The agricultural sector in Pakistan with its five subsectors; major crops, minor crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry has 18.9 percent of contribution in the GDP. While, the livestock is the major contributing sector with 11.11 percent of share in GDP, thus plays an important role in the economic growth of the country. However, the livestock population in 2018 was 196.5 million heads in Pakistan as compared to 191.5 million heads in 2017 (Economic Survey of Pakistan, 2016-17 and 2017-18).
As the livestock population is increasing, so are the feed requirements. But fodder cultivation in Pakistan is on the decline since time immemorial and seems like its importance is not being recognized.
PROBLEMS OF FODDER PRODUCTION IN PAKISTAN
- Fodder Production
Fodder production is the major limiting factor for livestock production in our country. In terms of Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) we are short by about 25.65 million tones and in terms of Digestible Protein (DP) about 1.58 million tones.
- Less Area under Cultivation
Fodder crops are cultivated only on an area of 2.0 million ha in Pakistan which is far behind to meet the fodder requirements of the country. On the other hand, wheat is the largest sown crop and today constitutes 66 percent of the total area of food grains.
- Competition of Fodder Crops with Major Crops
The four major crops of Pakistan; wheat, rice, sugarcane and cotton, covered about 66 percent of the total cropped area. Major fodder crops grown during winter include berseem, lucerne, oats, barley and mustard; while during summer these are maize, sorghum, S.S. Hybrids, millet guar, and cowpeas. These crops cover 16 to 19% of the total cropped area in the country. The rabi fodder crops come in competition with wheat as both share the same sowing season while the Kharif fodder crops come in competition with major summer crops like cotton, sugarcane and rice.
- Lack of Quality and Quantity of Seed
Lack of good quality seed is another problem being faced today because private and government sectors are not as involved in the seed business of fodder crops as they are in case of wheat, cotton, etc. Along with these, the country only has one institute which solely works on fodder improvement namely Fodder Research Institute, Sargodha. This shows the level of concern of the government for the livestock sector.
- Fodder Scarcity Periods
There are months in which fodder availability is surplus but the country faces two scarcity periods as well; one from November to December and the other from May to June. It happens because farmer divides fodder into groups of winter and summer according to the appropriateness of sowing and harvesting. He has to grow the required fodder according to the weather conditions to get a better yield. Therefore, in the scarcity periods he either has to feed his animals a cheap low-quality fodder or keep them underfed. This ultimately results in the loss of health and the production of animals.
According to FAO worldwide comparison, developed countries with 25 percent of livestock are producing 63 percent milk and 66 percent meat. While only 37 percent milk and 34 percent of meat is being produced by the developing countries (including Pakistan) with 75 percent livestock. As in Pakistan, the daily milk average of a local cow is 8-10 liters a day against 35-40 liters of an American cow.
All of these problems along with the lack of appreciation of the government for fodder research are the main limiting factors for livestock production in Pakistan. A consistent supply of adequate and nutritious fodder is essential to bridge this gap and to exploit the livestock sector for economic growth and rural uplift as eight million families are involved in livestock raising.
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS TO OVERCOME FODDER SHORTAGE
- Production and Availability of Seed of Fodder Crops
Farmers usually have small landholdings and they do not grow fodder crops for seed production. Therefore, they depend on the market for seed every season. The government should involve private sectors in the seed production business and have them follow certain strategies to overcome the shortage issue of quality and quantity of seed in the country.
- Fodder Conservation
Conservation of fodder in the form of hay, silage and haylage is crucial. Because during March-April, the country has surplus fodder and usually most of it goes into waste rather than being stored.
For the consistent supply and to avoid scarcity periods, we need to focus on preserving fodder and forages on a long term basis by promoting and adopting new techniques like silage and haylage making which can ensure livestock is fed a balanced diet throughout the year.
- Adoption of Inter-Cropping System
Inter-cropping of fodder crops with
- grain crops such as Wheat or rice or
- non-food crops like cotton or sugarcane
are effective ways of increasing area under fodder crops. Also, Fodder-fodder inter-cropping has proved to be more productive than single fodder cropping. Intercropping of maize fodder and cowpea significantly increased its production and quality of silage.
- Research Activities
Fodder sector has always been overlooked by the government despite its importance in the livestock sector. The government needs to focus on providing present institutes with the resources and funding they need to research in this area.
Fodder production technologies should be made for every region of the country and implemented by the government authorities. Research activities for quality and anti-quality parameters should be given equal importance as yield.
We are in the dire need to focus on developing new, better and resilient fodder crop varieties. The powers-that-be has to take the initiative to open more institutes that would work on developing high yielding and multi-cut fodder varieties and make sure good quality seed is distributed nationwide.
- Promoting the Adoption of Non-Conventional Fodder Crops
Rhode grass fodder, which was introduced in 2011 in Pakistan, can grow in saline soils. It has well adapted to Pakistan’s climate and soil and gives good results in salt-affected soils with underground salty water. It gives 50-70 tones yield per year, with less water and fertilizer, which is nearly double the yield as compared to alfalfa. The government should put efforts into extension work to educate the farmers about fodder cultivation and the importance and benefits of non-conventional fodder crops. The authorities should revisit the priority areas for the agriculture sector keeping in mind that the fodder crops have a direct impact on the economic gains from the livestock sector.
Framers are rational and fixing support prices have always been a way to convince them to produce a certain crop. The government should put forward the price incentives for fodder crops so that the quantity of fodder can be increased to meet the national demand.
The policymakers emphasizing on enhancing the livestock production should not forget that targets can never be achieved until the feed of animals is taken solemnly.
Author: MOMNA MEHMOOD
University of Agriculture, Faisalabad