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Fodder banks Relieving women from drudgery

Raising fast growing and high yielding nutritious fodder species on farm lands can reduce the drudgery of women in collecting fodder from distant forests and also protect the degrading forests. G.B.Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development achieved this intent through promotion of Fodder bank model.

Fodder banks

Maikhanda village is located in Kedarnath Wildlife Division in Uttarakhand State, situated in Chamoli-Rudraprayag district. The village is inhabited by a large number of local Garhwalese community. Agriculture and animal husbandry along with tourism related jobs are main sources of income in the valley.

Like other high altitude communities, animal husbandry is practiced. Rearing animals is an inevitable part of their social system. Each family maintains 5-8 cattle of indigenous breed i.e. a cow, a pair of bullocks, a buffalo and a horse or mule that are reared on traditional lines. A few families also rear sheep and goats but over the last few decades the number of such families has reduced from 20 to 4-5 because of ban imposed on free grazing in most of the alpine areas and pastures of Garhwal.

Fodder obtained from arable land is not sufficient to maintain the livestock in sound health. Therefore, the inhabitants largely depend upon the forest based fodder resource of the upper Kedar valley. The area under Potato and Kidney bean has increased tremendously abandoning traditional crops and cropping practices. This has added more pressure on forests biomass (leaf-litter) for preparing farm yard manure (FYM) and tree branches to support legume crops. The major part (62.2%) of the fodder is extracted from forests (tree, shrub, leaves and herbaceous ground flora). The remaining fodder (37.8%) is derived from agroforestry systems, low altitude grasslands, degraded lands, high altitude grasslands and crop residues. A large variety of tree species, forest floor phyto-mass and agricultural by-products are used as animal fodder.

In earlier times, livestock was left to graze in the forests of community lands. The animals sought out their own food and were assembled only for milking and to protect them from wild animals. In the present setting, cattle are generally stall fed but buffaloes, sheep and goats are left for grazing in nearby forests, alpines and kharaks or pastures. With the introduction of stall feeding, the demand for fodder has increased greatly with subsequently increased workload on women.

Unavailability of green forage during winters in higher Himalayan region has always been a serious issue that has added to the drudgery of women. Women in hills are mostly involved with the collection of fodder so, they spend more of manual energy for collection of fodder. In the villages of upper Kedar valley, fodder collection is quite a frequent household activity. Almost one woman from each household visits the forests twice a day to collect fodder

and other forest produce. Women walk atleast 1-2.5 km for harvesting fodder and during winters walk more than 3-4 km. During winters, local women leave their houses before sunrise and climb the rocks and mountains to collect dry grass and come back to their dwellings by afternoon. They carry a backload of more than 50-65 kgs.

The model

Developing fodder bank models among a few village clusters was tried by G.B.Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development. The objective of the initiative was to relieve the pressure on women by reducing their fodder collection time as well as the distance they travel. It was also meant to create awareness among them on better methods of livestock feeding, and better health improved milk and meat yield by improved quality of fodder. Fodder bank initiative was taken up in March, 2009 by the financial support from Department of Science and Technology,  Government of India under it’s Science and Society Scheme. Maikhanda village cluster with a majority of poor people and with limited resources was chosen for trying out this model. The willingness of local communities to provide huge village community land for fodder bank and a small piece of agriculture land for nursery helped in setting up the model.

Fodder bank

This project was designed to develop a pilot fodder bank model using fast growing and high biomass yielding nutritious species (both indigenous as well as introduced). The indigenous species were selected by people based on their need, their indigenous knowledge about species, with regard to enhanced lactation, better nutrition etc. Also, our last six years of research on forests of Kedarnath area helped in identifying and prioritizing indigenous species for plantation. Introduced species were selected based on discussions with fodder experts and our research work on suitable species in the context.

Women were trained in growing high biomass yielding fodder species in their cropland bunds and kitchen gardens. Livestock owners and farmers were also trained to construct their animal houses and sheds on scientific lines provided with cost-effective feeding and watering systems and proper ventilation using locally available materials.

Plantation was carried out twice a year – once during monsoon and other during spring so that plant gets increasing temperature conditions that are better suited for adaptation and growth. Fodder bank was developed by using both indigenous and introduced fodder species (trees, shrubs and grasses). Indigenous grass species included Ringal Bamboo (Chimnobambusa falcata, Thamnocalamus spathiflorus, Arundinaria spp.) while, indigenous tree species are Alnus nepalensis, Quercus glauca, Quercus leucotricophora, Ficus nemoralis, Ficus auriculata, Debregeasia salicifolia, Ficus subincisa. Introduced tree species were Celtis australis, Morus alba, Bauhinia variegata and introduced grass species were Pennisetum purpureum, Joint star, Makuni, Cox food etc. The basic idea behind this was to ensure conservation of biodiversity while, providing nutritious fodder to livestock.

