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Case Study 7. Hay and straw in Afghanistan (Fodder conservation for long winters)

All of Afghanistan is arid to semi-arid, and in the uplands the winters are severe and long. Table 20 gives an indication of the range of climatic conditions encountered. Although holding sizes are very small and production is limited by availability of irrigation water, fodder, much of it for hay, is an important traditional crop. Cultivated fodder is grown in most farming systems, and haymaking is traditional throughout the country, mostly from irrigated forage legumes. Lucerne (Medicago sativa) and shaftal (Trifolium resupinatum) are the main crops. The preference for legumes has three reasons (apart from their growing very well there): they complement the coarse crop residues fed during winter; they do not require nitrogenous fertilizer; and they are recognized as improving soil fertility.

Table 20. Climatic data for some stations in Afghanistan

Station (Altitude (m))

January temp. (°C)

July temp. (°C)

Precipitation (mm)






Faizabad (1 200)






Kunduz (433)






Mazar-i-sharif (348)






Herat (964)







Lal (2 800)






Kabul (1 791)






Ghazni (2 183)







Farah (660)






Kandahar (1 010)






Khost (1 164)






Jalalabad (580)






The fodder area was greatly reduced during the time when farm families were refugees, but now that the subsistence crops are being re-developed and household production stabilizing, fodder cultivation has re-started and is progressing rapidly. The traditional fodders are seen in most areas: more intensive concentrations of fodder are found in the areas supplying milk to urban areas. Seed markets visited in many parts of the country during the past three years have, in every case, had supplies of the local fodders, although home production and farmer-to-farmer exchange account for most of the seed used. Lucerne and shaftal for most of the country is locally produced, and climatic conditions are very favourable for seed production; Ghazni and Herat are both large producing areas. Lucerne seed was formerly grown for export, and now commercial production is re-established, seed is being sold in large quantities to Balochistan (Quetta) as well as for satisfying local needs. The proportion of fodder in the rotation varies, being between 5% and 10% according to local conditions and farmers' needs.

The report on FAO project TCP/AFG/4552 states

"The main production and greatest need of fodder for cows is during summer, and oxen need to be in good condition for the spring cultivation, but the insufficient fodder supply during late winter is thought to be the biggest problem. In addition to the shortage of production due to limited land and water, it would be also important to know whether other reasons - like the lack of labour during haymaking or poor conservation techniques - contribute to the deficiency in winter."

The technical report (by O. Thieme) on the animal production element of the same project discusses fodder and hay:

Livestock production in Afghanistan largely depends on grazing, but only about 40% of the area is suitable for grazing during winter (Yalçin, 1979). In higher elevations and mountains with low temperatures and long snow cover, indoor feeding is practised during winter for all livestock, and in the uplands and northern Afghanistan for large ruminants only. In the warmer areas of south and east Afghanistan, all livestock remain outside during the whole year. Supplementary feeding with fresh fodder crops, hay from pastures or fodder crops, agricultural by-products and concentrates during periods of scarcity or important production is, however, common in all areas. The most important fodder crops are lucerne (Medicago sativa), shaftal (Trifolium resupinatum) and, in the hotter areas of eastern Afghanistan, berseem (Trifolium alexandrinum). All three fodder crops are mainly fed to large ruminants. Berseem is given fresh, and lucerne and shaftal both fresh and as hay. Lucerne is also sold to other farmers, both fresh and as hay. It is grown as a perennial, but length of utilization varies between areas, from 2 to 7-8 years. Shaftal is planted as a second crop and mainly harvested in late spring. For Ghazni province, hay yields from four cuts of lucerne were reported as 7-9 t/ha and from shaftal as 2.5-3.5 t/ha (ASA, 1993). In some areas, up to 10% of the cultivated land was under fodder crops in the pre-war era (Grötzbach, 1990), and it seems that after the war fodder production has again resumed an important place in the farming system. Assuming that fodder crops are grown on 5% of the arable land, at least 1 million tons of hay-equivalent are produced.

