Are we doing enough to secure livestock fodder for farmers in India’s tough terrains?

Healthy livestock need year-round supply of good quality fodder. Photo by Sherry Odeyo/ICRAF

Healthy livestock need year-round supply of good quality fodder. Photo by Sherry Odeyo/ICRAF

As a farmer who is involved in dairy, I know how important fodder is in lives of farmers who keep livestock. For a farmer with livestock, the day revolves around procuring good fodder for the animals.

I practice dairy farming in the Terai belt of Uttar Pradesh which is very fertile. We get good biomass yields of fodder such as maize, barseem, sorghum, oats and napier grass.

But even in our good topographical conditions and favorable climate, we have to be very careful with our planning for fodder for different seasons of the year. A delay in sowing fodder crop such as sorghum can mean no fodder for animals in the Monsoon months of June, July and August, when we get very heavy rainfall. These tough months can be very difficult for both farmers and livestock. So, Very Good Planning for the year is needed if you want good amounts of fodder for your animals throughout the year.

What about farmers in hilly areas and the drylands of my country, India?

Prior to the World Congress on Agroforestry I had never thought about how farmers there feed their livestock. As a farmer from the plains, the difficulties livestock farmers in the hills and drylands face had never occurred to me. I first learned about it from reading a blog on WCA2014 by Mahesh Chander on Fodder, Livestock and Women, where he described how women climb trees and go to far-off places in search of fodder for their animals.

I got to learn about this topic in detail when I attended session on tree fodder and animal nutrition, on 10February 2014 at Congress.

The Presentation on Sustainable fodder production strategy through utilization of wastelands in hills by Jaideep Kumar Bisht was very informative. He covered two North Indian States with hilly topography—Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

To my surprise, I learnt that during tough-weather months, 70 percent of the animal diet in Himalayan ecosystems comes from trees, and that tree fodder has been undergoing serious research in these regions.

But women here are still totally working for their livestock. More has to be done to bring relief for these women.

In Uttarakhand State which has only 10 percent of irrigated area, growing fodder is not possible on such land as this has to be utilized for growing crops. In Himachal Pradesh the major area is under forest. In both the states farmers are dependent on wastelands for fodder requirements.

Bisht discussed reasons why we are not able to meet the fodder requirements of farmers in hilly areas; he mentioned constraints such as ecology and management problems, and stated that there is lack of community organization, which the State Government should take care of.

If the State Government is able to utilize Panchayati lands for fodder, which they can do by organizing farmers into groups and encouraging them to grow grasses with leguminous crops here, this can to a large extent meet communities’ fodder requirements. Bisht clarified that since nobody will apply fertilizers to grasses in grasslands, intercropping with leguminous crops takes care of the nitrogen requirement of grasses, and give much higher biomass than if grasses were grown alone.

He further discussed the results of trials his team has conducted on grasslands in Uttarakhand, which showed promising results for meeting fodder requirements. He emphasized the importance of Community Organization, if we are to meet the challenge of declining fodder for farmers in hilly areas.

In Himachal Pradesh, most of the land is under Pine forests, he stated. So fodder has to come from forest lands, where he said that after several experiments they got success in growing Napier grass under pine trees. The good thing about hybrid Napier grass is that it gives good yield until frosting starts, and regenerates as soon as temperature starts rising. Hybrid Napier is adopted by farmers on farmlands as well.

Then he moved on to discuss Terrace Risers, and showed the right combinations of trees and fodder crops for the entire year.

Overall, Bisht’s presentation gave the audience good insights into the actual problems and constraints faced by farmers in meeting fodder requirements, and workable solutions to meet these challenges.

I agree with Bisht’s point that unless these options are implemented by government, extension officers and organizers, the situation in these states is unlikely to improve. Government will have to make efforts to utilize wastelands and the floor of forested lands for fodder, and bring farmers together for their overall wellbeing and to relieve their hard lives.

The audience appreciated his work. I, too, was happy to see that there is a way out for farmers who struggle hard in tough terrains to find fodder for their livestock.

Good job,  Bisht!

By Nikki Pilania Chaudhary

Farmer, Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh, India

Related stories:

Trees boost fodder production in dry areas

One Person has left comments on this post

» Justine Mwanje said: { Feb 12, 2014 - 08:02:35 }

This is a lovely story; thank you so much. A challenge is ensuring that production and productivity enable farmers to work commercially. Farmer organization is very important in the quest for transformation from subsistence to commercial agriculture. Therefore, farmers should not only form groups, but cooperatives. When farmers are united in cooperatives, access to markets, financial services and policy information is enhanced. This results in improved entrepreneurship and poverty reduction.

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