Participatory Intervention Series
Paper 7 MYRADA Krishi Vigyan Kendra
Talamalai, Talavadi 638 461
Sathyamangalam Taluk
Erode District

_ ______________________________________Cattle Dung: Differently Precious
Mr.C.S.Satish Chandra of the Institute for Rural Studies, Bangalore, carried out the field research and wrote the original version of this paper at the request of the MYRADA Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Talamalai.

As manager of an “NGO-KVK” (which inherently assumes that it must develop a distinct identity of its own), MYRADA is constantly aware that it must strive to achieve and retain a definable relevance to farmers. Amongst other things, two features that can contribute well to this are:
• To be able to respond with sensitivity and professionalism to the field realities of farmers.
• To raise the critical consciousness of farmers with regard to issues that they can influence to their own advantage but that may hitherto not have received their full attention.
Long before the KVK was established in Talamalai, MYRADA was already working in the area. Talavadi Block, where Talamalai is located, is rather remote and quiet barring the occasional excitement caused on account of having Mr.Veerappan in their midst. The population is a mix of tribal and non-tribal people engaged in agriculture, livestock rearing and gathering minor forest produces. Most of them can be categorised as low-income households; some belong to middle and higher income groups.
Before MYRADA introduced a milk economy into the area (around 1985), Talavadi’s large cattle population yielded dung as its main product and milk was only a by-product both in quantity and in value. This dung accumulated in the area and was used by the people on their own farms or internally bartered and sold. At first imperceptible, it became gradually noticeable over the years that more and more people sold away the cattle dung that generated in their homes to people from outside the area.
With the coming of the KVK and its more focussed attention on resource use and resource management, it was felt that this phenomenon of selling away cattle dung had to be properly explored to understand its economic sense. On the basis of this understanding, the KVK could decide if some intervention had to be made to promote greater usage of dung within the area itself. Accordingly, this Study was undertaken in September 2000.
Livestock Ownership and Distribution In Talavadi Block
• ‘Nondescript’ breeds of cattle constitute 90% of the cattle population. Crossbreeding was first introduced into the area only through the efforts of MYRADA, and such cattle now constitute 10% of the total stock.
• Only around 5% of the cattle is stall-fed and they are mainly the crossbred animals. The remaining 95% is grazed in the surrounding forests for around 6 hours in the daytime, with supplementary stall-feeding of dry fodder at night.
• Livestock owners fall into four categories:
1. Big Farmers: They are few in number and own approximately 20% of the cattle stock, with an average herd strength of 7 animals per farmers.
2. Small and Marginal Farmers: They constitute the majority population and own over 70% of the livestock in the area, with an average herd size of 8 to 10 animals per farmer.
3. Traditional Cattle Owners: They may be landowners or landless but manage cattle as a family tradition passed on from generation to generation. Such families are not many but every such person owns 20 to 25 animals accounting for approximately 5% of the cattle population.
4. Animal Graziers and Agricultural Labourers: Though they wor k for others, they also have a few animals of their own, making up the remaining 5% of the area’s cattle population.
Cattle Dung Production and Marketing Details
The rather scrawny and nondescript cattle of Talavadi are each estimated to produce an average of 3 kgs. of dung per day, of which some part is dropped while grazing and only the balance is retrieved by the owners. While cattle owners collect the dung that is dropped within their premises, some enterprising poor who have realised the commercial value of dung collect it from the streets, heap it, and claim ownership to the collection.
After what is lost in grazing, the average household-level dung collection is estimated to be as follows:
Big Farmers : In the region of 5 tonnes per farmer per year
Small & Marginal Farmers : In the region of 6.5 tonnes per farmer per year
Traditional Cattle Owners : In the region of 15 tonnes per owner per year
Cattle Graziers & Labourers : In the region of 3.5 tonnes per owner per year
The bulk of this dung is collected between June and January of each year; the collection between February and May is significantly lower since it coincides with the dry season when fodder availability is low.
