Given the emphasis on livestock development and self reliance in milk production, the State government appears to have woken up to the need for rapidly stepping up production of green fodder.
Drawing attention to the decline in the area under fodder production, the Economic Review 2021, prepared by the Kerala State Planning Board and tabled in the State Assembly last week, noted that domestic cultivation meets just 46% of the fodder requirement.
The document indicated that the State has less than 2,500 hectares under fodder cultivation. Large-scale commercial production will have to be ensured to meet the demand in the next decade. Suitable contract farming models also should be explored, it said. “Kerala urgently needs a fodder and feed plan for its livestock sector. About 15,000 acres of land has to be identified to cultivate fodder in the State over the next two years and domestic capacity of production needs to be expanded,’‘ the Economic Review noted.
Fodder scarcity remains a limiting factor in the State's dairy sector. Data released by the Dairy Development Directorate, the nodal agency for fodder-related activities, shows that the area under fodder farms growing the Hybrid Napier variety of fodder grass fell from 2,665 hectares in 2015-16 to 2,363 hectares in 2020-21. The State should increase the area to at least 13,000 hectares to meet the roughage production targets.
The Economic Review observed that the State has, at present, 5,741 fodder plots, of which, 4,362 plots (76%) are between one acre and 2.5 acres in area. Of the remaining plots, 952 (17%) are between 2.5 acres and five acres. A mere 7% — 427 plots in all — are above five acres. The document has recommended a multi-pronged approach to stepping up commercial production; roping in cooperative societies; linkage with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS); and encouraging Kudumbashree units, entrepreneurs and self-help groups to farm on waste lands.
For the 2022-23 fiscal, the State Budget presented by Finance Minister K.N. Balagopal on Friday has earmarked ₹7.60 crore for fodder production in farmers' fields and through dairy cooperatives. The Budget documents noted the need for bringing down production costs to make farming attractive. The outlay will cover farmer assistance, azolla and maize cultivation, irrigation, allocations to the State Fodder Farm and promotion of commercial fodder production in waste lands.
The Dairy Development Department, the nodal agency for fodder development, currently had schemes under way in all the districts to step up production, said K. Sasikumar, Joint Director (Planning), of the department. ''The area under fodder production in Kerala is low compared to other States. Traditionally, the demand-supply gap has been covered by the use of hay and other agricultural wastes,'' he said.