BAIF Development Research Foundation
Ahmedabad - 380015, Gujarat, India
E-mail: [email protected]
A lot of research and development effort has been invested in India on silage making, but with very poor adoption. Based on experience in the West, the technology of ensiling fodder crops has been strongly pushed as a means of maintaining nutritional status of livestock during the dry season, when green fodder is not available. The recommendations were based on the hypothesis that surplus green fodder would be available in the rainy season that could be conveniently ensiled and used in the dry season to supplement dry fodder, and that the feeding of ensiled fodder would be more economical than supplementation with concentrates. Several research projects, field demonstrations and special schemes (with subsidies) were initiated in the colonial period and are still continuing. Except for institutional farms, the adoption of ensiling technology by small farmers is very low (virtually nil).
The author is associated with a development NGO (BAIF) implementing large, livestock-based, integrated rural development activities in six states of the country, and has been closely involved with development of activities in three western states. BAIFs activities involve about half-a-million farmers, of whom 80% have small farms, and involvement is mostly in rainfed and less-developed areas. Livestock development is looked upon as a means of generating employment and income in rural areas, and has been taken up in a big way as part of poverty alleviation programmes. Thus, besides breed improvement, one of the major concerns has been developing feed resources and improving the nutritional status of animals, so that the expected productivity could be attained. BAIF started getting suggestions for introducing several promising technologies, including production and ensiling of fodder. However, it soon became clear that what looked highly promising, technically and economically feasible, was often not acceptable to the small-scale farmer. Hence it was necessary to learn why the technology was not adopted. Involvement and experience in rural areas showed that answers or explanations are not available from technical persons, but have to be sought from farmers, and that there is much to be learnt from them.
THE DILEMMA OF NON-ADOPTION OF A TECHNICALLY SOUND TECHNOLOGY, AND STUDIES WITH FARMERS
Like a few other technologies in agriculture, ensiling was one that was considered technically sound and beneficial, since the nutritional status of animals can be maintained in the dry season at lower cost. Most of the research and demonstration reports on silage making are favourable. Special programmes, with subsidies, were implemented to encourage small-scale farmers to construct silo towers, pits or trenches, as well as to purchase a chaff cutter for chopping the crop. It was presumed that, at least during the rainy season, some surplus fodder or naturally growing grass would be available for ensiling. A number of institutional farms (research institutes, university and State Government farms, etc.) adopted ensiling and use of silage for feeding during dry periods, although even on these farms the use of ensiled fodder has been rather limited.
Studies were implemented with farmers and extension officers in parts of three States in western India, namely Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Participatory exercises were conducted with extension officers, farmers (both men and women) through a series of small group discussions and ranking exercises, and discussions with randomly chosen individuals. More than 300 farmer families were involved in these exercises. Of these, more than 100 farmers were involved in demonstrations of silage making by State Governments and Dairy Co-ops. The results of the participatory studies are summarized below.
- Most extension officers were aware of silage making processes and had basic information but lacked in-depth knowledge and practical experience. Only 15% had practical experience of silage making.
- Most extension officers indicated that tower or well-type silos were not appropriate, being far too costly. Shallow pits or trenches with the use of plastic sheets were worth trying, but were labour intensive. Chopping fodder was cumbersome, labour intensive and not commonly practised.
- Farmers with whom demonstrations were arranged had some knowledge about ensiling, acquired during meetings. There was considerable negative impact from the technology in cases where ensiling was not effective (for various reasons) and many lost faith.
- Most women had no knowledge about ensiling, as they had not participated in demonstrations. Some women got information through training programmes and extension meetings. Almost all the women felt that the technology was cumbersome and costly in view of the chopping and filling operations, and were not convinced about benefits, taking into account the efforts and cost.
- The extension officers did not try alternative ways of ensiling fodder.
- about 90% of the farmers considered the recommended process of silage making to be cumbersome and labour intensive.
- Studies indicated that about 30% of the farmers who were involved in demonstrations and received a subsidy adopted silage making for a short period. Long-term adoption by farmers was not seen in any of the regions, while many institutional farms continue to make silage. Reasons for non-adoption included:
- Most of the farmers felt that benefits were not commensurate with effort and time.
- Many women mentioned that their animals were low milk yielders and cost and trouble of silage making did not provide sufficient returns.
- There was no surplus fodder in rainfed areas for ensiling. Fodder production was mainly carried out in winter (legumes are grown in small plots and these did not ensile well).
- Farmers having irrigation facilities preferred to grow 2-3 crops of fodder and feed these fresh.
- Surplus grass was available in some rainfed areas but its ensiling was too labour intensive.
- The process was cumbersome: it was more convenient to dry and store good quality fodder (this is a traditional practice and preferred by most farmers - particularly women).
- The majority of women did not like the smell of silage and reported that some animals took time to adapt and some refused to eat the material.
While discussing with research colleagues about ensiling and such other technologies, a common attitude was that We have done our job and it is up to the extension officers and the farmers to take it or leave it. As in many other cases, this is also a case of research outpacing development. The replies from women were very interesting and worthy of serious consideration, namely that unless a common farmer has animals producing sufficient to warrant the trouble and cost of silage making, the adoption would be poor and subsidies would be of little help.
The cost factor was also not very straightforward. It was linked with fodder production and the farmer would compare crops and technologies before making a decision. It again boiled down to returns from animals. There is therefore need to compare costs of concentrates versus silage. However, the convenience factor may override the cost factor. It is much more convenient to supplement with concentrates during the summer, with hay or straw, albeit of lower quality. Chopping of fodder is not common in western India and this adds to time and hassle in silage making.
The lesson learnt is to undertake production system studies and have repeated discussions with farmers to understand their situation, and to look for those farms where the technology would fit well. It is crucial to ensure that benefits are visible to farmers and that they feel the need. This applies particularly to the women.
However, there are not many such situations, and one can save a lot of time and money through situation analysis before deciding to introduce a technology or any other intervention. Unfortunately, such an approach is not common in livestock development or research in India.