Big farmers use all the cattle dung they possess on their own fields, applying over 1.0 tonne per acre even for finger millet grown on drylands. (Nevertheless, this is far short of the Tamilnadu Agriculture University’s recommendation of 3.0 tonnes per acre for this crop.) They also buy dung from others in the village to make up the deficit in their own production, though this is becoming increasingly more difficult due to price escalations. The sellers of cattle dung are the small and marginal farmers, the traditional cattle owners, the livestock graziers and labourers and the people who collect dung from the streets.
The sale of cattle dung to people from outside the area had insidious beginnings but has grown greatly over the last five years. It is believed to have started when some labourers from this area migrating seasonally to work on plantations in Kerala observed that the plantation owners struggled to get adequate quantities of cattle dung and were ready to pay a good price for it. It is these labourers who drew the attention of the plantation owners to the availability of cattle dung in Talavadi. A few of them accompanied the labourers to Talavadi for physical verification and purchase. The dung they purchased apparently produced surprisingly good results, attributed (as per hearsay) to the varied vegetation in the scrub forest areas on which the cattle grazed.
Since then, the trade has picked up remarkably. The buyers are mostly from Kerala, though a few plantation owners from Karnataka and Tamilnadu also buy. The demand from external buyers is at its peak around January/February, so all the dung that is collected between June and January gets sold. The smaller volume collected between February and May is what is retained for use on local farms or sold to local buyers, though external demand is picking up even here.
At present it is estimated on a rough calculation that the area sells upto 3,000 tonnes of cattle dung to external buyers each year. In 1999-2000, Mallanguli village with approximately 5,000 heads of cattle sold 120 truckloads of dung to a single plantation owner from Kerala.

Why Do Farmers Sell Away Cattle Dung?
If the buyers – who are also farmers – see value in applying dung to their fields, does the same not hold good for the sellers?
The Study found that big farmers and commercial crop growers/wetland farmers do not sell their cattle dung. In fact, some of them even buy from others who are willing to sell, though, of late, sellers have preferred to sell to external buyers who are prepared to pay more.
Owners/collectors of cattle dung who have no lands of their own naturally sell it away. However, this still leaves the vast majority of small and marginal who own lands and still choose to sell the dung. They sell more than just the surplus they cannot use; beyond applying token quantities to their fields it appears that their very purpose of generating cattle dung is to sell it. What logic have they applied to arrive at this decision?
• Small and marginal dryland farmers are mostly engaged in the cultivation of finger millet.The Tamilnadu Agricultural University recommends the application of 3.0 tonnes of farmyard manure per year per acre of finger millet grown on drylands. These farmers, on the other hand, apply approximately 0.5 tonnes of cattle dung per acre per year.
• Cattle dung has so far been valued at around Rs.300/- per tonne by local purchasers. External buyers have re-defined the value of the same dung by paying an average of Rs.900/- per tonne.
• The yield and income comparisons between recommended and actual applications of farmyard manure to the fields are as follows:
• Small and marginal farmers cultivate an average of 2 acres of finger millet under dryfarming conditions.
• As per locally worked out estimations, small and marginal farmers retrieve 6.5 tonnes of cattle dung each year from their own animals.
• Calculations have been based on normal rainfall, no damage to crops from wild animals, and prices that prevailed in 1999.