The results illustrated that there was more than 80% survival of Quercus glauca and Q. leucotricophora seedlings. On the other hand the decline in survival percentage of Dendrocalamus, Celtis australis and Bauhinia variegata was found to be maximum. During last one year introduction of fast growing, high biomass yielding fodder trees Morus alba and Pennisetum purpureum Hybrid Napier 2 varieties were also included with onsite training of planting, harvesting fodder and multiplication. The results are very good and at the end of the year, 65 women initially reported 8 times harvesting and stall feeding of Napier grass to their milching animals. So, during the first phase of this programme these 65 women have not visited forests for 6-8 days of each month to harvest fodder . They have also reported better milkyields.

Apart from participating in fodder bank model site development women also started growing high biomass yielding fodder grasses and shrubs on their small cropland bunds and kitchen garden bunds. In 2010, 60 women harvested Napier fodder thrice from their cropland.

Fodder nursery

A small fodder nursery has also been established near the fodder bank site. Fodder nursery includes a polyhouse, nethouse and a rain water harvesting area. Trials as well as mass propagation of trees and grasses is being carried out in fodder nursery. At the model site trenches are also prepared for storing the rain water. Most of the seedlings and seeds of fast growing fodder species are available for locals at a nominal price and free of cost for the poor families of the valley. From 2012 onwards, we plan to sell the seedlings at a nominal cost so that women can earn alternative income from selling fodder seedlings and selling harvested fodder in nearby Gaurikund market which has a great demand for fodder for pack animals.

Vegetative propagation and mass multiplication of some lesser known but prominent fodder tree species of higher Himalayas such as Ficus nemoralis, F. auriculata and Debregeasia salicifolia was carried out in Fodder nursery. Ficus auriculata and Debregeasia salicifolia have shown better results and about 200 saplings of each are planted in the Fodder bank site.

Mahila Mangal Dals

Hill women are the backbone of economy and most often are engaged in forest resource extraction as well as conservation activities. Mahila Mangal Dals (MMD) are women groups actively engaged in the resource management of forests. They have established effective control over management of the village forest as collection of fuel wood, fodder and water as it is almost exclusively women’s work in the hills. Mahila Mangal Dals are active in almost all villages of Garhwal. All households of the village are members of Mahila Mangal Dals. Usually an elderly woman is the head of Mahila Mangal Dals.

Members regularly attend meetings. They guard the forests and put penalty on illegal approaches. Penalties collected are used asforest fund of the village. Decisions about when to open the forest for grass, leaf and firewood collection, the rules for collection, the fines for violation, etc. are taken by the Mahila Mangal Dal and communicated to the Van Panchayat Sarpanch (president). The women’s control over forest use enables them to ensure that forest product collection does not conflict with periods of heavy agricultural work. Soon after harvesting the monsoon finger millet crop in October, they open the forest closest to the village for grass collection. This practice of harvesting with an agreed calendar is to promote sustainable use of forest resources, help regeneration as well as prevent leaching of nutrients from the forest floor. One or two patches of forest in a year/ season is opened for resource extraction. Thus, it does not cross the carrying capacity of the forests while, closing the remaining patches or stands for next three to four years for giving them a proper time period for their regeneration.

Presently, the fodder bank is governed by the organisation with an active collaboration and support of Mahila Mangal Dals. MMDs with their women members and heads take part in fodder bank meetings and initiatives. All decisions about the fodder bank are taken in consultation with MMDs. In three years time, the entire management of fodder bank model will be with the MMDs.

Women come together to discuss fodder problem and explore solutions
Women come together to discuss fodder problem and explore solutions

Future steps

The village women and men have immensely supported the programme by their active participation in plantation, trainings and capacity building programmes. Women folk from nearby villages have also been participating in the meetings and training programmes. The project has helped in enhancing awareness regarding management of available fodder, preservation and storage of surplus fodder and more importantly the need for conserving forests resources. Moreover, it has reduced the drudgery in collecting fodder from forests. There is a plan to extend the fodder bank activities and involve atleast 250 more women of neighbouring villages. This model is ready for replication and adoption. Initial levels of replication are already being noticed inthe high altitude village of Triyuginarayan.

Shalini Dhyani
E-mail: shalini3006@gmail.com
R K Maikhuri
E-mail: rkmaikhuri@rediffmail.com
Deepak Dhyani
E-mail: drddhyani@gmail.com
G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development,
Garhwal Unit, P.O. Box 92,
Srinagar (Garhwal) 246 174, India.

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We are grateful to the Director, G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan
Environment and Development for encouraging and providing
facilities. The Department of Science and Technology, Government of India (under SYSP scheme) is thankfully acknowledged for providing financial support to continue the work.