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Devoting 14-17 % of land for fodder cultivation will be ideal

Currently, India is staring at a fodder crisis with a daunting challenge of producing adequate feed and fodder for its livestock from an already shrinking land resource. In addition, erratic fodder supply during summer/ drought creates a gap in the supply chain. The recent estimated deficit in green fodder is 11.24 per cent, and the country is facing a 23.4 per cent shortage in dry fodder and around 29 per cent in concentrates.

According to some reports, devoting 14-17 per cent of land for fodder cultivation will be ideal for meeting the current fodder shortage. Fodder is being cultivated on 8.4 million hectares (nearly 4 per cent of gross cropped area) in the last few decades. Sparing more area for fodder is challenging given the intense competition for additional land from commercially important crops. Therefore, there is an urgent need to have practical and meaningful strategies for enhancing feed and fodder resources for sustaining as well as transforming the Indian livestock sector.

Various State research institutions have developed a number of fodder crop varieties and technologies that can ensure year-round availability of quality feed/ fodder for increasing animal productivity. However, their adoption has remained limited. Lack of awareness and knowledge is hindering the maintenance of fodder balance in the country.

Capacity building of farmers is often overlooked in the rush to push the results of research and development products. Most of the farmers in India are poor and face resource constraints. Agriculture and allied departments are already pressured by their regular activities and often fail to focus on strengthening the skills of farmers. It is well-established in recent years that apart from natural resources and physical capital, human capital is becoming important for agricultural and rural development. Studies have indicated that the education and skills of farmers are significant factors in explaining inter-farm differences in agricultural productivity, along with the more conventional factors such as availability of land and water resources, inputs, credit, etc.

The Agriculture Skill Council of India has launched programmes on animal husbandry and fodder production. The Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying has also initiated the National Livestock Mission to foster entrepreneurship in fodder production and offer incentives for the same. Currently, there are 731 Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) serving as agricultural extension centres, transferring new technologies and research outcomes to farmers. Mandating KVKs to to showcase the benefits of cultivating high-yielding fodder crops can bring desired changes in farmers’ perceptions on fodder.

Perennial fodder

Small farmers can be motivated to grow perennial fodder grasses like Bajra-Napier hybrid on bunds without impacting their cropped area. For large and medium-sized landholders, intercropping grasses with legume fodder can provide a balanced ration. Farmers should be made aware of the advantages of high-density planting of perennial grasses.

Adaptive research on fodder production technology must be encouraged by providing feedback from the farmers’ field.

Moreover, imparting knowledge on alternative land use methods like combining trees with pasture (silvi-pasture) and incorporating horticulture into pasture (horti-pasture) have the potential for improving both the quality of depleted habitats and the production of forages. Woody perennials, preferably of fodder value, can be introduced and managed scientifically.

Under poor soil, water and nutrient situations where cropping is not possible, such systems can serve the twin purposes of forage and firewood production and ecosystem conservation. Additionally, the concept of horti-pasture, which utilises degraded lands, is gaining popularity among farmers. The introduction of these systems would alleviate grazing pressure and yield important environmental benefits.

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