India transforming itself from a milk deficit country to the world’s biggest milk producer over a span of three decades is a glorious achievement. With over 300 million bovines and producing over 198 million tonnes of milk in 2019-20, the Indian dairy sector has a strong growth potential.
While the Covid-induced restrictions have worsened the plight of small milk producers, the organised dairy sector showed a growth rate of around 1 per cent last fiscal — the lowest in a decade. However, as per a CRISIL report, the sector will bounce back in 2021-22 with a projected growth rate of over 5 per cent, and generating a revenue of ₹1.5-lakh crore. But despite these estimates, the productivity potential of Indian milch herd is a major cause of concern.
The major reasons for low milk productivity in India are both intrinsic (low genetic potential) and extrinsic (poor nutrition/feed management). Empirical studies have shown that enhancing the quality and quantity of feed and fodder has a greater impact on increasing milk productivity than breed improvement. The lack of timely availability of nutritionally rich feed and fodder is a major factor affecting the productivity of farm animals in the country.
While the increase in agricultural production over time has also led to improvement in the availability of animal feed, its supply has always fallen short of the aggregate demand. As per the vision document of Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute (IGFRI), Jhansi, the deficit of dry and green fodder in India in 2020 was around 12 per cent and 30 per cent, respectively.
Demand set to jump
With increasing livestock population and government focus on genetic upgradation of cattle by cross-breeding programmes, the demand for both green and dry fodder is expected to increase considerably to 1,012 million tonnes and 631 million tonnes, respectively, by 2050. The impact of climate change on productivity and production of crops in India will be huge unless appropriate adaptation and mitigation measures are taken.
As per a study conducted by Karnal based National Dairy Research Institute, the wholesale price index of cattle feed rose much faster than that of milk after 2012. While at present availability of feed ingredients is not an issue, the high volatility in prices of the ingredients is a concern. Therefore firms, in order to maintain their profit margins, often resort to substitution of feed ingredients at the expense of feed quality, which is the most important parameter that has far-reaching implications not only for the productivity of the animals but also for human and livestock health.
Additionally, limited storage capacity with firms, poor quality judgment of feed among dairy farmers and non-adherence to quality standards of feed bags (especially in the context of indicating Aflatoxin B1 content) have led to issues such as mycotoxins in cattle feed.
Various State research institutions along with the IGFRI have developed a number of improved fodder crop varieties and technologies that can ensure year round availability of quality feed and fodder for increasing animal productivity. However, their adoption has remained limited. Though constraints in adopting improved fodder technologies by farmers vary locally, lack of assured market for fodder is a challenge hindering the maintaining of fodder balance for the country as whole.
Therefore, an urgent policy need is to ensure parallel development of supporting a market environment for surplus fodder encompassing backward and forward market linkages. Establishing a community fodder bank where surplus fodder can be stored as hays/silage/fodder blocks for use during scarcity would be crucial for safeguarding the interests of small dairy farmers.
Besides, focus on the following four strategies will help: (i) smoothening credit facility for forage production; (ii) support price for forage and marketing of seed; (iii) silage business model involving seed firms, operations service providers (for baling and supply chain functions) and rural retail channels; and (iv) strengthening extension network. These will pave the way for the Indian dairy herd achieving its full potential in the long run.
The writers are Scientist and Principal Scientist, respectively, at ICAR-IGFRI, Jhansi. Views are personal