CIMMYT and Wageningen University are looking for three highly motivated and inquisitive PhD candidates to investigate the development trajectories of cereal-based systems in Mexico, South Asia and Ethiopia, major drivers of change, and impacts on agroecosystem processes across spatial and temporal scales. This knowledge will be used to analyse and explore how promising technological and institutional innovations targeting sustainable intensification can more effectively improve rural livelihoods and environmental quality in these agro-ecosystems to better inform development actions and policy.
October 20, 2012
Three PhD positions on system trajectories, diversity and cross-scale trade-offs: targeting innovations for the sustainable intensification of cereal-based agro-ecosystemsPosted by Diego Valbuena under CIMMYT, Conservation Agriculture, Crop-Livestock, East Africa, Intensification, Job opportunity, Latin America, Modelling, South Asia, Wageningen University
June 19, 2012
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A recent article in INSIGHTS* describes why “no-till cultivation is a key element in conservation agriculture and is one of many practices designed by farmers, extension agents, and scientists to make agriculture more sustainable. While these practices are increasingly used by large-scale and commercial farmers in developed and developing countries, adapting them for small-scale and poor farmers has been a harder sell.”
June 5, 2012
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The FAO has published the paper: Crop residue based densified total mixed ration: A user-friendly approach to utilise food crop by-products. In this publication, the authors argue that “crop residues are valuable resources since they form a bulk of ruminant feed in many tropical countries. Due to lack of effective management of these resources, unfortunately they are being burnt in some countries, causing environmental pollution. The digestibility of crop residues and other low quality forages can be increased through the action of rumen microbes by strategically mixing nitrogen and minerals that are deficient in these feed resources. The increase in digestibility of crop residues and low quality forages, in turn also increases their intake. Both these phenomena enhance the efficiency of nutrient utilization from these feed resources in animal food chains.
To achieve this, the present paper discusses a technology based on the formation of a complete diet in the form of densified feed blocks or pellets from straws mixed with minerals, oil seed cakes and other agroindustrial by-products. The methods for preparation of such total mixed rations, their use and impact have been presented. It is hoped that this technology will enhance income of farmers, decrease environmental pollution and help alleviate shortage of good quality feeds in tropical countries. In addition, the feed produced in the densified form as blocks or pellets could also provide complete feed to livestock in emergency situations. Public-private partnership is expected to enhance the application and impact of this technology”.
May 7, 2012
“The ‘Second Phase’ of the SLP crop residue project has begun in Ethiopia and Bangladesh and will continue in Zimbabwe and Niger shortly. In this phase of the project, a participatory and collaborative approach is being taken in order to understand constraints faced by farmers and other stakeholders, and to generate knowledge that can inform future action.
The work, led by Dr Beth Cullen (ILRI) in collaboration with other researchers from ILRI, ICRISAT, IITA, CIMMYT and local partner institutions, has consisted of presenting highlights from survey work to farmers from selected villages in each of the sites of the SLP crop residue project. Basic graphs were prepared to help farmers visualize the results and these acted as a starting point for further discussion. Topics covered included: cropping patterns, crop residue use and competition, feeding strategies and livestock productivity, impact of technologies such as fertilizer, improved seed, herbicide and pesticides, income sources, mulching and soil fertility, access to information and extension services. Discussions with farmers helped to probe these subjects in more depth in order to better understand dynamics of crop residue use and decision making processes at farm level. This process has generated important qualitative information which will be used to fill gaps in the quantitative data collected so far.
Dr Elahi Baksh from CIMMYT discussing survey results with farmers in Bangladesh (photo: Beth Cullen).
After in-depth conversations with researchers about the results, farmers were asked to think about their plans and visions for the future. They were presented with four options: intensification, diversification, specialization and out of farming. Farmers voted for their preferred future option and were asked to explain the reasons for their choice. Choices were influenced by factors such as livestock numbers, land size, access to markets and roads. Farmers were then asked to brainstorm the main constraints they face, to prioritize these constraints, identify root causes and potential solutions. Challenges varied from village to village, but consistent themes also emerged. At the end of the exercise farmers expressed thanks to researchers for feeding back the survey results and for involving them in further discussion.
