This week Nature discusses about increasing food production in Sub-Saharan Africa by using fertilizer (supported by subsidies) or by implementing more sustainable ways such as conservation agriculture, “fertilizer trees” and legumes. The Editorial concludes that “For now, that has to mean improved access to fertilizers, because the choice between food and famine is an easy one”. Maybe the opportunities are in combining both approaches, depending on the farm/local conditions and socio-economic and biophysical context.

The editorial and article are available from Nature website


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

The presentation is available on SlideShare:

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”.

This is the result of collaborative research of different CGIAR centers and other institutions: SLP, ILRI, CIMMYT, ICRISAT, IITA, CIP and Wageningen University.

The article is available from Field Crops Research

The authors identify a set of development priorities for agriculture that cut across West and Central Africa at both the country and regional levels to achieve economywide growth goals in the region. To do this we adopt a modeling and analytical framework that involves the integration of spatial analysis to identify yield gaps determining the growth potential of different agricultural activities for areas with similar conditions and an economywide multimarket model to simulate ex ante the economic effects of closing these yield gaps. Results indicate that the greatest agriculture-led growth opportunities in West Africa reside in staple crops (cereals and roots and tubers) and livestock production. Contributing the most to agricultural growth in the Sahel are livestock, rice, coarse grains, and oilseeds (groundnuts); in Coastal countries, staple crops such as cassava, yams, and cereal seems to be relatively more important than other subsectors; and in Central Africa livestock and root crops are the sources of growth with highest potential. Results also point toward an essential range of policies and investments that are needed to stimulate the productivity growth of prioritized activities. These include developing opportunities for regional cooperation on technology adaptation and diffusion, strengthening regional agricultural markets, exploiting opportunities for greater regional cooperation and harmonization, diversifying traditional markets, and enhancing linkages between agricultural and nonagricultural sectors.

The complete report is available from the IFPRI website

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.

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.

SLP East Africa team continues presenting preliminary results of the project on crop residue trade-offs. This time Kindu Mekonnen (ILRI-Ethiopia) will present a poster at the CIALCA International Conference held next week in Rwanda. The presented study concludes that “the three study sites in east Africa are found at different crop-livestock intensification level because of variability in rainfall, adoption of crop and livestock technologies, and access to input/output markets. Dealing with some of the constraints that affect crop and livestock production could lead to a more sustainable intensification of crop-livestock farming in the East African highlands”.

This poster is available from Slideshare

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