To combat the shortage of fodder faced by Maharashtra farmers in the summer months, the Pune-based BAIF Development Research Foundation (BDRF) has decided to promote the usage of cactus (Opuntia ficus indica) as a fodder. This thornless cactus grows well in arid and semi-arid regions, with little inputs. Used extensively in countries like Brazil and Mexico, this cactus has multiple usages.
With the support of NABARD, BDRF has undertaken a research project for commercial cultivation and usage of this sturdy plant as fodder. The organisation is now trying to promote this as a fodder crop, which can be used when regular fodder is scarce.
Ravi Kote, senior thematic programme executive of the institute, said the plant can be especially useful in January, when there is a shortage of green fodder. “Based on our experiments in Uruli Kanchan, we can say this cactus has proved beneficial…,” he said.
As a fodder crop, cactus has many advantages over normal fodder, as it is sturdy and amenable for growth in arid, semi-arid or even poor quality soil. “On an average, 15-17 kg of cladodes (fleshy leaves) can be harvested from a one-year-old plant,” said Sneha Shinde, associate thematic programme executive associated with the project. The cladodes can be chopped into smaller pieces, supplemented with hay or straw and used as fodder. At the farmers’ field at Urali Kanchan, cactus feeding studies were conducted on adult goats and kids and the results were encouraging, said the researchers. Intake of the fodder led to an increase in body weight of the animals. Results also indicated that animals can be fed 3 kg of the cactus daily without any adverse effect. Sagar Kadao, another researcher from the institute, said trials are now being conducted on larger animals.
Encouraged with the results, BDRF has decided to introduce the cactus as a fodder crop, with farmers being asked to grow the same alongside the perimeters of their fields.