How is fodder crisis rendering livestock vulnerable?

Today, India faces an acute fodder shortage that has left drought-hit farmers and livestock vulnerable. Jitendra finds out how fodder crisis has the potential to cripple India's rural economy

By Jitendra
Published: Thursday 23 March 2017
Photo: Reuters

Drought of fodder

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)

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

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