing diversion of crop resdiues for fuel and industrial uses, is creating an acute scarcity of fodder supply for India’s livestock.
Non-availability of quality fodder in sufficient quantities, in the medium to long term, could negatively affect the health of livestock and, consequently, the production of dairy and poultry products such as milk, eggs and meat, say some experts.
“Based on our field surveys and observation, we’ve seen villagers choosing to use crop residues, such as wheat and rice straw, as fuel wood, instead of diverting it to fodder,” says M.M. Roy, senior scientist at the Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute, Jhansi, an autonomous body of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (Icar).
Roy, together with another colleague K.A. Singh have written in a recent research paper project. “Huge deficit on the supply front, especially in green fodder, is anticipated,” Roy said.
Livestock is at the heart of rural economy, and according to the latest Economic Survey, accounts for nearly 5% of the country’s gross domestic product. Non-availability of good quality fodder, primary source of sustenance to farm animals, could impact their health.
The researchers’ estimates indicate that the supply of green fodder in 2003—when statistics were last released—was 389.81 million tonnes (mt), while the demand was 1025mt, a staggering 61.96% deficit.
The latest land use statistics, released by the Union ministry of agriculture, argues similarly. Land allotted for permanent pastures and forest graze lands has decreased from a high of 13.97 million hectares in 1960-61, to 10.45 million hectares in 2003-2004—a 25.19% decrease. In the same period, however, total livestock population went up by 44.10% to 485 million.
India ranks second internationally in its cattle population and has the highest number of buffaloes, making it one of the largest livestock populations in the world. Though it has continually registered a positive growth in its milk and meat production, it is largely due to intensely concentrating on a limited number of breeds and an increase in cropping intensity, said P.S. Birthal, principal scientist at the National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research.
In 1999, Birthal prepared a research paper that emphasized that productivity in livestock produce, such as egg and meat, was low, except for milk. “The total amount of land is decreasing, so the only way would be to increase the productivity of the land, which is a continually nagging problem,” he added.
According to Roy, the crop residues are not nutritious, but still sustain more than 60% of the livestock population. “In the absence of better quality fodder, residue, to an extent, compensates for the livestock nutrition. But now even this source is under threat,” added Roy.
Increasing cropping intensity to push up land productivity creates added pressure on the land, which contributes to problems such as soil degradation and depleting water levels.
According to estimates by the Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education, the capacity of the land is nine times lower than the number of livestock feeding off it.
“An increased grazing intensity contributes to increasing cropping intensity,” said K.C. Gaur, agricultural scientist with the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.
Officials at the Department of Animal Husbandry said they were aware of the problem of fodder scarcity and had already initiated steps to tackle it.
“We have a scheme of providing grants to states, exclusively for fodder research,” said Charusheela Sohoni, the department’s secretary.
The 10th Plan had implemented a plethora of schemes under the Central Fodder Development Organization, which aimed at improving the quality of fodder. However, limited progress forced the government to carry this scheme over to the current 11th Plan.
Roy and Singh, in their research paper, concur with this, saying that government initiatives to develop large blocks of grass reserves, under the Draft Grazing and Livestock Management Policy 1994, and the Draft National Policy for Common Property Resource Lands, have been ineffective.