Focus must shift from supercows to cattlefeed
“The area under dedicated fodder cultivation has remained constant since independence at 4.7 per cent of the total cultivable land; 10 per cent of this is in Punjab,” said Bhasin.
The demand for 2021 is projected to be 180 MT which would mean an increase in production of five MT per annum. Sharad Pawar, in a conference of state animal husbandry and dairying ministers, stressed on increasing the area under fodder cultivation to around 15 per cent in the next 15 years.
Diverting the area under food crops to fodder crops is not feasible, said Patel. But of the land already under fodder, about 10.8 million ha as per the 2002-03 census, not even 3-4 per cent is produced from fodder seed but from cereals like maize and pearl millet, she added. “So the yield is less than 50 per cent of a good fodder crop. We are trying to plan in a way that in the next 15 years we get at least 10 per cent of this area under good green fodder,” Patel said. NDDB at present is preparing the National Dairy Plan, which has an outlay of Rs 17,300 crore till 2021; it will focus mainly on breed improvement and augmenting cattlefeed.
Digharia’s Mehta said, people buy seeds now from private shops as most government seed shops do not have seeds. These seeds sometimes turn out to be spurious. The Indian Grasslands and Fodder Research Institute (IGFRI) in Jhansi produces breeder seeds for fodder crops like lucerne and berseem. “We produce much more than the demand generated by the states which is 50,000 kg. We provide about 70,000 kg each year,” said K A Singh, director of IGFRI.
But the state seed corporations and national seed corporation, which should be producing foundation certified seeds out of this, are not interested, he said. “They say they have to focus more on food crops,” Singh added.
All seeds are first produced in controlled lab conditions; these are called breeder seeds. They are further given to seed manufacturing companies for multiplying and what goes to the market is certified, foundation, true-to-type seeds.
“We imported about 15,000 tonnes of berseem from Egypt in 2007-08 and 2008-09 but since it is not adapted to the Indian climate, it fails to germinate sometimes,” said Singh. State animal husbandry departments are not interested in fodder. “They are staffed by vets who are mostly interested in artificial insemination and health services rather than livestock production and nutrition. This has to change; all states must have fodder production specialists,” said a fodder expert.
As of now, only Punjab and Tripura have fodder line staff who can advice livestock farmers on animal nutrients. Even a small country like Bhutan has fodder line staff down to the village level, Singh said.
NDDB’s plans to propagate ration balancing may address that to some extent. It is still in its early stages. Ration balancing involves assessing the nutrition requirement of the animal and then computing the available feed and fodder products in the area. “For example, in places where pineapple and banana leaves are in plenty, these can be added to the basket of greeen fodder,” said Patel. NDDB has developed a software to compute localized fodder mix and it is training villagers to use it. But that is all in the future.
What is happening today is India’s fodder supply is failing to keep up with the demand. Fodder so far has more or less been a byproduct of food crops. Even the government perceived it as such. But with increase in demand there is an urgent need to treat food for animals on par with agriculture.