Even the smallest and poorest farmers keep at least one cow to provide their subsistence requirements for dairy products, but many farmers have more than one cow, and this is a common pattern all over the country (ASA, 1993). In all the areas visited during the mission, farmers showed a strong interest in increasing milk production from cattle. Compared to small ruminants, cattle have important benefits for milk production, especially for small farmers. Few numbers of cattle are easier to manage than sheep or goats; cattle have a longer lactation length; less seasonality of production; and they remain in the villages during the whole year, thus allowing the supply of fresh milk and dairy products to the whole family. In contrast, because of the common system of management, many sheep and goats move during the lactation period to summer pastures far from the villages, thus preventing the supply of fresh dairy products, especially to women and children. During the summer and spring seasons, fresh lucerne and/or clover (shaftal or berseem) is given to the stall-fed cows several times during the day, and in those areas where cows go out for grazing in the evening, at the homesteads. Important sources of winter feeding for cattle all over Afghanistan are cereal straw, hay from grasses or legumes, and maize stalks. Other sources of roughage, like leaves in Badakshan or camel-thorn in the northern Turkestan plains, have only regional importance. Great efforts are made to collect enough fodder especially in those areas with a long winter period like Badakshan or the Hazarajat, and large stacks of hay are stored on top of the cattle houses (Centlivres and Centlivres-Demont, 1977). Very often, wheat straw is mixed with legume hay before feeding. Bouy and Dasniere (1994) calculated, for villages in Badakshan, an average availability of 1 t of straw and 200 kg of legume hay per animal unit (300 kg), which was sufficient for the indoor feeding period of about 110 days. In contrast, information collected from farmers in Ghazni and from Kandahar (ASA, 1993) show that many farmers have to purchase straw and/or hay to provide sufficient roughage for their cattle during winter. Milking cows and working oxen during winter usually also receive a supplementation with concentrates like cotton seed cake, maize or barley grain. Information about the daily amount offered range from 250 - 400 g in Ghazni and Khost (Barker and Rahmani, 1994; Halimi, 1995) to 1.8 kg in Sar-i-pol and 2.5 kg in Balkh (Pers. obs., 1996; ASA, 1993).

During winter, most small ruminants of villagers are housed during the night and during bad weather. Hay, straw, leaves, different local types of roughage and concentrates are given as supplementary feeding during this period. In Nuristan, the most important roughage for goats are leaves from the evergreen oak trees (Edelberg and Jones, 1979). The actual amount of feed given and the length of the feeding period depend on the region and the weather conditions. A supplementation of concentrates, with 200-450 g of maize or barley for two months seems to be a common practice (ASA, 1993) and McArthur (1980) found that the local practice of giving these concentrates before lambing only to weak animals was more economical than supply to the whole flock.

"Crop residues

These are a major source of feed in sedentary production systems. Wheat is the main winter crop, although some barley is grown. Maize and (locally) rice are the summer cereals. Haulms from pulses including grams (Vigna spp. mash), lentil, pea and groundnut are used as fodder. Cotton sticks may be grazed or taken to the homestead as feed and firewood. Local wheat threshing methods chaff the straw, which can then be stored and fed easily. Straw treatment with urea has been demonstrated, but in many areas there is a global scarcity of dry matter, so treatments which increase feed intake are problematical. Urea/molasses block supplementation of straw-based feed in winter has had very promising results, and seems likely to become popular in some areas.

Much of the straw, and chaffed legume haulms, is stored in mud-covered clamps. In areas where supply exceeds requirements (or in case of need for ready cash), crop residues are sold, mainly to Kuchis, but some feed-scarce villages purchase straw for winter use and transport it over long distances.

Hay and fodder crops

Lucerne (Medicago sativa) (rishka) is the most widespread and popular fodder and is cultivated from the lowest and hottest to the highest and coolest zones in all provinces of the country. Local ecotypes are used. Nearly all the crop is irrigated, so one of the criteria when choosing between lucerne and clover as a fodder is always the availability of water throughout the entire growing season - much of the irrigation is seasonal. The crop is often sown under wheat, and very high seed rates of up to 60 kg/ha are used. Seed quality is often mediocre; farm-grown seed or seed exchanged with neighbours is usual. In areas of specialized cultivation, close to big towns where lucerne is sold as a cash crop, it may be direct sown or sown with a temporary nurse crop for shade, especially in the hot season; millet (Panicum miliaceum) is sometimes used as a summer nurse crop near Kandahar. Spring sowing is as successful as autumn, but, since most is sown with wheat, broadcast autumn sowing is general. The crop is established with the intention of its lasting for many years - ten is often claimed - and local ecotypes certainly persist well, although their best performance is in the first five years. The number of cuts depends on the local climate; in low-altitude areas, six to eight cuts are possible where water is adequate; in the high areas, over 2 000 m, three cuts are usual.

Table 21. Livestock numbers in Afghanistan, 1967-1995 ('000s)




Resident farmers 1995(3)

Kuchis 1995(3)


3 633

3 750

4 049

3 495



21 455

18 900

18 688

15 504

6 508


3 187

2 900

5 458

3 472








1 328

1 300

1 131









Sources: (1) Central Statistics Office, Afghan Agriculture in Figures (1978); Statistical Year Book 1360 (1983); (cited after Grötzbach, 1990). (2) Own estimates using data from: The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan; The Agricultural Survey of Afghanistan, 14th Report, 1991 Survey. (3) Own estimates using data from the headcount in 1995, organized by FAO/UNDP Project AFG/93/004

Table 22. Crop areas in Afghanistan, 1997 - 1998


Area (million ha)

Production (t)

Yield (t/ha)

























