Rice and wheat straw fodder trading in India: Possible lessons for rice and wheat improvement

Rice and wheat are globally dominant staple cereals and supply a substantial proportion of caloric intake in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs). Straw byproducts from these cereals form the basal diet for ruminant livestock across much of the developing world. Work with other cereals demonstrates the value placed on cereal straws and stovers by smallholder farmers indicated by their willingness to pay a quality premium. Despite this, breeding efforts have tended to disregard straw quality. Little is known about the marketing arrangements and the price dynamics for wheat and rice straws in LMICs. This study aimed to quantify volume and price of wheat and rice straw sales in Patna markets in Northern India. A survey was conducted covering 17 trading locations in Patna and Hajipur in 2008. 24 traders were surveyed with 12 trading only wheat straw, 11 trading only rice straw and 1 trading both straws. A detailed trader characterization survey was implemented to gather information on the history and structure of the business, suppliers, processing arrangements, customers and monthly trading volumes over the previous 12 months. Traders were then visited once per month for 12 months for collection of straw samples and price information. Results showed that traders had developed a series of 5 quality classes for straws based on sensory characteristics. There was reasonable agreement between trader quality class and specific sensory traits, notably “brightness”, “tastiness” and “purity” and quality classes also ranked similarly to prices for straws. Availability of straws of different qualities varied by month although straws of intermediate quality were available during most months and were the most prevalent straws in the markets surveyed. Taken across months, there was a price premium of 7 % in both rice and wheat straw for the “best” quality straw compared with “medium” quality straw. Wheat straw traded for prices around 19 % higher than rice straw on average. This price differential between wheat and rice straw was associated with higher nutritional quality. Within species, differences in nutritive value between straw quality classes were small. There were significant correlations between price and nutritional traits although these mainly related to differences between species rather than differences within species. Extrapolations from comparisons of available straw qualities in multidimensional rice and wheat improvement suggests that the value of traded rice and wheat straws could be increased by more than 60 % by promotion of superior rice and wheat dual purpose cultivars.