Details Using Recommended Levels of FYM on 2 acres From Actual Use of Cattle Dung on 2 acres
Use of farmyard manure 6.0 tonnes (at the rate of 3.0 tonnes per acre) 1.0 tonne (at the rate of 0.5 tonne per acre)
Value of cattle dung Rs.5,600/-
(at Rs.900/- per tonne) Rs.900/-
Value of other inputs (including seed and small quantities of fertilisers and excluding draft power and labour) Rs.1,600/-
(at Rs.800/- per acre) Rs.1,600/-
(at Rs.800/- per acre)
Total cost of production Rs.7,200/- Rs.2,500/-
Yield realised 14.0 quintals
(at 7.0 quintals per acre) 8.0 quintals
(at 4.0 quintals per acre)
Value of yield Rs.7,700/-
(at Rs.550/- per quintal) Rs.4,400/-
(at Rs.550/- per quintal)
Fodder realised 3.0 tonnes
(at 1.5 tonnes per acre) 1.0 tonnes
(at 0.5 tonnes per acre)
Value of fodder Rs.1,500/-
(at Rs.500/- per tonne) Rs.500/-
Surplus cattle dung available after use on own fields 0.5 tonnes 5.5 tonnes
Value realised from sale of surplus cattle dung Rs.450/-
(at Rs.900/- per tonne) Rs.4,950/-
(at Rs.900/- per tonne)
Nett gain to farmer from finger millet, fodder and cattle dung sale after deducting costs Rs.2,450/- Rs.7,350/-
It is evident that though yields go up significantly by increasing the use of cattle dung, this increase is still no match for the gains that accrue from simply selling the dung. In support of this logic, the farmers offer three more arguments that typify the Talavadi area, though they have been excluded from the above calculations:
• Apart from weather-related uncertainties that are common to all dryland cultivators, crops in Talavadi are vulnerable to attacks by wild animals that include wild boar, elephants, etc. So there is never any guarantee that recommended levels of inputs will translate into actual increase of harvests. In fact, between erratic rains and the attacks from wild animals, crop yields are threatened to the extent of atleast 30% to 40%.
• For FYM to act at its best, it has to be properly cured and properly applied to the fields. The Talavadi farmers do not bother much about these aspects, even without which they have a market for the dung that is generated.
• The increase in yields from applying the recommended quantities of FYM is not immediate; depleted soils take a few years to build up fertility through organic means. Small and marginal farmers cannot afford the wait unless they have other buffers of income security.
To Conclude
IT IS A FACT that sale of cattle dung gives an assured income to farm families in Talavadi, and the amount so received is substantial enough to make a material difference to the family.
THE SALE OF CATTLE DUNG is triggered both by the prevailing poor economics of rainfed farming in the area and by the unusually good prices offered for it by external buyers.
UNDER PRESENT CONDITIONS of cultivation and pricing, there are no significant reasons for farmers to change their attitudes and practices in relation to the use of cattle dung.
SMALL AND MARGINAL FARMERS do apply small quantities of manure to their fields.
What they apply appears to be commensurate with the risks they are willing to take and the yields they realise.
What do these findings mean to the KVK?
• The first is not to interfere in any great haste to curb the practice of manure sales in the short run.
• Meanwhile, to continue with the medium to longer-term approach of increasing agricultural productivity through the watershed approach, with its own built in incentives that motivate farmers to invest more on the care of their own lands. It has been generally observed that farmers whose lands are treated for erosion and run-off control begin to see signs of productivity increase and act on these signs to further improve their lands through the use of better inputs, including FYM.
• Supporting farmers to protect their crops from wild animal attacks – whether through fencing or through the cultivation of crops that are not susceptible to attacks by wild
• animals or through any other viable means – is one way of securing greater motivation of farmers to improve soil fertility, which the KVK will certainly pursue. If, by protecting their lands from wild animal attacks, farmers are assured of a more secure income from agriculture, it is reasonable to assume that the use of other inputs, including FYM, will go up.
• Even if the small quantities of manure currently applied to their fields are enriched and managed better by the farmers, it will contribute to improving soil fertility while still leaving the bulk of the cattle dung to be sold to external buyers. This includes the promotion of “composite” compost pits that consist of part cattle dung and part other leaf matter. This is seen as a significant area of intervention for the KVK.
That a farming system is a complex of decisions taken by a farm family without risking subsistence is once again reinforced in this issue of sale of cattle dung by the small and marginal farmers of Talavadi.
The findings reported here are based on intensive individual and group discussions with more than 40 farmers of Talavadi representing a cross section of cattle dung owners and sellers. The sale of cattle dung is controlled by a few mediators. These mediators as well as some of the buyers who were contacted refused to be interviewed.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The MYRADA Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Talamalai started functioning from October 1, 1992 with the support of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). The Kendra is committed to the concept of facilitating participatory processes and promoting innovations. Through the MKVK Participatory Intervention Series we attempt to share our experiences from time to time with other field functionaries. We welcome your views and suggestions on how we can add more value to our work. MYRADA’s address at Bangalore is: No.2, Service Road, Domlur Layout, BANGALORE 560 071.