Agriculture / Animal Feeding / CRP11 / CRP12 / CRP37 / East Africa / Ethiopia / Feeds / Fodder / Forages / PLE / Project / Value Chains

Refining livestock feed assessment tools – ILRI’s work in 2012

Researchers testing tools with farmers

Feed is often cited as the first limiting constraint to livestock intensification in smallholder mixed-crop farming systems in developing countries.

However attempts to deal with the feed constraint tend to focus on promotion of a fairly standard set of feed technologies with often disappointing results. Our experience is that feed intervention failures can be traced to three main issues:

  • Failure to place feed in broader livelihood context;
  • Lack of farmer design and ownership;
  • Neglect of how interventions fit the context: land, labour, cash, knowledge etc.

To address these three key issues, in 2012,ILRI and some of its international and national partners tested and refined emerging tools for feed resource and demand assessment, value chain analysis, rapid market appraisal and feed technology prioritization. The idea is that these will be taken up and used in CGIAR Research Programs – notably Livestock and Fish, Dryland Systems, and Humidtropics.

In this posting, ILRI scientist Alan Duncan looks back on the work of two projects – Ethiopia Livestock Feeds (ELF, funded by ACIAR) and the Africa RISING ‘quickfeed‘ early win project (funded by USAID) to give a brief account of what we learned through testing and developing these tools.

FEAST – a Feed Assessment Tool

FEAST was already reasonably well developed at the outset of the project having been tried in a number of contexts. Our ELF and Quickfeeds project experiences confirmed that the tool is relatively useful in its current form. One of the key strengths of FEAST is that it encourages technical researchers to talk to farmers. Comments from our national research partners suggested that they had found this to be a useful discipline as opportunities to engage directly with farmers are scarce but provide very useful new perspectives. But we need a lot more direct farmer engagement if the technologies developed in research centres are to be useful and appropriate to farmers’ needs.

For FEAST, as with the other tools, our emerging view is that the process of applying the tool is as important as the outputs of the exercise themselves. The simple discipline of asking the right questions to farmers about feed in a broader context proved enlightening to those involved. The other positive feedback we received from partners was about the readymade outputs. Having a simple readymade Excel template to input the data and produce charts and tables proved to be popular. This allowed the rapid generation of informative reports based on real (if approximate) data. In terms of reporting, having clear guidance and a ‘template’ about what kind of data to include along with some readymade charts was a real plus.

The FEAST tool is online and was downloaded 150 times by people in 30 countries in 2012

Techfit – a feed prioritization tool

Development of Techfit is at a much earlier stage.  We did make some progress in developing aspects of the tool. One key area of progress was the development of a simple checklist to guide users to scores for the five context attributes. This was then applied and modified in the field.

The core excel sheet in Techfit is relatively simple but we realised through testing the tool that the core sheet requires some substantial modification in two main respects:

  • The list of generic technologies requires some thought. It is useful to have an inventory of possible technologies but it is difficult to know how specific to make them. Some technologies are really only applicable in particular locations (e.g. feeding leaves of Enset would only really be applicable in Ethiopia). The technology descriptions need to be sufficiently specific to make any suggested priorities emerging from use of the tool useful but sufficiently generic to make the tool applicable in different contexts.
  • The scores we developed for each of the five technology attributes need further thought. Some of the short-listed technologies arising from application of the tool were clearly unhelpful. The scores need to be revised by a group of experts who really understand what each technology involves.

The other aspect that needs further work is the development of a simple cost-benefit assessment method to work out whether particular technologies make financial sense. One difficulty is the fact that many technologies only contribute part of the diet, and attributing improved performance to the technology can prove challenging. Our national partners did make some attempt at a cost-benefit assessment but this aspect requires much more effort.

With all this in mind, we plan a further expert workshop in early 2013 with the following objectives:

  • Develop the list of technologies to be sufficiently generic to apply to a range of contexts but to be sufficiently specific to generate useful suggestions
  • Refine technology scores to be more realistic and justify each score with a few words of explanation.
  • Develop a methodology for cost-benefit analysis of individual technologies.

Value chain assessment

Our aim in the projects was to develop a value chain assessment tool that was sufficiently light and practicable to be applied by non-specialists. We engaged a value chain expert as consultant and he offered orientation on the methodology to national researchers during our training event. We had to considerably adjust the expectations of the value chain expert since what he proposed was relatively cumbersome and beyond the capacity of the project to support. We worked with the consultant to simplify the checklists partly based on insights from similar checklists developed by the Improving Productivity and Market Success (IPMS) project of ILRI.

The emphasis was very much on identifying problems as perceived by market chain actors rather than collecting detailed and quantitative data. The checklists were certainly not perfect when we proceeded to implementation. The implementation itself also left some gaps. For example, one key element that was missing was information on volume of product passing through different market channels to give an idea of the importance of different market channels. However, the VCA did provide a reasonable overview of the value chains that we studied and raised some key issues. For example, for the sheep VCA the study showed the very different requirements of the domestic and export markets in terms of size and condition of animals.

As with the application of FEAST and Techfit, the process of applying the tool was very valuable for researchers. For some of the technical researchers it was their first experience of thinking beyond technology issues. The development of simple VCA checklists has been useful in the context of the Livestock and Fish program and the same consultant has been engaged to help with assessment of small ruminant value chains in in Ethiopia. The experiences in ELF and Quickfeeds provide a strong foundation for this ongoing work.

Institutional context

In addition to the technical points summarized above, the field testing and refining of the three tools led to important results regarding how the tools could better catalyze the development process. The key result was that applying the VCA, FEAST and Techfit tools within the value-chain approach engages simultaneously researchers, extension/development agents, value chain agents and livestock/feed producers in knowledge exchange cycles. This engagement, facilitated by the application of the tools, ensured the sharing of ideas, reservations and insights within and amongst the R4D community and its various primary and secondary clients which, in turn, led to identifying and prioritizing potential interventions, whether technical, institutional or policy-related,

The subsequent challenge is how to develop for each specific local context ways of institutionalizing the application of the tools and their continuous refinement. And, within that process, how best to turn the proposed interventions emerging from application of the tools into tangible activities on the ground for the benefit of resource-poor livestock keepers and their value-chain partners.

Find out more!

FEAST

Techfit

Ethiopia Livestock Feeds project

Africa RISING ‘quickfeed’ win project

Alan Duncan’s presentation on livestock feeds in the CGIAR research programs

Alan Duncan’s presentation on feast and techfit

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