Wheat and paddy yield not just grain for human consumption. These — and other foodgrain, oilseeds, sugarcane and cotton — are also grown for meeting the fodder and feed needs of livestock and poultry. Not for nothing, then, that a poor wheat crop this year has led to straw prices doubling, and more, to Rs 10-15 per kg. The official wholesale price index for fodder in August was 25.5 per cent higher than a year ago. But it isn’t only dry fodder. Over the last one year, prices of de-oiled bran (a by-product of paddy milling) have doubled to Rs 20 per kg, while going up from Rs 22-23 to Rs 29-30 for rice polish and from Rs 20 to Rs 25/kg for maize. Their price increases — and also of molasses and protein ingredients such as mustard, soyabean and cottonseed oil cakes — have meant that farmers are paying around Rs 23 per kg for cattle-feed, against Rs 17-18 last year. And that’s ultimately getting passed on to consumers.
Those price pressures should, hopefully, ease in the coming weeks for two reasons. The first is the surplus monsoon rains, which should translate into overall improved green fodder availability. The second is the start of the kharif marketing season. Ground reports suggest reasonably normal soyabean, cotton and groundnut crops. Prices of cottonseed extractions have already fallen to Rs 30-31/kg, having crossed Rs 45 levels last year. Sugar factories and rice mills, too, will begin operations with the harvesting of the new cane and paddy crops. A third source of hope is the late-September rains, which are good for the wheat, mustard and other rabi crops. In all, the fodder and feed situation should look better from here on.
That said, there’s a need for some long-term thinking on the livestock sector, which today accounts for about 30 per cent of the total income from farming in India. Take dairying, where animals are largely fed on crop residues and expensive compound cattle feed. Farmers should, instead, be encouraged to grow high-yielding proteinaceous green fodder that can supply the basic nutritional requirements of their cattle round the year. This will reduce the need for giving costly feed and concentrates mainly when they are producing milk. Fodder crop breeding — both for yields and drought tolerance — has not received adequate attention in India, which is perhaps a reflection of animal husbandry being relegated as a residual/subsidiary activity to “regular” agriculture. The current wheat straw and feed shortage should end soon. But policymakers must look beyond the short term. There can be no nutritional security for India without feed security for its livestock and poultry.
This article is first published by The Indian Express