Collaborative Research on Livestock Feed-Related Interventions Improves Productivity and Tackles Climate Change in Africa
This post was written by Nouhoun Zampaligre.
Recent studies have shown a fast-growing demand for animal-source food in sub-Saharan Africa. The livestock sector plays a particularly important role in providing nutritious and high-quality food (such as meat, milk and eggs) in Africa and it can strengthen the resilience of vulnerable people — particularly the smallholder farmers and pastoralists across the continent. According to the African Union, the livestock sector supports food security and livelihoods of about 350 million people, representing one-third of the current African population. Other advantages of livestock are supply of draft power and manure for cropping systems, and in many communities, fulfilling important sociocultural roles.
Challenges with livestock include their needs and environmental impacts. Cattle, sheep and goats in sub-Saharan Africa are often raised under harsh environments in rainfed systems that use only natural pasture resources as feed. Ongoing demographic pressures on natural resources, land and water scarcity and fluctuating supplies of fodder constrain the livestock subsector in many sub-Saharan African countries. Livestock are recognized as an important contributor to greenhouse gas emissions — particularly enteric methane. Such emissions need to be mitigated to achieve a more sustainable system.
Thus, approaches are needed that improve animal productivity and efficiency, as well livestock system sustainability. Greenhouse gas adaptation and mitigation options that optimize animal health on the one hand and reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the other are needed. To achieve these dual benefits, interventions must be based on sound and proven scientific evidence and adapted to the context of each country or region. Research has demonstrated that this is possible through the use of feed additives, other supplements (such as a certain type of seaweed) and other strategies that have great potential to reduce methane in ruminants while preserving the productivity of the animals.
Research Efforts Involving Collaboration between U.S. Universities and African Centers
Since 2018, a consortium of scientists and researchers from U.S. universities, national research centers in Africa and an international research institute have been conducting research to increase the supply of quality animal feeds in Africa. This is because availability and affordability of feed and fodder are among the biggest challenges for livestock producers in Africa. With funding supplied jointly by USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems at the University of Florida, the EQUIP — FEED Project is testing climate-smart interventions in different areas of Ethiopia and Burkina Faso. The main objective is to sustainably improve the productivity of livestock through feeding. The program is implemented in collaboration with the ministries in charge of agriculture and livestock in the respective countries, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) headquartered in Nairobi, Hawassa University in Ethiopia and with the private sector representatives, including seed producers.
What Has Been Achieved So Far?
Through its various activities and interventions in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, both on-station and on-farm research have generated outcomes, innovations and technologies that contribute to addressing the high cost, low availability and low quality of several feeds in these two countries. It has also equipped the two countries with research tools, infrastructure, knowledge, expertise and experience in addressing livestock feed-related issues in order to improve contributions to food security, incomes and improved livelihoods while testing approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Below are summaries of some findings that will contribute to improving livestock productivity and climate change adaptation in Africa.
First GreenFeed system for precisely measuring enteric methane and CO2 emissions in Africa:
The project’s consortium has established, for the first time in Africa, one of the top technologies for measuring in vivo methane and CO2 emissions from livestock: the GreenFeed system from the C-Lock company. This investment will help produce more accurate emissions data for livestock, assess nutrients requirement of local breeds and allow appropriate, cost-effective feeding of livestock as well as testing of low-emissions feed resources. Research is ongoing, with data collected on Djalonké sheep in Burkina Faso and local dairy cows in Ethiopia. For more about this research, read this blog post: https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/lsil/2021/06/28/burping-sheep-and-africas-first-greenfeed-project-to-measure-their-emissions/.
Forage resources for improving livestock productivity and lowering methane emissions:
Various best bet, high-yielding and drought-tolerant forages and dual-purpose crop cultivars adapted to Burkina Faso and Ethiopia agroecologies have been identified and assessed for their suitability and benefits for smallholder farmers. Promising forages include Brachiaria cultivars (such as B. cv Mulato II, B. ruziensis and B. brizantha) and Megathyrsus maximus (such as cv Zuri, Marandu and cv C1). These forage resources have great potential for improving livestock productivity and feeding of livestock, which can significantly contribute to mitigating methane emissions. Note the relevant resources on the project webpage: https://go.ufl.edu/bwn1v7x.
Other achievements include:
- Human and institutional capacity building in rapid and low-cost feed analyses using near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS).
- Improved research capabilities and expertise of the next generation of ruminant nutritionists and forage agronomists in the two countries.
- Strong partnership established between research, private sector and extension on feed quality assessment, labeling and utilization in Burkina Faso.
- Adapting the University of California-Davis ration formulation software (Aries and Capricorn) for estimating methane emissions and better feeding of sheep and goats in Burkina Faso and dairy cows in Ethiopia with locally-available feeds. The software has also been translated into French and Amharic for the respective countries.
Project activities are still ongoing in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso for innovations and technologies being developed to address livestock feed issues and improve livestock productivity.