Livestock Production Opportunities in the Indo-Gangetic Plains to Improve Livelihoods of Marginal Farmers

Dr. Nar K. Gurung, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Alabama 36088, USA

A large majority of farmers in the Indo-Gangetic plains of India are resource-constrained, marginal farmers, who depend on crop-livestock, mixed farming systems. These farmers typically live on less than $1.25 per day per capita. Though most of these farmers own livestock, they own less than 0.5 ha of land (Ali, 2007). Increasing the number of livestock is the primary way to improve their livelihood because livestock production, unlike the production of crops is less affected by uncertainties such as scarcity of rainfall and occurrence of droughts. The livestock asset is also more equitably distributed than land, so rearing livestock can be an effective tool for reducing poverty (Ali, 2007). But to increase livestock production, increasing the number of animals per household is not viable due to small land holdings. The only way to boost productivity is through improved efficiency.

India has achieved a remarkable growth in livestock production in the recent years, especially in poultry production and dairy. According to Steinfeld et al. (2006), from 1990 to 2006 there has been a 15% growth in poultry production and 10% in dairy production. The increased livestock production has mainly been contributed by market-oriented and vertically-integrated businesses (Steinfeld et al., 2006) rather than traditionally diversified activities. The growth was fueled by massive urbanization and increased involvement of large-scale enterprises, dealing in poultry. However, despite these growths, the small, rural, marginal farmers have not benefited much; additionally, the sustainability of small-scale livestock producers has been undermined, thereby, increasing rural poverty.

The livestock commonly reared in rural households include cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry. Most of the farmers raise local indigenous breeds of livestock whose productivity is quite low compared to highly productive exotic species. The productivity and efficiency of these breeds can be enhanced by cross-breeding. In the case of cattle, cross-breeding the indigenous breeds with the exotic ones through artificial insemination (AI) have been less than successful. The management costs of the exotic ones are quite high; they are less resistant to diseases and parasites. However, the use of Murrah buffaloes to replace nondescript local breeds is more favorable because Murrah buffaloes adapt quickly to the tropical parts of India, produce a higher quantity of milk with higher butter/fat contents and their disposal values are also high.

The smaller ruminants are given less priority while cross-breeding with the exotic breeds. However, they ensure secure livelihoods by helping farmers cope with crop failures, particularly in the case of rural, landless, small and marginal female farmers (Pasha 2000; Misra, 2005). They are more popular because they

  • require low investments
  • are easy to raise and manage
  • have low feed requirement compared to cattle
  • have immense capacity to adapt
  • are highly disease-resistant
  • have a superior market potential

Cattle and buffaloes are traditionally raised on native grass, crop residues such as rice straw, stalks, stovers, rice and wheat brans, molasses, mango kernels, chunnies, etc. The level of concentrate feeding is less than 5%. These feedstuffs can only support low level production and require additionalprocessing such as chopping, grinding, blending etc. These can betreated both biologically and chemically to improve their digestibility and palatability. The smaller ruminants graze on common grazing lands, fallow fields, roadsides, watershed areas, etc. This practice faces many challenges from the government’s environmental and watershed development policies. The availability of land for growing fodder has been declining because of the high priority placed on the production of food grains, pulses and oil seeds. At the same time, the practice of stall feeding is less popular with small ruminants but is common among buffaloes, crossbred cattle and drought animals.

Milk Animals: Murrah buffaloes should be promoted as milk animals among the rural poor as they adapt quite well to the tropical parts of India. They can also be crossbred with breeds of nondescript local buffaloes to enhance milk production with higher butter fat content and disposal values.

Small Ruminants: The development programs should include market awareness, record keeping, reducing kid mortality, increasing birth rates, etc. There is also a need to develop suitable stall-feeding technology for small ruminants.

Poultry: There is a niche market for backyard poultry with consumers who are seeking farm-raised organic birds with unique flavor and taste. The products are highly valued if marketing and promotions are properly managed.

Role of Women: The role of women in livestock production is not fully appreciated although they represent 70% of the farm workforce. Their viewpoints must be included in planning, conducting trials and adoption of technologies. The establishment of producers’ groups/cooperatives involving women should be promoted. Livestock extension is a male-dominated profession but there is an urgent need for more women extension agents.

Investment in Research: Livestock research receives very little of agricultural GDP which amounts to 0.5%; the average of developing countries being 0.7% while the developed countries spend about 2.5% (Birthal et al., 2005) There must be a better linkage between extension and research. The research needs must be identified jointly with farmers rather than solely by researchers to avoid mismatch.

Technology Transfer: Considerable progress can be made simply by adopting the current technologies available but promote only those technologies that are technically sound, cost-effective and fit the farming systems. But there is also a clear need to build capacity among stakeholders in participatory approaches to research.

Heath Management Services: Providing preventive measures can reduce losses from several deadly diseases in many parts of rural India. Even marginal investments in medications and supplies would yield considerable economic benefits.

Feeds and Feeding: Treating crop residues biologically and chemically offers a potential means of improving their quality in terms of digestibility and palatability. More research needs to be done to minimize labor need, improve marginal returns, reduce water requirements and cover material to avoid spoilage. The use of urea-molasses enriched nutrient is appropriate in areas where dry fodder is the main source of fiber for animals, where feeding facilities are in place and if such blocks are cost effective. These blocks can also be fortified with herbal anti-parasitic additives for reducing the loss caused by internal parasites.

  • Ali, J. 2007. ‘Livestock Sector Development and its Implications for Poverty Alleviations in India.’ Livestock Research for Rural Development. 19 (2). Available online at
  • Birthal, P. S., Joshi, P. K., and Anjani Kumar. 2002. ‘Assessment of research priorities in livestock sector of India’. Policy-15. National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, New Delhi.
  • Misra, A. K. 2005. ‘Contingency planning for feeding and management of livestock during drought’. In K. D. Sharma and K. S. Ramasastri (Editors) Drought Management. Allied Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi., pp. 276-286.
  • Pasha, S. M. 2000 Economy and Ecological Dimensions of Livestock Economy. Commonwealth publishers, New Delhi, India.
  • Steinfeld, H., Berber, P., Wassenaar, T., Castel, V., Rosales, M. and de Haan c. 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow, Environmental Issues and Options, FAO/LEAD, Rome, Italy.

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