SOAKED head to toe, Rabina, a marginal farmer and cattle-rearer, continued to collect kadvi (bajra straw) on Saturday, September 24, from the drenched fields even as it rained incessantly in Udhanwas, her village in Rajasthan’s Alwar district. Thirteen kilometers away at Tapukara, the gauge station recorded the rains at 91 mm, the highest single-day rainfall this season.
“Nuksaan ghano ho gayo (The damage is too much),” said Rabina, pointing to bajra straws lying in the wet field.
For Rabina, 34, who runs a family of seven, the main source of income is livestock — she owns two buffaloes. She is now worried about arranging fodder for her buffaloes as the bajra crop, from which she was hoping to get at least 10 man kutti (or four quintal straw), has been damaged in rains.
“Hum yahi kootkar pashuon ko khila rahe thhey kyonki bhusa kafi mahanga hai, 700-800 rupaye man (We were feeding cattle bajra straw because the prices of wheat straw are too high, Rs 700-800/ 40 kg),” Rabina told The Indian Express. The prices of bhusa or wheat straw, the main dry fodder for cattle and buffaloes in the region, have soared this year.
Rising fodder prices have put a huge burden on agricultural households, particularly with massive crop damage due to late and heavy monsoon rain, and the lumpy skin disease, which has spread across 15 states, killed almost a lakh cattle, and affected another 20 lakhs more.
The Wholesale Price Index or WPI-based fodder inflation stood at 25.54 per cent in August 2022, the highest in the last nine years. It has been rising since December 2021. While the overall WPI inflation has softened in recent months — the August 2022 WPI inflation at 12.41 per cent (provisional) is the lowest since September 2021, the fodder inflation has seen a sharp spike, hovering over 20 per cent during the last four months, May-August 2022.
Rahisan, 52, who lives in nearby Kulawat village in Alwar district, and owns 12 cows, two buffaloes and a goat, pointed out the irony on food and fodder prices. “Anaaj ke bhaav hai (Fodder prices are almost at par with grains),” she said when asked about fodder prices. Wheat is priced at Rs 2,200 per quintal this year, she said, and compared it with the price she paid — Rs 800 per 40 kg — for dry fodder, or Rs 2,000 per quintal.
Not only dry fodder, the prices of feed (khal aur chuni) too have sharply increased, Rahisan said, noting that mustard oil cake that used to cost Rs 1,600 per quintal now costs around Rs 3,000 per quintal. Her family’s bajra crop cultivated over four bigha (about 2.5 acres) in the village, was also damaged just like for many others, due to the heavy rains.
In adjoining Nuh, a district in Haryana, Isha Mohammad, a resident of Muradbas village, said fodder prices have doubled in a year to Rs 700 per 40 kg. Besides, the rate for green fodder (jowar) was also high at Rs 20,000 per acre, he said. District officials in Alwar and Nuh acknowledge the sharp rise in fodder prices this year, and its adverse impact on local people. Dr Narender Kumar, Deputy Director, Animal Husbandry, Nuh, said according to the 20th Livestock Census, the district had about 33,000 cattle and 1.75 lakh buffaloes, with over 90 per cent families in the district are dependent on animal husbandry and farming for their livelihood.
The fodder price rise has a direct bearing on the milk prices too. When Amul maker, the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), decided to raise retail milk prices in August this year, on the reason it cited was higher cattle feed cost. “The cattle feeding cost alone has increased approximately 20 per cent compared to last year…,” it said in a statement.
But the higher milk prices do not mean much for people like 60-year-old Yasin in Udhanwas. Due to sharp increase in dry fodder (dry residue of crops such as straws of wheat, paddy, sorghum, barley, jowar, gram, etc) prices, he is out to graze his 15 animals including cattle and buffaloes, even on a rainy day. He cultivates two-three bigha and cattle rearing is his main income source. “700 rupya man bik raho hai chaaro, pahle 200 rupya man tha. Ab mil hi na raho… dudh vahi mando hai. 25 rupaye kilo dudh par bache hi kya hai (Wheat straw sells Rs 700 per 40 kg. Earlier it was Rs 200 per 40 kg. Now, it is not even available. Milk prices are low too. Selling milk at Rs 25 per kg leaves us with no savings,” Yasin said.
The high fodder inflation has a direct impact on rural livelihoods since as per the National Statistical Office report ‘Situation Assessment of Agricultural Households and Land and Livestock Holdings of Households in Rural India, 2019’, 48.5 per cent of the total 17.24 crore rural households (or an estimated 8.37 crore) reported owning cattle ‘in milk’, young cattle and cattle in ‘others’ category during July-December 2018. Further, 43.8 per cent of the total 9.3 crore agricultural households use green fodder, 52.4 per cent dry fodder, 30.4 per cent concentrates, and 12.5 per cent other animal feed during the period.
Dairy industry sources said dry fodder (wheat straw) was selling at Rs 15-16 per kg at several places in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, and was significantly higher than the prices last year. “There is a 12-15 per cent shortage of green fodder and 25-26 per cent of dry fodder in the country. One of the reasons for the shortage is that paddy and wheat straw is not fully converted into good quality fodder. In many parts of the country, farmers burn stubble, which causes further shortage of fodder,” Amaresh Chandra, Director, Indian Grassland & Fodder Research Institute, Jhansi, told The Indian Express.
The Central government is not unaware of the fodder crisis. Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar flagged the need to ensure availability of fodder. “Kuchh sankat khade ho rahe hain, jisme pramukh roop se hum dekhenge toh dhyan me aayega ki aane wala kal chaare ka sankat khada karta hai (There are some crises in the horizon… the fodder shortage being the primary one),” he said, addressing the World Dairy Summit in Greater Noida on September 14. “There is a need to contemplate seriously on how sufficient fodder can be made available in the coming time…,” he said.