Each week on this blog, we will meet with ILRI staff members, partners and projects in Asia to learn about their work, challenges and the opportunities they face to leverage livestock knowledge in Asia.
This week, Arindam Samaddar from our New Delhi office provides us with an anthropologist’s perspective on the Indian livestock sector. Prior to joining ILRI in 2009 as a Livestock Systems Researcher, Arindam had already built a strong association with ILRI through his work on the System Wide Livestock Program whilst with CGIAR partner – the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT).
ILRI Asia: Since joining ILRI, what have been your major research highlights from the programs you’ve been involved with?
Arindam: At present, I am mainly involved in the “Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia” (CSISA) project funded by the Gates Foundation and USAID. It aims to provide an overall strategy for contributing new science and technologies in increasing both short, and long-term cereal production growth in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.
As one of the four Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) partners involved in CSISA, ILRIs focus within the program is primarily on the integration of livestock in future cereal systems – via two broad objectives. The first is through assessing the quality of straw/stover from major cereal crops, with a view to incorporating these traits through plant breeding programs. Second, we are looking to develop and disseminate improved feeding strategies to increase the efficiency of residue based feeding in mixed farm systems.
As the Livestock Systems Researcher for ILRI, I am primarily involved in designing and coordinating field activities and socio-economic surveys in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. One of my main responsibilities is to lead the activities of conducting training, and farmer-led dairy feed experimental trials. These trials are designed to demonstrate the efficiency of residue based feeding for improved crop-livestock integration in South Asia. I build upon this by establishing links and collaborations with various national government research partners (NARES), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector, cooperatives, farmers and women’s self-help groups to widen the impact and reach of our activities.
Put simply however, the major highlights of our research findings so far are:
- More than 70% of the costs for dairy production comes from feeding;
- The major source of feed comes from cereal straws (mainly paddy and wheat);
- The farmers’ perceptions of dairy animal feeding correlates with their own traditional food habits. For example in areas where the staple food is rice, farmers tend to use rice straw as the main ingredient in the feeding rations. In wheat growing areas, wheat straw is the main ingredient;
- In all the sites, farmers lack the basic concept of animal nutrition and feed quality;
- There is great scope to introduce underutilized and non-utilized dry cereal straw in dairy feeding for better crop-livestock integration.
ILRI Asia: What’s in store for you in 2012?
Arindam: So far, through farmer-led experimental trials and training sessions, we’ve been quite successful in demonstrating the advantages that residue-based feeding strategies in different project sites offer.
Now the challenge lies in scaling these activities up and out to efficiently reach more farmers. Most of my efforts will be geared towards understanding the roles of different actors and institutions in the dairy value chain in order to build meaningful innovation platforms for the dissemination of context-specific new feeding strategies. This will involve continuous dialogue with farmers, cooperatives, self-help groups, research institutions, state and central government research institutes and the private sector.
ILRI Asia: Where do you see your work with ILRI contributing to India’s livestock sector?
Arindam: As an agricultural anthropologist, I try to understand technology choices and their impacts at the household level, from the perspective of agronomic and socio-economic research, in the frameworks of both micro and macro farming environments.
The experience I gained from various projects in India, Bangladesh and Nepal in assessing the impact of adopting agriculture technologies and residue use on mixed farming systems, provided me with a broader perspective and understanding of the farmer’s worldview. I was able to develop an appreciation of the importance of specific social and economic factors, and also the role of different institutions in influencing decision making and adoption practices, and ultimately – how these all relate to their overall livelihoods and everyday life.
I truly believe that the study of the human element in crop-livestock activities which focuses on the interactions of ecology, technology, gender roles, household and social structure within the local and broader farming environments (institutions) helps in understanding issues pertaining to adoption, constraints and the process of adaptation of technology. The knowledge gained from this approach can be applied towards more effective targeting and dissemination of technologies, which target both men and women for better livestock production in the mixed-crop livestock systems of South Asia.
ILRI Asia: What are the unique challenges and opportunities
Arindam: From my perspective, I believe that there are a few clear challenges and opportunities facing the Indian livestock sector currently:
- The diverse range of cultures and traditions that exist all the way from the subsistence-based level of crop-livestock systems to the commercial level can be particularly daunting;
- The crop and livestock sectors are by-and-large independent of one another, thus the research and development of the sectors follows suit;
- The need to bring different actors onto a common platform for livestock research can prove to be incredibly difficult due to strong differences in institutional cultures.
- Despite being the largest producer of milk in the world, India has one of the lowest rates of milk productivity;
- An incredibly high number of poor farmers are involved in the mixed crop-livestock system;
- A wide range of differences across states and regions in terms of the composition of their livestock sectors;
- There is much scope to strengthen different actors within the value chain to make the system more efficient and productive.
Learn more about the Cereal System Intiative South Asia (CSISA)
Read related stories from ILRI News about the CSISA