Shortage of cattle feed, skyrocketing straw prices leave Madhya Pradesh in throes of severe fodder crisis
The end of the wheat harvest in the month of Chaitra (March) usually brings with it a sense of relief. But this year, livestock farmers of Madhya Pradesh are far from feeling content
The end of the wheat harvest in the month of Chaitra (March) usually brings with it a sense of relief. But this year, livestock farmers of Madhya Pradesh are far from feeling content.
Damyanti Pani, a farmer from Chhatarpur district, is concerned about procuring fodder for the 55 animals in her cowshed.
Pani, who's also the secretary of Gandhi Ashram, spent Rs 1.5 lakh this season on procuring straw for the charitable institution -- this, while the price of straw across the state has been rising steadily in the last few years, doubling from Rs 4 to Rs 5 per kg to Rs 9 to Rs 10 per kg.
Lovelesh Kumar Rawat of Pathrota village, Narmadapuram (Hoshangabad) district, has been running a dairy for 15 years with 70 cows. The rising cost of cattle feed has had a direct impact on his rapidly declining profits. Where he earlier made a profit of up to Rs 10 per litre of milk, it's now dropped to Rs 6 per litre.
"Cattle feed needs to be compensated with green fodder and other animal food, which works out to be very expensive," Rawat told 101Reporters. "Besides, you can't feed cows only green fodder or only straw. The rise in prices means we're spending an average of Rs 150 per day on food for each cow."
To put the plight of these cattle rearers in perspective, the Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute estimates that by 2030, there could be a slump of 65.45 per cent in green fodder and 25 per cent in dry fodder, if stringent measures are not taken right away.
Gaushala count on the rise amid declining fodder supply
Madhya Pradesh has been a major contributor to India's livestock, with over 7 per cent of the total livestock in the country coming from the state (Livestock Census 2012). In 2007, Madhya Pradesh had a livestock population of over 4 crore, but between 2007 and 2012, there was a 10.5 per cent drop in the population of cattle, 10.3 per cent in the buffalo count and around 20.8 per cent in goats.
Moreover, according to the 19th animal census conducted in 2012, a total of 3.63 crore livestock was accounted for in Madhya Pradesh, which increased to 4.6 crore in the 20th animal census from 2019. While the rise in animal count was welcome, a large portion of these numbers belongs to gaushalas and other businesses.
According to government data, there are 1,621 subsidised cow shelters with around 2,76,765 cows in the state. Apart from these that receive grants from the government, there are cooperatives and private milk dairies that aim to produce more milk than cattle. So, while the total number of animals has spiked, the cows haven't returned to the villages and farms. This increase can be attributed to cow shelters.
However, milk production has been rising steadily in the state. According to the Economic Survey of Madhya Pradesh, milk production rose from 13,445 thousand metric tons in 2016-17 to 17,999 thousand metric tons in 2019-20. As a result, the livestock crisis in the state deepened, too.
"Fodder crisis the result of changes in farming methods"
Such is the extent of the fodder crisis that the poor animals are dying of starvation. In January-February 2022, several districts of Madhya Pradesh reported deaths of cows in gaushalas. While these were blamed on corruption in the shelters and misuse of government funds, the lack of accessible cattle feed cannot be ignored as a major cause.
Retired Professor Kashmir Singh Uppal, who's been writing on agriculture and economic affairs for the past 30 years, shared his insights: "When electric-powered machine threshers were introduced in villages, straw was obtained along with the harvest, and there was no need for a separate, tedious process. Farmers had more straw than they needed at the time, so many of them branched out into animal husbandry. Even the ones who didn't own any fields."
Combine harvesters or threshers take care of the entire process, from harvesting to cutting and separating. With these equipment, farmers can be done with their tasks on the fields within a few hours and have the wheat grains loaded in the trolley. While the system is quick and easy, the harvesters don't process the chaff into straw, and the increased use of machinery led to the fodder shortage over time.
A Padma Shri awardee for traditional farming and conservation of seeds, Babulal Dahiya told 101Reporters that "encroachment on the transit (pasture) land was the main reason for this crisis."
"Earlier, villages had separate pasture land (Charagah-Gothan) with grass for grazing animals, but with the introduction of machines, such land is either scarce or encroached upon," said the farmer from Pithorabad village in Satna district. "Farmers also prefer not to keep their land vacant because the emphasis is on higher production. This fodder crisis is the result of changes in farming methods, neglect of cows in farming, fencing of fields and the use of harvesters."
Cash crops not conducive to straw making
Furthermore, the loss of crop diversity has also led to the state of affairs in Madhya Pradesh. Since the Green Revolution, the promotion of cash crops in the state paved the way for the diversification of soybean crops in the kharif season and wheat in rabi, whereas earlier, crop variety meant different ripening and harvesting cycles. This used to keep a steady supply of yield throughout the year.
However, growing similar crops, wheat, soybean and paddy has brought an end to the abundance, the latest victim being the summer crop of moong.
Manish Gaur, a farmer from Seoni Malwa, explained: "The time between the harvesting of wheat and the sowing of moong is so short that there isn't enough time to make straw properly. This year, the price of straw has spiked so much that it's unheard of."
Black market threats and the road ahead
On March 27, 2022, the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying in Madhya Pradesh wrote to the district collectors, asking them to ban the export and transport of straw and related materials. This was followed by the collectors putting the ban in motion until June 30, citing the Madhya Pradesh Fodder Control Order 1992, the Essential Commodities Act 1955 and the Madhya Pradesh Fodder Export Control Order 2000.
Moreover, the Madhya Pradesh government has also announced a pilot project in Narmadapuram district to make coal from straw.
Then there's the flourishing black market that rears its head in light of the shortage of commodities. Many traders have already begun to buy straw from farmers and stockpile.
As Gaur put it, "People with money are looking for an opportunity during a disaster and have started stocking straw. In such a situation, this crisis will only worsen."
Dahiya, on the other hand, believes that the crisis can be curtailed from reaching disastrous proportions by adopting better agricultural practices.
"We have enough straw in our farm at Pothorabad Satna because we do not use harvesters. Workers cut the crops and then use the threshers. We don't use chemical pesticides, so the wheat grass becomes green fodder that can be fed to the cows. We also have grass growing in the fields, which workers pluck to feed the cattle," he informed 101Reporters.
Dahiya also pointed out that families dependent on agriculture prioritise caring for the animals.
"Cows are fed grains along with straw because they are considered part of the family. The ones that give milk are not looked at as profit-churners. Their welfare is actually woven into the family's routine," he remarked.