WITH almost all crops hit by various levels of price crashes, Punjab’s silage initiative seems to be taking shape.
Since 2012, when the first big silage making machine arrived in the province, the number has risen to 16 working ones with more are on the way. This is in addition to countless imported, smaller and even local versions, mainly copies of imported ones that now swarm Punjab. Meanwhile, maize acreage, the main ingredient of silage, has expanded by 300,000 acres in the last few years as well.
One can only hope that the process will be sustained and extended to help solve the fodder problem in the province.
The bigger machines, with a packaging capacity of one tonne, benefit bigger livestock farmers, while the smaller ones package right down to 60kg. With import of these machines being a costly option, many local versions have also been fabricated
The fodder fluctuations are now proverbial; one finds it difficult to find a buyer in the summers and one does not find a seller in the winters. Between October and February, fodder is almost missing from the field and the market. The availability is reduced to wheat husk diet — a far less nutritious option. It is hard to digest and is devoid of required proteins. It badly affects milk yield and animal health.
Some other countries preserve green fodder when it is at its nutritious best and use it round the year. The process arrived in Pakistan a bit late, or, at least, took time to gain momentum. But, of late, it is there because all major crops have failed to fetch money for farmers at one stage or another, owing to regular price crashes; and created vacuum for silage to flourish.
Since the arrival of the first big (with capacity of around 20,000 tonnes) machines, the crop has expanded by almost 300,000 acres — from 13 lakh in 2008-09 to 16 lakh acres in 2015-16 — and is rising. It is because silage makers entered the maize market as big stakeholders and expanded business. More machines are on their way as business expands.
The bigger machines, with a packaging capacity of one tonne, benefit bigger livestock farmers, while the smaller ones package right down to 60kg. With import of these machines being a costly option, many local versions have also been fabricated.
The fodder crisis is blamed for a number of problems. Persistent poverty, low milk yield, bad animal health, slow and healthy expansion in population, all are placed at the doors of bad animal diet. Silage provides a solution to many of them. With the maize taken off the field after 80-85 days, when it is at the second milking stage, is considered the most nutritious for animals as it contains corn oil, proteins and easily digestable foliage. With its nutrition preserved through processes and additives, it can last up to five years and continue benefitting animals and farmers for years.
After climatic changes causing flooding almost every alternate year, silage production assumes added advantage. In every flood, massive human and an equally big animal population, is displaced. In that crisis situation, animals are the worst sufferers; everyone (the official agencies, the NGOs, international institutions) is busy saving people. For animals, butchers arrive to get them at much reduced rates when people are forced to sell animals because they cannot be taken care of. Pre-prepared and long-life silage provides options in such crises.
All this sounds good because fodder acreage, which used to be 20pc of the total sown area in 1947, has dropped to 11pc after 68 years of independence. The animal population then was 12m against almost 200m right now. The country needs more and more fodder options to feed its ever growing animal population. Animal population growth is certain because of a national preference for milk and meat, so would be requirement of fodder options.