Feeding Africa’s Livestock: Fodder and forage solutions

The forecasted doubling of demand for meat and milk in developing countries in the next two decades offers significant opportunities for livestock producers. However, the availability of - and access to - quality fodder and livestock feed remains an important constraint.

© Eadairy
© Eadairy

Sunday, 06 December 2015

Africa’s consumption of animal products is rapidly increasing as demand from its burgeoning population rises. Between 2005 and 2030, it is forecasted that meat and milk consumption in Africa will grow by 2.8 and 2.3% per year. However, Africa’s livestock producers are currently not able to meet the rising demand. In particular, providing Africa’s livestock with sufficient quantity and quality of feed is a critical issue that researchers, NGOs and policymakers, amongst others, are working to address. 

One key factor for considering how to feed Africa’s livestock in the future is the difference in feed requirements for various livestock. Monogastric animals such as pigs and poultry farmed commercially are predominantly fed on concentrates produced by feed mills. However, with rapid population growth, there is growing competition between humans and livestock for grain. The best quality grain (e.g. maize in Eastern Africa) is used for human consumption, with that used for animal feed tending to be rather low. However, despite this, strong demand keeps prices high, and in most countries, feed accounts for up to 65% of poultry production costs. To address this issue, feed mills are innovating in the way they work with farmers supplying the grain (see Field report, Integrating poultry and poultry feed on p18) and to alternative source ingredients, including agro-industrial waste products.

In contrast, whilst some concentrates are fed to dairy and beef cattle, the main source of livestock feed for ruminants, including cattle, sheep and goats includes crop residues, forages and fodder shrubs. So a key research issue is how to better integrate and promote efficient crop-livestock systems.

The development of the dairy industry

in Kenya, for example, demonstrates how integrating crops and livestock can simultaneously intensify livestock and crop production. Fodder for more milk and income in Eastern Africa In Kenya, some 1.8 million smallholders provide more than 80% of the milk; a typical farm has just one or two cows. Most dairy cows are kept in ‘zero-grazing’ pens and, in addition to small amounts of purchased concentrates, are fed a variety of fibrous feeds. A key fodder source has traditionally been Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum), which is typically cut and chopped before being fed to the animals. “We use Napier grass because it’s nutritious and it’s also high producing,” says Patrick Mogoko, a farmer from Kiambu near Nairobi. “Without Napier grass on the farm my cows would probably starve.” However, while farmers value its high productivity, in the early 1990s, a fungal disease known as head smut disease (Ustilago kamerunensis) reduced Napier stands by up to 50%.

To address the problem, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) used its collection of Napier germplasm, in collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (now the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation), to develop smut-resistant varieties. Two promising varieties, Kakamega 1 and 2, were released in 2004 and rapidly propagated, first by government institutions and then by community groups, to meet growing demand. By 2007, 16% of farmers in affected areas were using a disease-resistant variety. However, relying on just two varieties is risky, and farmers have reported that the Kakamega varieties are not as productive as the best local ones. ILRI has therefore been collaborating with the Napier grass breeding programme of the Brazilian agricultural research corporation, EMBRAPA. Supplied with disease-resistant varieties from ILRI’s genebank, EMBRAPA is developing improved lines that are disease resistant and have high nutritional value.

Another notable research success has been the introduction of leguminous fodder trees into crop-livestock systems by the World Agroforesty Centre and partners. Fodder trees are highly nutritious for livestock, easy to grow and, by fixing atmospheric nitrogen, help improve soil fertility. In the highland regions of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, over 200,000 farmers are now using a variety of up to nine leguminous fodder trees, including Calliandra calothyrsus, Sesbania sesban, and Leucaena leucocephala. With increased fodder availability and milk yields, incomes of rural smallholders have risen by some €25-100 per household per year (depending on adoption level); a significant proportion of fodder trees are planted by women and many have established fodder seedling nurseries to earn extra income.

