25 September, 2020

A simple solution

A simple low-cost intervention helps marginal dairy farmers reduce costs and increase both, yield and income

Farmers in Talaja have happily adopted the Azolla feed
Farmers in Talaja have happily adopted the Azolla feed
Farmers in Talaja have happily adopted the Azolla feed
Farmers in Talaja have happily adopted the Azolla feed

The salinity in coastal Saurashtra villages has impacted not just local crops but also cattle feed, which had a detrimental effect on milk yields and cattle fertility. This was the focus area for a Tata Trusts intervention.

Coastal Saurashtra has seen a shift in agricultural patterns over the years due to the increased salinity of soil in the area. Cropping increasingly shifted towards cotton cultivation because of its relative tolerance to salinity. However, the high cropping of cotton in the area brought along its own set of challenges. Increased output of cottonseed cake meant that it was quickly adopted as the major source of protein for cattle in the region. Cottonseed has a chemical called Gossypol – an aldehyde linked to infertility in animals. Moreover, cotton demands a high level of pesticides to protect the crop, which results in a higher level of toxicity in crop residue such as cotton seed oil and cake. Reproductive issues such as silent heat and anoestrus, as well as incorrect breeding practices like repeated breeding have also caused immeasurable harm to the productivity of the cattle. It was important to source an alternate source of high protein to control cattle infertility as well as improve their productivity.

Stepping in

The Tata Trusts had launched their Kharash Vistarotthan Yojana (the Coastal Salinity Prevention and Mitigation Initiative) in an effort to resolve issues that arose from increased salinity in the coastal regions. As part of this initiative, the Coastal Salinity Prevention Cell (CSPC) was set up in Ahmedabad, Gujarat in 2008. CSPC swung into action here as well – CSPC’s veterinary team visited the nearby Kisan Vigyan Kendra (KVK) in Bhavnagar, as well as the CInI (Collective for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives) intervention area in Dahod, where they had cultivated Azolla, and had obtained good preliminary results.

Azolla has helped farmers get better yields from their buffaloes
Azolla has helped farmers get better yields from their buffaloes

Azolla is a cheap, organic, easy to cultivate animal feed with high protein levels. It is proven to augment milk yield and fat in cattle. While the crop had never been cultivated in coastal Saurashtra, the veterinary team procured a 1kg culture from KVK and began a pilot programme with a couple of farmers in Talaja. The yield before and after feeding Azolla to the cattle was monitored. When the results proved promising, CSPC upscaled the intervention. The Azolla culture from the pilot beds was now cultivated in seven mother beds, 16 x 9 x 1feet in size, placed at strategic locations in the intervention geography.

CSPC conducted multiple exposure visits to the mother beds, where farmers using the beds exchanged their experiences. Once the trials were complete, CSPC designed a standard size bed required to feed one animal – 12 x 3 x 1feet. The organisation supported the farmers with the culture, a plastic sheet and net, along with technical guidance. CSPC’s cost was Rs240 per farmer; the farmers bore the cost of digging the bed, farmyard manure, etc. Within 3 months, 1,017 farmers across 86 villages in Talaja had adopted the feed. Arm-length access to the culture and the quick increase in fat and yield were responsible for the rapid adoption.

Beds to cultivate Azolla
Beds to cultivate Azolla
Quick, quantifiable impact

“When I first adopted Azolla to feed my Jaffarabadi buffalo,” says Dhapa Rukhadbhai, a resident of Nichadi village in Talaja, “I saw an increase in yield of 0.5 litres per day and in fat from 7% to 9%.” Positive results were seen across the board. Eighty samples were drawn from 27 villages; milk receipts were collected from farmers of both NDDB-promoted Mahi Dairy and Amul-supported Sarvottam Dairy. Milk yield and fat were analysed both before and after ten days of intervention. The average yield per day showed an increase from 7.77 litres to 8.32, while fat percentage increased from 7.08 to 7.43.

The positive impact didn’t stop there. The increase in yield and fat also led to a 12% increase in income per animal – approximately Rs1,333.2 per month. Azolla farmers also reduced their costs of buying cottonseed cake, which led to an additional savings of Rs300-400 a month. Since the initial investment was so low, farmers not only replicated their beds but also dug larger beds to feed more animals.

Dhapa, who owns 4.5 bighas (1.8 acres) of land, had to make multiple attempts before he succeeded. His first attempt was destroyed by stray animals, he says, while the next two beds suffered from the muddy run-off after the rains. Why did he persist? “Because the feed was beneficial to my buffaloes’ health, increased my income, and didn’t cost me anything,” says Dhapa, who made his fourth bed at an elevated location and fenced it to protect it from wild animals. “The culture can multiply by itself if it is watered in a timely manner, and I add some farmyard manure.” His purchase of cottonseed cakes has also reduced by half.

What made this intervention so successful was the quick turnaround in noticing results. Receipts indicating yield and fat from milk collection centres were ideal measurable outcomes that made it easier for farmers to acknowledge change. These clear indicators of success catalysed the quick propagation of the intervention. Placing Azolla beds at strategic locations, and standardising required raw material like nets, plastics, etc., helped optimise operations. This first-time implementation also helped provide the team with key learnings on modifying ground strategies during the intervention phase, thus improving its impact.

  Pre-Azolla Post-Azolla Percentage Change
Average yield per animal (litres) 7.77 8.32 7.1%
Average fat per animal (%) 7.08 7.43 5.0%
Average income per day per animal (Rs) 357.58 402.02 12.4%
    The project outcome aligns with the following Sustainable Development Goals:
  • SDG 1: No Poverty
  • SDG 2: Zero Hunger
  • SDG 12: Sustainable Consumption and Production