Dr. Muhammad Dost, formerly Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), Gilgit, Pakistan

Northern Areas of Pakistan cover 72,500 square km of steep, broken and mountainous land with some of the world’s highest peaks (see Figure 1). Cultivable land is extremely limited, averaging 0.075 ha. per capita while there are some 3 M livestock, mainly small stock and cattle.

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Figure 1. Map of the Northern Areas

Lack of quality fodder, especially during winter, is a major limiting factor in improving livestock production. During winter all stock has to rely on crop residues and fodder, so many animals are undernourished and weak by the spring.

Because of very limited land holdings (Figure 2), lack of water and extreme weather conditions, fodder crop cultivation is practiced on small areas. So, traditionally there is a fodder deficit from November to March, when the main summer fodder crop season (for example maize) is over and the traditional winter fodder, especially shaftal (Trifolium resupinatum) and lucerne (Medicago sativa), are still dormant during the freezing temperatures.

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Figure 2 – A typical scene in the Hunza Valley, near Gilgit in the Northern Areas (photo by Reynolds)

Due to limited land holdings, farmers also practice a highly integrated and subsistence type of farming system that is not very flexible. The majority of farmers who have livestock also have fruit trees; an integrated approach that should complement rather than compete is required. Fodder legumes such as alfalfa or lucerne (Medicago sativa), berseem (Trifolium alexandrinum), shaftal (Trifolium resupinatum), vetch (Vicia sativa), cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata) etc. can be grown in association with fruit trees, providing fodder for livestock as well as improving soil fertility through biological nitrogen fixation.

After the harvest season for maize, wheat, and potatoes, there is a potential fodder growing period of three months in the double cropping areas (i.e. the areas with an altitude of < 2,000 m where two grain crops - wheat and maize - can be planted one after the other and mature) and two months in the single cropping areas (i.e. areas with an altitude of > 2200 m where only one grain crop - either maize or wheat - can be planted) which is currently not being utilized. As water is available for irrigation and provided the crop is protected from free livestock grazing, cold-tolerant crops such as oats, barley, vetch, ryegrass etc. can be grown.

Traditional Forage Production Techniques

  • Compromise on grain production by retaining tall wheat and maize varieties with a low harvest index but a lot of straw and stover. Crop residues are carefully conserved and stored, often on roofs or in trees.
  • Sowing cereals at two to three times the recommended seed rate to permit thinning for green fodder and to increase straw production.
  • High quality leguminous fodders are grown on small areas – shaftal (Trifolium resupinatum) for green feed during spring and lucerne (Medicago sativa) for hay as winter feed (Figure 3); the lucerne varieties used, probably of Xinjiang origin, are strongly winter-dormant, excessively so for the lower altitudes, and provide few cuts. Summer grazing on alpine pastures is exploited to the maximum.
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[Figure 3 – Lucerne hay drying before being stored for the winter (photo by Reynolds)]

  • Multipurpose trees (willow [Salix sp.], mulberry [Morus sp.] and Russian olive [Elaeagnus sp.]) are planted on field edges and marginal land - their leaves and bark provide supplementary fodder in winter. In some areas leaves are dried and stored for winter use.
  • About 70 to 80 percent of the available non-alpine feed is straw and stover – its quality is too low, especially in terms of protein, for stock to meet their dietary needs, intake etc. (Figure 4). The feed conversion can be improved by urea treatment of straw and by feeding some concentrates to milking cows.
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[Figure 4 – Maize stover for winter feed]


Non winter-dormant lucerne cultivars (Sundar being the main one), introduced by the FAO project PAK/86/027, "Livestock and Poultry Improvement", have been very successful. In some cases they suffer some frost damage in high altitude areas (more than 2000 m) but grow throughout the year and give more than twice the yield of landraces (Figures 5 and 6) in the lower areas (1,400 m)

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[Figure 5 – Local lucerne (foreground) and improved lucerne (background)].

The new cultivars also provided maximum green fodder in seven cuts as compared to only three cuts from local landraces and remain green in the critical December - January period when traditional crops are usually dormant and there is a fodder deficit period.

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[Figure 6 – Improved winter-active lucerne cultivar "Sundar" in Aliabad, Hunza]

Evaluation of oat cultivar germplasm: based on forage yield, 6 oats cultivars (Figure 7), one barley, and one rye cultivar were put under trial in various agro-ecological regions of the Northern Area. Fodder oat cultivation has advanced greatly in Pakistan and especially in the Northern Areas in recent years due to extensive on-farm demonstration of forage yield potential of forage oats.

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[Figure 7 – Fodder yield trial with improved oat cultivars]

Improved oat cultivars are potentially valuable fodder for the Northern Areas, since they grow much earlier and more vigorously than other winter-grown cereals (Figure 8).

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[Figure 8 – Forage oats production during freezing temperatures]

Oats are excellent for mixed planting with berseem or lucerne (Figure 9). Lucerne was row-planted at 30 cm, which permits inter-cultivation and seeding with oats in the autumn, thereby maximizing yields per unit area.

