The Budget attracted considerable media hype and debate as it has come when the Indian economy is still roiled by the Covid pandemic. The Budget appears quite bold and imaginative in reigniting capital and consumer spending, and exports.

It has some key initiatives to give momentum to the ‘Make in India’ agenda. On the agriculture front, the focus on technology-led agriculture will help the farming sector leapfrog into a sustainable future. The decision to revise the syllabus of agricultural universities, use of Kisan drones for crop assessment, digitisation of land records, and spraying of pesticides is a step in the right direction to modernise the farm sector. Focus on legislative changes to promote agro-forestry is also a welcome move as policies are needed to make our farm sector climate smart.

The livestock sector has been rewarded with 40 per cent rise in allocation in this fiscal for the resilience it showed during the pandemic. Besides, an increase of 20 per cent allocation for the Rashtriya Gokul Mission and the National Programme for Dairy Development reiterates government’s thrust on supporting livestock betterment.

However, the feed and fodder sector which has prime role in bolstering animal productivity remained entirely absent from the budgetary conversation. It is a stark reminder for all of us that supply of feed and fodder has always fallen short of the aggregate demand in the country and this gap is expected to be wider in the near future. There were high hopes of a higher allocation for the feed and fodder sector out of this year’s allocation for the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry, Dairying.

On the technical front, research studies have broadly indicated that ensuring quality and sufficient quantity of feed and fodder has greater impact than breed improvement on increasing livestock productivity. The average yield of milk and meat in our animals is 20-60 per cent lower than the global average. The timely unavailability of nutritionally rich feed and fodder is a major hitch that impinges on the productivity growth of farm animals in the country. Moreover, feed and fodder accounts for around 60-70 per cent share in cost of milk production.

Therefore, the sector deserved special attention in budgetary allocation.

Looking ahead

The government can give support to the fodder sector through multi-pronged strategies right from its production to marketing. At the outset, all the State governments must be directed to dedicate sufficient amount for fodder resource development. The technical guidance from the Jhansi-based ICAR-IGFRI can be sought in this direction, as the institute has developed fodder plan for various States and agro-climatic regions.

Investment is also required to ensure parallel development of supporting market environment for surplus fodder encompassing backward and forward market linkages. Provision of dedicated market space with legal credentials will facilitate transparency and remunerative prices for fodder traders.

As there exists regional and seasonal disparity in fodder production, channelising funds for establishing community fodder banks where surplus fodder can be stored as hay/silage/ fodder blocks for use during scarcity is crucial for safeguarding the interest of small dairy farmers.

As the government is set to promote start-ups and rural enterprises, Nabard must be directed to promote rural enterprises working in the fodder space. Fodder based research organisations like IGFRI need to be supported for incubating entrepreneurs.

Public-private partnerships (PPP) in agriculture value chain have been important items in the Budget. In the light of this, animal feed industry needs to be promoted to take up production of quality compound feed to cater to the nutritional requirement of animals of different productive potential.

Choudhary is a scientist at ICAR-IGFRI, Jhansi, and Sharma is Principal Scientist at ICAR-IGFRI, Jhansi. Views expressed are personal