The rise in wheat straw prices is a combined consequence of an unrelenting summer, water shortage as well as better prices for other crops like mustard and gram, which is discouraging farmers from growing wheat
According to the 20th Livestock Census, India has 535 million livestock animals. Most of these animals including cattle and water buffalo eat straw or green fodder. But what happens if there is a fodder crisis? Is the diminished wheat crop having domino effects?
Farmers across North India are planting mustard instead of wheat this rabi season. This is not just because mustard requires less water compared to wheat, but because an unusually hot beginning to the summer season has led to a reduction in the wheat crop yield, which in turn, has led to a shortage of fodder in many states.
States like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have imposed a ban on sending straw to other states. Last year, wheat straw was being sold at Rs 400-600 per quintal. This year, it is being sold at Rs 1,100-1,700 per quintal, three times the price. In Rajasthan, it has risen to Rs 2,000 per quintal.
The rise in prices is a combined consequence of an unrelenting summer,water shortage as well as better prices for other crops like mustard and gram, which is discouraging farmers from growing wheat. Sorghum could not be cultivated last year either because of water shortage.
Officials from the department of animal husbandry on the other hand blame mechanisation, declining hand holdings and encroaching of grazing areas for the shortage.
According to experts, a buffalo producing 10 litres of milk needs 30 kg of fodder a day including 4 kg grain, 10-15 kg green fodder and 4-6 kg of straw, which can increase in the absence of green fodder.
But if the cost of fodder is about one-third of the milk which farmers are selling, how will they make any profit or even earn a livable wage?
Putaan Singh, a scientist at Indian Veterinary Research Institute in Palampur offers two solutions. One is that the government bans commercial use of straw in brick kilns and paper industries. The second is that farmers grow green fodder which can give 4-6 harvests in a year.
As heatwaves are likely to become more common in the coming years because of the climate crisis, farmers will have to adapt and find more mitigatory solutions. But currently, both the farmer and consumer are buckled under inflating prices.
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