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[Figure 9 – Lucerne intercropped with oats]

Parallel to the fodder technology, disease-resistant, higher-yielding cultivars of the main crops, especially wheat (Figure 10) and maize, were available. Demonstration of these was included in the programme, since they are essential to the farming system, as straw is necessary for the livestock sector. The demonstration of better wheat cultivation has often served as a useful first contact with farmers.

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[Figure 10 – New wheat cultivars under trial in Gilgit (photo by Reynolds)]

Fodder legumes mixed with cereals

To obtain early and good yields on small land holdings under severe winter conditions, compatible fodder crops can be planted in mixture to produce high fodder yields with good quality. Leguminous dwarf fodders like berseem can be mixed with tall growing fodder like oats, rye grass, brassicas etc. A deep-rooted crop like lucerne can be mixed with shallow rooted crops like oats (Figure 11), rye, barley or brassicas (Figures 12 and 13).

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[Figure 11 – Lucerne and oats mixture in an apple orchard in Aliabad, Hunza]

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[Figure 12 – A mixture of oats, lucerne and brassica]

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[Figure 13 – A lucerne and brassica mixture]

Oats were inter-cropped in winter active lucerne and red clover planted in rows spaced at 30 cms. apart at a number of locations. The mixture of lucerne + oats (Figure 14), red clover + oats, and berseem + oats (Figure15) produced maximum green and dry matter yields as compared to the sole crops of either legume.

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[Figure 14 – Lucerne intercropped with oats for maximum forage production]
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[Figure 15 – Berseem and oats mixture harvested in December in Gilgit]

Legumes inter-planted in orchards

Every farmer in the Northern Areas has at least a small and often a big orchard. The majority of farmers rear livestock and also grow fruit trees. Therefore, an integrated approach that complements rather than competing with the existing farming system is required. In order to obtain superior quality fodder, improve soil fertility, and subsequently enhance fruit yields and quality, the farmers must inter-crop lucerne (Figure 16), red clover, berseem, shaftal, or vetch (Figure 17) etc. in the orchards. Lucerne is considered one of the most important leguminous fodder crops in the Northern Areas. It provides high quality hay for winter-feeding. The farmers of the Northern Areas have been planting local winter-dormant lucerne varieties.

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[Figure 16 – An excellent stand of lucerne (photo by Reynolds)]

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[Figure 17 – Vetch (photo by Reynolds)]

Three improved winter active lucerne cultivars i.e. Sundar, Sequel, and Aquarius were evaluated with a local cultivar in five to seven year old apple orchards in Chilas and Gilgit. The winter active lucerne "Sundar" excelled all cultivars in the double crop areas. Therefore, local lucerne landraces should be replaced with "Sundar" in all the double crop areas. Farmers have been able to harvest lucerne throughout the year on land protected from uncontrolled (free) grazing.

Multicut forage sorghums (sorghum/Sudan grass hybrids), which were unknown in the area, provided an excellent means of increasing summer fodder production (Figures 18 and 19), producing three to four times as much fodder as the local maize (Figure 20). Local maize yields on average 39 tons of green fodder, whereas the sorghum hybrid yields range from 110 to 138 tons with an average of 127.67 tons per ha of air-dry material.

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[Figure 18 – S.S. hybrid for summer fodder]

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[Figure 19 – S.S. hybrid forage yield trial]
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[Figure 20 – Local maize (left) and multi-cut S.S. hybrid (right)]

Seven improved maize cultivars (Figures 21 and 22) were evaluated throughout the Northern Areas. All the improved cultivars produced 2-3 times more green fodder, grain, and stover yields/ha than the local at Gilgit, Chilas, Ghizer, and Skardu districts. The maize cultivar "LM 2092" produced 6 tons of grain and 35 tons of stover yield/ha as compared to 2.30 tons/ha grain and 17 tons/ha stover yield by local maize. Also the local maize was very susceptible to leaf blight.

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[Figure 21 – Improved maize (right) and local maize (left)]

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[Figure 22 – Improved maize seed multiplication]


Based on the results of demonstrations throughout the Northern Areas, it is possible to ensure year round fodder production for improved dairy farming. There are several options available to the farmers, depending on their particular need, for a sufficient quantity and good quality feed, their present cereal subsistence, and other supplies of winter fodder.

To ensure a fodder supply during winter, Berseem cultivar Agaiti and winter active lucerne cultivars Sundar and Sequel should be inter-cropped with oats during September - October. This will:

  • Ensure regular and early fodder supply throughout the winter;
  • Improve soil fertility through biological nitrogen fixation;
  • Enhance yields and nutritive value of fodder harvested during November - June.
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[Figure 23 – Oats and vetch hay mixture in Gilgit]

Moreover, the mixture of oats + vetch (Figure 23) planted during September - October will provide fodder from December - April. By that time March - April planted multicut sorghums and the previous year's lucerne and red clover crops would be ready for bulky cuttings in May - June. The multicut forage sorghums provide a regular supply of fodder in six cuttings well spread from May to November.


A full version of this paper is now available in the AGPC Integrated Crop Management [Series], Vol. 4 – 2001