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.

The whole document is available from the AgEcon website

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

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.

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

SLP was part of the 5th WCCA & 3rd FSD held in Brisbane, Australia last week. Diego Valbuena (SLP Postdoc Scientist) gave an overview on the crop residue use in different mixed crop-livestock systems across Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. This presentation reflects the current analysis and synthesis of the village-level data of the SLP Crop Residue project. The main points of this presentation were that:

  • Crop residues in mixed systems are fundamental resources for short-term objectives, especially for livestock feed.
  • Residues as mulch is not a common practice, mainly occurring in regions with relatively very high crop production or with high crop production and relatively low feed demand. In regions with high pressure on residues, an increase of agricultural production is needed.
  • There are no silver-bullets: each region has its own potential, challenges & options for more sustainable agriculture.

Finally, the presentation shows the next steps of the SLP Crop Residue project.

The presentation is available from the Slideshare website

SLP has been strengthening links with different academic institutions. The result of these links has been a small set of internships, BSc or MSc thesis with various universities. Research topics are diverse trying to investigate the complexity of mixed crop-livestock farming systems from different but complementary disciplines, tools and scales. Topics include: biomass production and management; chronosequences, land-use/cover and soils evolution; and remote sensing,  NDVI analyses and R scripting.

Crop residue management and farm productivity in smallholder crop-livestock system of dry land North Wollo, Ethiopia (Hailu Terefe, Wageningen University, The Netherlands).

The objective of this study is to explore and analyze crop residue and manure management practices and their influence on farm productivity. Data collection and analyses include farmer resource allocation and socio-economic by semi-structured questionnaire; biomass production, N content and digestibility of crop residues and soil nutrients; and crop-growth simulations to explore the influence of crop residue management use on farm production. The results show that nutrient contents and physical structures of arable plots are declining. Modelling results suggest that to reverse this situation, farmers should retain about 70% of crop residues in the field; but retention should ensure incorporation into the soil. To achieve this strong interventions are needed.

Pdf document available from ILRI website

Development of an open source tool to analyze Vegetation Index from Remote Sensing data (Romain Frelat, INSA, France).

During this internship, I have developed a free package in R to conduct automated analysis of Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) from different optical satellite instruments (AVHRR and Spot Vegetation). Land Surface Phenology metrics can be easily computed from points or polygons generated either in GIS software (shp) or Google Earth (kml). Metrics and vegetation anomaly maps are calculated for every cropping season to support the study vegetation dynamics in agricultural landscapes.

Pdf document available from ILRI website

R package available from CRAN

Evolution de l’occupation des terres en lien avec les caractéristiques physico-chimiques du sol dans un village pres de Nekemte, Ethiopie (Matthieu Crespin, UCL, Belgium).

C’est dans ce but que ce travail, réalisé à l’échelle du village, devrait permettre de quantifier et de comparer la qualité des sols pour des occupations et des situations topographiques différentes : cultures, pâturages, forêts d’une part et vallées, pentes et sommets d’autre part. Il devrait également permettre de tracer l’évolution de la fertilité pour des sols de forêt jusqu’à des sols convertis à la culture et ce pour trois groupes d’âges différents.

SLP projects are presently conducting household surveys in 9 different countries. To gather and/or enter those data we are exploring the use of CAPI (computer assisted personal interviewing) to replace paper based interviews. The advantages of CAPI over PAPI (paper and pencil interviewing) are: faster flow of data between enumerators and regional/central offices, skip the entering data process, an improved error-tracking process and reduced use of paper. Yet, several challenges need to be addressed, including: capacity building, acquisition of technological gadgets, battery requirements and establish/use reliable communication channels to transfer information.

Two main tools have been identified: Surveybe and CSPro. Surveybe is a commercial, very user-friendly software package. CSPro is a public-domain software hosted by US Census Bureau. We want to assess both software packages to see whether they cover our needs. We might not have the resources to implement computerized surveys in all the regions for the present projects. Still, we will try to test it in East Africa and by developing the questionnaire in CSPro, we will be able to use the platform across regions to enter the data gathered on paper in the field. CSPro was tested this week in Ethiopia (see photo below).

Hailu Diressie (MSc student from Wageningen University) interviewing a farmer in a village nearby Ginchi