Krishna Oram, living in Bheluadihi village of tribal-dominated Sundargarh district in Odisha, earns over Rs3 lakh annually from his maize crop. But until three years back, he was cultivating paddy and vegetables, which yielded a meagre Rs20,000 annually.
Krishna shifted to maize cultivation after Bimal Lakra, founder of Gangpur Ventures Private Limited (GVPL), explained to him the benefits of cultivating maize, which is used to prepare silage, a type of animal feed.
While fodder is dried hay or straw, silage is high-moisture feed made by compressing and fermenting green fodder. It can be stored for long in airtight conditions.
Increasing incomes with maize cultivation
“Earlier, my annual income through the cultivation of paddy, vegetables and maize (grown over just 0.4 acres) hovered between Rs15,000 and Rs20,000 from 2.5 acres of land. Then I procured another six acres on lease and started cultivating maize for silage as suggested by GVPL,” says Krishna, who belongs to the Oram (also called Kurukh) tribe.
“Now I get 38 tonnes of maize forage per acre in six months of Rabi and Kharif seasons,” he adds. Apart from Krishna, 45 other farmers are now cultivating maize as their major crop and have increased their income over ten times.
In all, GVPL is working with 97 farmers of the Oram, Kisan, Khadia and Munda tribes. These tribal farmers are spread over 21 villages under the Rajgangpur, Kutra and Bargaon blocks of Sundargarh.
Earlier, farmers used to sell maize seeds, called makka manji in Odia, at the local market at a price that fluctuates drastically between Rs 3 and Rs 10 per kg. Now, they earn a substantially higher income by selling their forage to GVPL at Rs 3 per kg.
GVPL is creating livelihood opportunities for tribal communities in Odisha and, alongside, addressing the shortage of fodder and silage in the dairy farming industry. Maize silage is a cost-effective, high energy and starch-rich forage for cattle.
The startup provides silage to commercial dairy farms by organizing tribal farmers into producer groups that cultivate the maize crop, which is then purchased by GVPL at Rs3 per kg.
“In our village of 80 households, four farmers were cultivating maize on six acres earlier. Now 30 farmers including 20 women do it over 17 acres,” says Minati Nag, a Munda woman farmer in village Kukuk under Rajgangpur block.
Minati earns over Rs. 1.75 lakh from green maize forage in her three acres which includes 2.5 acres she has taken on lease at Rs 5,000 per acre. Each acre yields 35 tonnes annually. “We get seeds from GVPL at Rs 330 per kilogram which is deducted by GVPL from our sale proceeds,” she says.
“We aim to rope in 200 farmers in Odisha and 50 in Jharkhand during 2024,” says Bimal, who belongs to the Oram tribe.
Starting a silage startup
The son of a former SAIL employee in Rourkela, Bimal hails from the village Barilapta of Sundargarh and is now settled in the steel city. He conceived the idea of his startup in 2020 during COVID-19 while working for the NGO Kshamta Foundation in Rourkela. The NGO works in areas of agriculture, animal husbandry and dairy farming.
Bimal’s frequent interactions with farmers during his tenure at the NGO made him realise the shortage of silage and gave him the idea of setting up a venture to produce silage out of maize forage.
He took a break from the NGO during the pandemic and formed GVPL in 2021.
“After my graduation in Botany (Hons) from the Government Autonomous College, Rourkela, I joined the NGO as an executive and took a break when I was its managing director. During this time, I completed my MBA in HR and marketing in 2016,” the tribal entrepreneur says.
“I set up GVPL with an investment of Rs 47 lakh including my savings of Rs 12 lakh. The remaining amount was funded through a bank loan,” Bimal adds.
Bridging the fodder gap
GVPL had three dairy farmers as customers in FY 22 and the number has now gone up to 17. Earlier, these dairy farmers were procuring silage from Punjab and Maharashtra, while some had to depend on silage producers in the Koraput and Bolangir districts of Odisha.
According to a report by the National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), Odisha has a deficit of green fodder and dry fodder by 48 percent and 24 percent respectively. GVPL is trying to bridge this gap.
“We sell our product at an average rate of Rs 6.30 per kg but silage procured from Punjab or Maharashtra costs around Rs11. That is why all our silage is sold off in six months of its production,” says Bimal.
GVPL clocked an annual turnover of Rs36 lakh in 2021-22. It surged to nearly Rs 2 crore in 2023-24 and is expected to increase to Rs 5 crore in 2024-25.
Its annual production is 2,000 metric tonnes, which will increase to 4,000 metric tonnes by the end of 2024, the agri entrepreneur says.
Dry fodder, concentrate feed and minerals for bovine consumption cost about Rs 320 per animal per day and the amount reduces to Rs 261 if silage supplements them, he adds.
As per NABARD, while milk production in Odisha was 8.75 lakh metric tonnes in 2000, it has now gone up to 24 lakh metric tonnes. However, the per day per capita milk availability in the state is only 144 grams against the national average of 444 grams.
With silage, the milk production of a cow that yields about 15 litres a day goes up by 10 to 15 percent on average. This can also enhance milk availability in the state, he says.
Assistant fodder development officer Swapnananda Mohapatra of the Directorate of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Services, Odisha, agrees. “Moreover, solids not fat (SNF) in milk out of which cheese is made increases five to seven percent,” he points out.
Silage consumption also increases bovine disease-fighting capability, thereby reducing the cost of veterinary medication. Bidhu Bhusan Rath, a dairy farm owner in Brahmagiri of Puri district, agrees. “Cost of preventive and curative measures taken for a Jersey breed varies between Rs2,500 and Rs3000 per month. But it reduces by nearly 20 to 30 percent after silage consumption. However, silage must be free of fungus afflatus. Otherwise, it may prove fatal,” says Bidhu who has 45 cows on his farm.
Bimal now plans to procure a loan of Rs 1.80 crore under the state government’s Mukhyamantri Krishi Udyog Yojana (MKUY) for his business expansion. Procurement of a loan under MKUY will enable him to avail 50 percent subsidy.
“We are planning to partner with NABARD under the Livelihood and Enterprise Development Programme to train 120 tribal women in Sundargarh district in silage entrepreneurship,” Bimal says.
“Our objective is to alleviate the problem of fodder deficiency in Odisha. Besides, we are trying to provide an assured livelihood for tribals by commercialising the rural value-chain,” says Bimal.
(Niroj Ranjan Misra a Cuttack-based freelance writer. He writes on rural and tribal life, social issues, art and culture, and sports)