A residual alternative

In many African regions, dried leaves and stalks of crops such as wheat, maize and sorghum provide around 70% of the available dry matter for feeding livestock. In Niger, for instance, pasture and crop residues represent about 90% of feed for large ruminant animals. However, residues, especially from cereals, are often of low nutritional quality. Research to improve fodder feed value in recent decades often emphasised postharvest treatment of crop residues. In contrast, ILRI and collaborating CGIAR centres have focused on crop breeding to develop dual purpose cultivars for crop-livestock systems with improved grain and residue yields and higher overall fodder quality for a wide range of grain crops (e.g. maize, rice, sorghum, pearl millet, barley, cowpea and groundnut). ILRI estimates that in West Africa alone, up to 1.4 million ha could be intercropped with dual purpose cowpea varieties, directly benefiting over 9 million people.

Sweet potato vines are another valuable animal feed providing more protein and dry matter per unit area than other staple feeds. In China, 25-30% of sweet potato is currently used as animal feed. The potential in sub-Saharan Africa has not yet been realised but pig farmers in Kenya and Uganda already use sweet potato vines supplemented with commercial feed. To overcome dry season shortages, researchers have developed an improved silage tube. “This technology allows farmers to make any amount of silage they wish depending on the amount of sweet potato vines and non-commercial roots available on farms, which allows farmers to better utilise their local feed resources which would have otherwise gone to waste,” says Ben Lukuyu, an ILRI animal nutritionist. 

Making use of agro-industrial waste (including sugarcane bagasse) is another growing sector for livestock feed. For example, most brewery waste still contains valuable protein and fibre. Mifugo Feed Enterprise was set up near Dar-es-Salaam by a team of young Tanzanian entrepreneurs in 2011 to produce poultry, dairy and pig feeds from beer brewing wastes, which are available year round. In Nigeria, an award winning project to use cassava waste to feed goats was supported by the World Bank. A simple drying technology using black plastic sheets was introduced to smallholders in Osun State, producing an affordable feed. For every 1 t of cassava root eaten or processed, about 300 kg of peel and chaff traditionally go to waste. However, once dried, the cassava peelings can be kept up to 6 months. 

Future developments

With a wide range of new and improved feeds becoming available, it is increasingly difficult for individual farmers to decide on their best option. To support its farmers, the East African Dairy Development (EADD) project has produced a comprehensive manual, Feeding Dairy Cattle in East Africa, which includes, amongst a variety of options, pasture management, forage production (e.g. haymaking, silage and fodder banks), and supplements. Also available online is an encyclopaedia of animals feeds, Feedipedia (see box, Finding the right feed). A simple decision-support tool, Techfit, has also been developed by ILRI and partners, which uses a participatory process to match the needs of potential feed technologies and approaches (in terms of land, labour, credit, inputs and knowledge) to the local context. The result is a shortlist of ‘best bet’ feed options, which can then be tested to see how well suited they are to local conditions. A complementary tool, FEAST (Feed Assessment Tool), has been developed to help researchers and development practitioners (e.g. EADD) assess local feed resource availability in collaboration with farmers and other relevant stakeholders. Selecting forage crops that support the overall productivity and sustainability of a mixed crop-livestock farming system, for example as one element in a crop rotation scheme, will be a key requirement for many farmers going forward.

To mitigate the effects of drought, feed subsidies have often been introduced in drought relief packages (e.g. in North Africa). However, the approach has often led to dependency, market distortions and overgrazing. As an alternative, private insurance against drought has been successfully piloted in northern Kenya and parts of southern Ethiopia. Under the index-based livestock insurance (IBLI), insured pastoralists receive a pay-out based on predicted livestock mortality, which is estimated according to forage available over a season (as indicated by satellite imagery). Since 2010, over 4,000 livestock herders in Kenya have bought IBLI; the insurance is linked to a 50% drop in ‘distress’ sales of livestock to raise cash in times of drought, and a 33% reduction in dependence on food aid. ILRI is currently working with the Government of Kenya and the World Bank to scale up the provision of a macro IBLI product throughout northern Kenya within a public-private framework.

Susanna Cartmell-Thorp

Other dossiers

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.