After working at village level a stakeholder workshop was arranged to bring together experts including crop and livestock experts from local agricultural bureaus, extension coordinators, local extension agents, staff from national research centers, researchers from local universities and NGO representatives. Farmers from selected villages were invited to join the discussions, they valued being part of the process from start to finish as well as the opportunity to engage in dialogue with other stakeholders. Results from the survey and farmers feedback were synthesized and presented to stakeholders for their comments. Stakeholders were then invited to consider three key challenges and identify technical, institutional and policy options for improving livelihoods and ensuring longer term system sustainability.
A group of stakeholders working together to identify ‘TIPs’ in Ethiopia (photo: Beth Cullen).
The combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches and exchanges between researchers, farmers and other stakeholders has yielded valuable results. These results will be communicated in a series of reports and briefs to policy makers, researchers and the various partners and stakeholders involved in the research. SLP researchers will also consider how the collaborative research process and the findings could help to inform and be integrated into ingoing research, particularly the new CGIAR Consortium Research Programs (CRP’s)”.
By Dr. Beth Cullen
March 28, 2012
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This week in the session of Food Security of the Planet Under Pressure conference in London, Diego Valbuena presented the preliminary results of the SLP residue project. Focusing on biomass use and pressures in mixed crop-livestock systems, the main messages of this presentation were that:
- Mixed systems are dynamic and diverse, with different options and challenges
- Pressures on crop residues needs to look at both production and demand
- Trade-offs between livelihoods and ecosystem services can be avoided
- System research is useful to better understand pressure and options on residue/biomass, but we need more participatory, integrated and coordinate research
March 20, 2012
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The first peer-reviewed publication of the Systemwide Livestock Programme (SLP) crop residue project is now on-line in Field Crops Research. This paper describes the options and challenges of Conservation Agriculture (CA) in mixed systems by comparing 12 study sites in 9 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Results illustrate that “despite its potential benefit for smallholder farmers across the density gradient, the introduction of CA-based mulching practices appears potentially easier in sites where biomass production is high enough to fulfil existing demands for feed and fuel. In sites with relatively high feed and fuel pressure, the eventual introduction of CA needs complementary research and development efforts to increase biomass production and/or develop alternative sources to alleviate the opportunity costs of leaving some crop residues as mulch”.
December 21, 2011
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Last week, the crop residue trade-offs project team met in Addis Ababa to take stock of the data collected across all four regions (South Asia, Southern Africa, West Africa and East Africa). The idea was to see how we could build on and use the data collected towards practical solutions on how residues could be used better for livelihoods and the environment. Another key discussion point was about how the research momentum on crop livestock systems built up during the lifetime of the CGIAR Systemwide Livestock Program (SLP) could help to shape the new CGIAR Consortium Research Programs (CRPs), especially the ‘system CRPs’,1.1 and 1.2, which are meant to integrate research results from all other CRPs).
The workshop included representatives from the four regions where SLP works as well as guests from different institutions: CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), ICARDA (International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas), ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics), IITA (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture), ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute), the University of Minnesota in the US and finally from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
Taking stock of phase I
Phase I of the crop residue trade-offs project developed a description of residue use and identified determinants of use and potential effects of different uses for livelihoods and the environment. This was based on a socio-economic analysis of 12 study sites across the SLP regions, based on village and household level surveys. The first day of the workshop included an update on the progress of each region, identification of major lessons on both process and content and an overview on the current data analyses. Most regions have finished data entry and are busy cleaning data from errors and missing information.
General lessons are: residues are mostly grazed or fed; trade-offs depend on both production and demand, but they are still more evident in low intensive agricultural sites; the participation of farmers and other stakeholder is essential to identify potential Technological, Institutional and Policy options (TIPs). Regional reports should be ready by end of March 2012. These will include a general descriptive analysis, as well as simple econometric approaches to identify determinants of crop residue use.
From diagnosis to action: phase II
Phase II aims to identify promising TIP options to reduce trade-offs in crop residue use. A consultation with external ‘experts’ and unfolding SLP internal discussions seemed to agree that a more participatory approach will bridge the diagnostic phase I into a more practical phase II. The SLP does not have either the resources or the long term timeframe to embark on action research, therefore phase II should be seen as a transition phase that can help link SLP research to ongoing and new projects or to develop new proposals to go beyond diagnosis.
On the last day of the workshop, we started with a description of CRP 1.1 and 1.2 and went on to discuss how SLP can share some experience on systems research and institutional collaboration, which have been major SLP principles. Additionally, a work plan for 2012 for Phase II was mapped out. Phase II will focus on well-defined consultations with farmers and other stakeholders in the different regions to identify promising TIPs, and to enrich the already quantitative description of crop residue uses and trade-offs with a more qualitative analysis across study sites and households in mixed crop-livestock systems.
This workshop marked the beginning of the last year of the SLP and the crop residue trade-offs project. We hope to keep enriching the research of the CGIAR centers and projects with experiences in system analysis and intra-CGIAR collaboration. We also plan to make full use of the time remaining to move into a more action-oriented mode. We will identify promising TIPs that will tackle trade-offs in biomass use to the benefit of the livelihoods of the rural poor and the long term sustainability of rural regions in the developing world.
December 9, 2011
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By Sabine Homann-Kee Tui (ICRISAT, Bulawayo):
Part of the SLP team met in ICRISAT-Bulawayo from 28 November to 4 December to discuss research results and outputs of the crop residue project for the Southern African region. One of the main activities of the week were two workshops in Nkayi to review preliminary study results on the current state of crop livestock systems and crop residue utilization and discuss options with farmers and other stakeholders. The first workshop was held in one of the eight study villages, Sibangilizwe, where land use seemed the most intensive. Around 20 farmers of different ages, gender and herd sizes attended the meeting. The farmers first discussed the SLP survey results and then divided into two groups to discuss means to a) improve crop production and b) improve livestock production.
For crop improvement, access to improved seed and agricultural knowledge were emphasized. For livestock access to inputs and information on animal health and feed were of major concern. Exploring the option of improving cropping technologies to produce more and higher quality crop residues was viewed as an important solution to address livestock feed shortages. A final exercise clearly showed that farmers prefer to intensify the existing croplands and livestock above croplands and livestock expansion, take up new products for niche markets and commercialize, and move out of agriculture.
The following day, another workshop was hosted by local government (Rural District Council). Participants included farmers from a different village as well as from district and provincial level support services (Agricultural Extension Services, Department of Livestock Production and Development, Department of Veterinary Services, Department of Irrigation, Environmental Management Authority) and NGOs. A delegation, preparing a project proposal for submission to the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), also joined the meeting.
The participants discussed promising technical, institutional, policy options with regards to crop livestock intensification. Methods to improve soil fertility, crop diversification for food and feed and fodder crops were identified as important possibilities to explore. This needs to be supported by multidisciplinary teams that can capacitate service providers on supporting crop-livestock intensification and train farmers on the relevant technical issues. Local bylaws need to be strengthened for better use of cropland and rangeland. Crop and livestock markets should be resuscitated, sensitizing private sector about the existing market potential among smallholder farmers, improving linkages between input and output markets and knowledge on how farmers can make best use of these markets. Effective forms of facilitating communication among stakeholders, particularly research, extension and development, should be institutionalized for these purposes, with access to information highlighted as key requirement to enable farmers to embrace change.
The SLP team will use the experience (results and process tested) from the Nkayi workshops to inform the development of research tools across the SLP sites, especially to further study the institutional frameworks and options and for developing future research proposals.