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Recent drought-induced livestock losses in East Africa mask deeper problem of animal feed scarcities

Cattle grazing on Brachiaria grass at the ILRI campus in Nairobi, Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Collins Mutai).

The following excerpts are taken from an opinion piece published by An Notenbaert, a former scientist with ILRI for 11 years who now serves as the tropical forages coordinator for Africa at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

‘With the onset of the rains, livestock farmers around Kenya might breathe a sigh of relief. But they have come too late for the thousands of cattle that have already died, hit by the drought that led President Uhuru Kenyatta to declare a national disaster in February this year. . . .

Yet this phenomenon is one which will not be solved by rain alone. It is down to a few, fundamental challenges which go deeper than drought.

Across east and southern Africa, livestock farmers routinely face the same hurdles in increasing meat and milk production: low availability of good quality livestock feed, especially during the dry season.

Our research shows that new, high-quality, drought-tolerant forage grasses could boost milk production by up to 40 percent, generating millions of dollars in economic benefits for struggling East African dairy farmers.

‘Some of these new varieties of a grass called Brachiaria, are high-yielding, nutritious and, because they are easier for cows to digest, animals produce far less of the greenhouse gas methane per liter of milk produced.

‘These benefits make it the most extensively used tropical forage in the world, with seed production already commercialized in big cattle-producing countries like Brazil. Yet Brachiaria grass originates in Africa. . . .

‘We are starting to explore the technical and economic feasibility of commercial Brachiaria production in Zambia. Locally, available seed could be more affordable for livestock farmers, especially considering that feed constitutes at least 60 percent of the costs involved in keeping livestock.’

We already know that boosting dairy production can be a critical first step out of poverty. Homegrown seed production could mean potentially millions of farmers make that step.

Making seed available in Africa for Africa, would be a start—together with an awareness raising drive to convince livestock keepers to grow and preserve forages and feed while making a profit.

Read the whole opinion piece
At Business Daily (Kenya): Drought masks deeper problem with animal feed, 30 Apr 2017
On the CIAT News blog: Kenya’s drought masks a deeper problem with livestock feed, 12 May 2017

Read more about Brachiaria
Climate-smart Brachiaria grass helps Kenyan farmers withstand global warming effects, ILRI Clippings blog, 27 Apr 2017
Brachiaria grass can help Kenya’s dryland food producers improve their soils and yields under a changing climate, ILRI News blog, 21 Apr 2017
Study finds 40% more milk and tens of millions of dollars in revenue possible for African farmers adopting new drought-resistant pasture grass, CIAT News blog, 1 Nov 2016
Brachiaria: The ‘wonder grass’ that could transform African dairy, ILRI Clippings blog, 14 Jun 2016
Kenyan livestock farmers reap benefits of climate-smart Brachiaria grasses, ILRI Clippings blog, 28 Sep 2015
Improved Brachiaria grasses broaden horizon for Kenya’s livestock sector, BecA-ILRI Hub blog, 24 Sep 2015
Making grass greener: CIAT breeds tropical pasture that suppresses greenhouse gas emissions, ILRI Clippings blog, 28 Sep 2013
Secrets of Brachiaria: An African pasture grass holds enormous promise for reducing greenhouse gases, ILRI Clippings blog, 15 Sep 2013


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