Crop – Livestock Connect
In earlier times of rain-fed, single-crop agriculture, there was a strong link between agriculture and livestock as it supported communities in farm operations, enhancing soil fertility (manure), and transportation. All households, depending on their landholdings, kept cattle, bullocks, goats and back-yard poultry. Even though the milk production from indigenous cattle was low, sale of farm animals was a critical source of income. Small ruminants especially goats played a vital role for poor households as a buffer in times of need and. Apart from this, livestock provided nutritional security; the diet of communities was rich in milk, milk products, eggs and meat from local poultry. The livestock was raised entirely on the extensive system of production depending on the village common property resources (CPR), agriculture fallows and grazing lands. There was no system of fodder production and crop–residues were stored as additional feed for livestock.
But today, growing needs of the ever increasing population and growing market demand for livestock products specifically meat and milk, has led to animal husbandry policies that promote adoption of high input-out production systems and animal breeding programmes focused on increasing breed productivity, concentrating on a single productive trait). Another key driver of change is the increased emphasis on agriculture production. This has resulted in vast areas of CPRs being converted to agriculture lands. Preserving grazing lands is considered unproductive and a waste of land. Even at the individual household level, the need for food and financial security, better education and quality of life are the key drivers of inducing this change in the crop-livestock production system.
In terms of pressures, at the village level communities reported that ban on grazing in forest areas, and natural resource conservation and management programmes such as watershed development, Joint Forest Management, social forestry and waste land development programmes have been the main pressures on communities to reduce rearing indigenous cattle and other non-dairy livestock.
Farmers also revealed that fluctuations in agriculture markets prices, market demand and repeated crop losses due to climate vagaries and increasing water scarcity are also huge pressures and greatly influences the cropping patterns, the seeds they use and the type of livestock they rear.
So in the dry regions of AP & Maharashtra, there is a clear shift from low-input crop-livestock farming to high input–output water intensive cash crop and dairy based farming. There is a clear reduction of small livestock specially goats and back yard poultry rearing at HH level and a prominent shift to rearing crossbreds cows and buffaloes.
But only farmers with four acres and above land holdings are able to produce adequate quantities of green fodder as well as invest in higher amounts of concentrate feed and better health care for high yielding crossbred cows. The rest of the farmers with smaller landholdings still depend on fodder harvested from the CPRs or crop residue, which is stored and fed through the year. It was obvious that majority of farmers feed inadequate quantities of green fodder and feed concentrates to the animals and large component of fodder is from the CPR/ crop residue which is of low quality (more cellulose content).
A striking fact surfaced during interactions with communities is that high input–output crop-livestock production systems have made the lives of rural women more difficult – as these production systems are highly labour intensive. Reduction in small stock, especially goats and backyard poultry, has led to reduced nutritional and financial security for women and children. There is also a significant decrease in intake of animal products (curd, ghee, milk, eggs & chicken meat) by villagers as practically all villagers strongly claimed to prefer animal products from indigenous livestock than crossbred cows and broilers.
Other critical problems include unavailability of farm labour as well as increasing labour costs; failing bore wells and fast depleting ground water tables; increasing rabi crop failures and reduction in summer cropping; increasing input cost in agriculture and animal husbandry – the list is never ending. Even dairy farming that was once profitable also requires high investment costs over a period of time due to health problems in animals, fertility issues and water scarcity issues.
The vulnerability of dry land regions gets exacerbated with climate change. The enormous environmental stress created by the high resource footprint of crossbred dairy farming on an already fragile ecosystem often goes unnoticed due to the high temporary gains from productivity. This further deteriorates the state of the ecosystem which in return makes the crossbred farming more vulnerable towards extreme climate variability. This puts the system into a downward reinforcing spiral which continues till a collapse threshold is reached, either of the ecosystem or of the livestock – and rebuilding the ecosystem to support livelihoods would be challenge.
But communities are continuously finding better options to reduce their vulnerability to climate change (adaptation responses). However, majority of them are short-term fixes that reduce their vulnerability temporarily but decrease the resilience of the ecosystem towards changing climate patterns. This subsequently increases the community’s vulnerability in the long term.
Viewed through WOTR’s Climate Change Adaptation lens, “Low to medium input–output livestock production systems are more sustainable for fragile ecosystems and reduce risk and vulnerability of communities to emerging climate hazards in dry land regions.”