Shaftal or Persian clover (Trifolium resupinatum) is the second of Afghanistan's major fodders. It is used in rotations and also in situations where perennial irrigation is not available for lucerne. In warm zones with two-season cropping, e.g., Khost, it is preferred to lucerne since the shaftal is harvested in time for summer crops to be sown; it is sown September-October and harvest is over in May. In high altitude areas, where the clover is dormant under snow for months, harvest does not begin until May, and three cuts are taken up to August - the last cut may be harvested for seed. In all areas, it is autumn-sown for spring and summer use. In the higher, cooler areas it may also be grown as a summer catch crop after winter cereals; in some places, shaftal is sown in standing wheat at the time of the last irrigation. Two hay cuts and a seed cut are frequently taken from autumn-sown crops. A precocious cut of very young leaves may also be made for drying as a table vegetable. Shaftal is successfully made into hay. There are said to be several landraces. The standard of shaftal fields seen shows a superior crop to that seen in Pakistan, so some selection by farmers may occur. Most of the shaftal sown in its traditional areas is from locally-grown seed that has had little or no quality control, and in some places farmers use very high seed rates. This should not be difficult to improve, as it is a free seeder. Landraces in Afghanistan, where shaftal is a very important hay plant, are much superior to ordinary Pakistan material, especially in Ghazni and Herat Provinces.

Egyptian clover or berseem (Trifolium alexandrinum) is a crop of recent introduction, via Pakistan. It is grown in some of the lower areas, such as Khost and Ningarhar, where the winters are sufficiently mild; it only withstands light frost. Cultivation methods are similar to those for shaftal, but it is usually sown directly in early September, possibly mixed with some mustard. If sown early, berseem, unlike shaftal, has rapid early growth and one or more cuts can be taken before growth stops temporarily due to cold weather. A further four or five cuts can be taken in spring. It is, in suitable climates, more productive than shaftal and produces in autumn and early winter as well as during the spring peak. It is not as popular as shaftal and is mainly used as green feed, and is not nearly as easy to make into hay as lucerne or shaftal. It is not suitable for use as a table vegetable. It is unlikely that berseem will replace shaftal in Afghan agriculture in the manner it did in the warmer conditions of Pakistan and northern India.

Other fodders, such as vetches (Vicia spp.), are widely grown, often as a summer catch crop, but their volume is nowhere near as important as that of lucerne and clover. Chickling vetch (Lathyrus sativus) is cultivated in the very high altitude areas as both a fodder and a pulse. No fodder grasses are cultivated, although maize thinnings are used in all areas where the crop is grown, and green wheat may be cut as fodder in times of scarcity.

Traditional haymaking techniques

Haymaking is almost entirely manual; mowing is generally by sickle, although the scythe is known. The common traditional sickle is smooth-bladed with a relatively straight blade set on a long metal neck attached to a wooden handle; the handle may have a slight hook at its extremity; the sickle is wielded with a scythe-like motion but using only one hand. A typical sickle appears in Figure 55.

Hay from cultivated forage is nearly all lucerne and shaftal. They are both excellent hay crops, but the greatest problem in making hay in the hot and dry summers is avoiding leaf-loss through shattering. Traditional systems take this into account. The crop is mown and left to wilt in the swath until limp, and it is removed from the field and dried elsewhere before there is danger of leaf-loss.

The wilted herbage may be tied into small trusses which are set on the bunds to dry; this also frees the field and allows re-growth with a minimum of shading from cut herbage and traffic during other haymaking operations. The trusses are turned periodically and, when they are judged sufficiently dry, are stacked loosely for further field drying, before final transport and storage.

Figure 55. Shaftal drying on a roof (Ghazni, Afghanistan)

Excellent hay is produced in this way and the leaves are kept within the trusses. These processes are shown in Figure 55. After wilting, the forage may be carried to the homestead and dried out of reach of livestock, often on the roof. Any fallen leaves will be swept up and saved (see Figure 55). Shaftal is sometimes made into long, rope-like trusses, which are hung over the sunny sides of houses for initial drying and then finished on the roof. Hay storage is often under cover

Hay from natural pasture

There is little natural vegetation suited to haymaking, although in the eastern areas near the Pakistan border, some hillsides produce enough vegetation to be worth mowing. The grasses are mostly unpalatable while green (although the inflorescences are eaten by small stock), but the dried grass is eaten.

Hay from shrubs

On the northern plains of near Balkh, an unusual hay is made from the self-regenerating camel thorn shrub (Alhagi sp.) which appears in almost pure stand during the fallow years of wheat cropping. There is not enough water to irrigate all the available land, so wheat is rotated with fallow. The thorns are mown in late autumn, dried in the field, bundled and stored at the homesteads, then fed to camels and goats during winter. Uneaten stems are used as fuel. Analyses of camel-thorn hay from neighbouring areas of Pakistan are given in Table 23.

Table 23. Analysis of camel-thorn, Alhagi sp., from Balochistan


Crude protein

Crude fibre

Crude fat


Whole plant, July 1994





Leaves and thorns, winter stores, November 1994





Seed only, November 1994





Data provided by P. O'Donovan and T.J. Barker

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