Livestock farmers in the Yadgir district of Karnataka not too long ago faced an imminent threat to their livelihoods. The yield from their livestock was dismally low – a direct result of the insufficient and low-quality green fodder available. Small landholdings prevent the farmers from growing their own fodder. The women of Yadgir, in particular, bore the brunt of this scarcity, spending countless hours in search of fodder. A shortage of water, especially during the scorching summer months, compounded the problem. With a daily feeding regimen of 10 kg of jowar or bajra and 10 kg of dry fodder for approximately 10 goats, the expenses quickly amounted to a substantial Rs4,500 per month on fodder alone, making livestock rearing less profitable for the communities.
Growing fodder without soil
The Tata Trusts came to the rescue of the community by introducing them to solar-powered green fodder hydroponics. The innovative setup comprises a multi-purpose shade net, 32 anti-fungal HDPE trays, 40W solar panels, an auto LED timer, a control panel and charge reader, along with LiPo4 batteries and two high-pressure pumps.
The hydroponics method requires no soil, takes up limited space, and uses minimal water. It promises a quick harvest cycle of just eight days and year-long production of protein-rich fodder. The system is simple and cost-effective, thanks to its solar-based operations that eliminate the need for electricity.
Kalike, an associate organisation of the Tata Trusts, set up two pilot units of green fodder hydroponics to feed 30 goats, which bore successful results. The intervention has resulted in substantial cost savings of Rs1,110 per month. The maize produced as a result of the hydroponics setup is 13.57% richer in crude protein, 10% higher in calcium, and lower in starch, which aids in better digestion for the livestock.
Local farmers even created a similar model using locally available materials, although it is not yet solar-based.
Kalike took a hands-on approach, ensuring that the community was well-equipped to sustain this transformation. The farmers are grateful to the intervention and have embraced the future of farming. They have reported a higher seed-to-fodder conversion ratio, ease in operations, and an additional weight gain of 0.20 kg per goat per cycle, resulting in an annual net profit worth Rs17,820. The farmers also observed that the animals are now far less susceptible to diseases.
The Reviving the Green Revolution (RGR) Cell of the Tata Trusts has successfully replicated the hydroponics technique in two units located in Jawadu Hills, Tamil Nadu. With plans to scale up to another 10 units in Yadgir through farmer contributions and bank linkages, the Tata Trusts are building a legacy of prosperity and self-reliance. The future of hydroponics in India looks bright as these solar-based fodder stations can be easily set up under Farmer Producer Companies (FPC) or by agri-entrepreneurs, further building on the success of this transformative initiative.