Along the milky way

The show is getting stronger for dairy farming, which provides a steady alternative source of income while reducing the dependency on agriculture

There are two common reasons why rural Indian families rear cattle: it provides an additional source of income and it cuts the risk attached to being dependent solely on agriculture for a livelihood. It’s no different in Gujarat, where the practice is perhaps even more pronounced.

According to census data, close to half of rural households in the state rear cattle. The numbers are higher still in the stretch along the Saurashtra coastal belt, where about 70% of rural families have at least one head of cattle. Animal husbandry is, consequently, an important part of the social development efforts of the Coastal Salinity Prevention Cell (CSPC).

CSPC works with small and marginal farmers to improve the productivity of milch cattle, promoting proper breeding and feeding methods and providing market linkages. The health and fertility of the bovines being bred are other aspects on the animal husbandry agenda.

Camps are held in villages covered under the programme to treat the increasing infertility problem affecting cattle in the region. This is caused by them feeding on cotton seed cake — easily available in the area thanks to the large volume of cotton production — which harms their reproductive organs. The programme also enables better breeding and milking practices so that cattle productivity remains optimal.

Improper and inadequate feeding is a factor in low milk production by milch cattle. CSPC’s ‘Azolla experiment’ has sought to right this by delivering a low-cost, protein-rich alternative for scarce green fodder. Azolla is a fast-growing plant that thrives in ponds. The programme has helped cattle-rearing villagers cultivate Azolla in small ponds, providing them with the initial culture, necessary equipment, and technical and other guidance.

The dairy business is a dependable alternative for coastal Gujarat’s farmers
The dairy business is a dependable alternative for coastal Gujarat’s farmers

Fermented fodder

The production of silage — fodder harvested while green and kept moist by partial fermentation in a silo — is another facet that the programme has adopted to keep cattle well fed.

CSPC has, additionally, worked on capacity building with farmers to encourage better cattle management practices; tied up with the Rajkot-based Maahi Milk Producer Company to improve their reach and returns; and partnered the BAIF Development Research Foundation to improve cattle breeds through artificial insemination and to organise veterinary camps.

“There is no doubt that animal husbandry is a solid alternative for farmers in the programme to improve their incomes,” says Divyang Waghela, a director with CSPC and a veteran of the salinity ingress initiative. “Gaps still remain but what’s promising is that the market is opening up and private dairies like Maahi are coming into the picture and putting things in place. This will benefit our farmers further.”