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Developing Sorghum Crop Varieties Feed India

03 November 2010

INDIA - New varieties of sorghum are bred to better meet the needs of India’s 208 million livestock farmers for animal feed, as well as to feed its growing human population, says the 2009 annual report for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is out.

Throughout the tropics, a lack of feed keeps farm animals underweight and underproductive, thereby preventing some 600 million poor farmers and herders from meeting fast-rising global demand for milk and meat. But thanks to a partnership between India's National Research Centre for Sorghum (NRCS), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), new varieties of sorghum are being developed that can provide both nutritious food for humans and high-quality feed for livestock.

The single most important source of animal feed on many small farms in Asia and Africa is not grass but rather the stalks, leaves and other residues of crop plants after harvesting. In India, for example, 44 per cent of the feed that annually sustains all the country's cattle, buffalo, goats, sheep and camels is made up of such crop wastes. The rest comes from planted forages and a shrinking area of pastures and other common lands. Expensive feed concentrates—the mainstay of livestock production in rich countries—are used only occasionally.

Although crop residues (also known as stover) have become the main source of feed for farm animals in developing countries, crop breeders have continued to focus their efforts solely on increasing grain yields and not on improving the yield and quality of stover. The NRCS-ICRISAT-ILRI partnership seeks to redress this oversight by focusing on sorghum, an important staple crop in India that is grown on nearly 10 million hectares throughout the country.

Small-scale entrepreneurs in India are developing new livestock feeds using new dual-purpose, food-plus-feed sorghum varieties.

The researchers incorporated fodder quality traits in India ́s sorghum crop breeding trials and, in so doing, led breeders to identify sorghum varieties that give high yields of both grain and stover, as well as improved stover quality. The result is dual-purpose, food-plus-feed sorghum varieties that are now helping India’s 208 million livestock farmers close the livestock feed gap and feed India’s growing human population.

The initiative has proved groundbreaking in demonstrating that traits for stover fodder quality and quantity can be incorporated into existing breeding programs to improve grain yields and has led the way for similar work on other major crops such as millet, groundnut, rice, maize and cowpea. New initiatives are also beginning for wheat and various leguminous crops.

Read the whole CGIAR Annual Report 2009: From research to results, November 2010.

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