India is the world leader in milk production with 91 million tonnes made per year. However, per capita production levels and efficiency are low, with most cattle producing only three litres of milk instead of a possible fifteen per day. Indian milk producers are not realizing their full potential mainly because they cannot provide adequate nutrition for their cattle.
Cattle are fed through grazing in dry, desert-like conditions, and farmers typically do not have adequate access to low-cost, quality feed. Low productivity, coupled with inefficient livestock management and land use, is a recipe that can potentially keep millions of Indian farmers in poverty. In response, an engineer from Jodhpur named Nikhil Bohra has devised a way to help farmers increase their production and improve their livelihoods by creating a low-cost feed source for poor, rural farmers.
Cattle Mettle is a social enterprise created by Nikhil that uses a locally invasive plant called the mesquite tree to provide adequate feed for cattle, increase milk productivity and farmer incomes, and improve land management. Mesquite requires very little water to grow and is invasive in many dry regions, including the Thar Desert, where Cattle Mettle is based. However, it has many nutritive qualities and is consumed by people all over the world.
High Nutrition, Low Cost
Cattle Mettle’s feed, derived from the pods of the mesquite plant, has proven through testing to be low in cost and high in nutritional value. Cattle Mettle provides rural households with an extra income source by employing members of local rural groups in the raw material collection and processing. The processed feed is sold at a low cost to farmers, providing safe and nutritious food to help increase their milk production. Cattle Mettle also provides training and demonstrations in livestock management to local dairy farmers. Lastly, they help to stop the spread of the mesquite tree into arable land by using its seed pods.
While Cattle Mettle is a new enterprise, their early work has led to a 20% increase in milk production in small trials. They have also been able to sell their feed in the local market for approximately a full rupee less than other feed types. They found that farmers are also eager to try their product and increase the productivity of their dairy cattle. Cattle Mettle is gearing up to start a larger commercial pilot targeting 500 rural households at over 1,000 head of cattle in the Thar Desert.
Nikhil has also won an award from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization’s (UNIDO) Investment and Technology Promotion Office for his idea, and was a finalist in the 2015 Global Social Venture Competition. Cattle Mettle’s hopes to provide an affordable daily supply of cattle feed to 200,000 head of cattle and 100,000 households in the Thar Desert within the next five years. They estimate that this would create over 6,000 jobs in raw material collection and processing and stop almost 40 billion invasive mesquite seeds from propagating on arable land.
For now, Cattle Mettle is focusing on starting its pilot and establishing a supply chain and collection network for mesquite pods. They will also continue to research alternate crops that would allow them to supply low-cost feed to farmers in other geographical regions of India. They plan to expand their holistic approach beyond feed supply and training demonstrations, to include animal health and breeding services and training for dairy cattle. Ultimately, once they have reached their goal in India, they hope to pilot their idea to help other farmers improve livelihoods in countries such as Kenya, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico.