Researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) analysed potential trade-offs in maize residue use as soil mulch and livestock feed in mixed crop-livestock systems in Kenya. Based on survey data, researchers found that both the proportion and quantity of maize residue used for soil mulch and livestock feed are strongly affected by agro-ecology and livestock holding. Farmer knowledge about alternative use of crop residues and farmer perception of soil erosion risk positively affect the amount of residue farmers retain on maize plots. Results imply that crop residue use as soil mulch in conservation agriculture is challenged in mixed crop-livestock systems and particularly by smallholder farmers owning cross-bred and exotic dairy animals. In general, reducing the demand for crop residues as livestock feed through the introduction of alternative feed sources, better extension services on the use of crop residue as soil mulch and designing agro-ecology specific strategies and interventions could facilitate the adoption and expansion of CA-based practices in mixed crop-livestock systems.
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”.