CIMMYT and Wageningen University are looking for three highly motivated and inquisitive PhD candidates to investigate the development trajectories of cereal-based systems in Mexico, South Asia and Ethiopia, major drivers of change, and impacts on agroecosystem processes across spatial and temporal scales. This knowledge will be used to analyse and explore how promising technological and institutional innovations targeting sustainable intensification can more effectively improve rural livelihoods and environmental quality in these agro-ecosystems to better inform development actions and policy.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded CNFA (a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to stimulating economic growth and improving rural livelihoods by empowering the private sector) a contract to implement the Agricultural Growth Program-Livestock Growth Project (AGP-LGP) over the course of five years. As part of USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative, AGP-LGP will foster growth, create jobs for rural households, and reduce hunger and malnutrition through increased competitiveness of selected livestock value chains in meat and dairy. The project is a key USAID contribution to the Government of Ethiopia’s Agricultural Growth Program (AGP), whose objective is to increase agricultural productivity and market access for key crop and livestock products in targeted woredas with increased participation of women and youth.
Research 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.
A recent article in INSIGHTS* describes why “no-till cultivation is a key element in conservation agriculture and is one of many practices designed by farmers, extension agents, and scientists to make agriculture more sustainable. While these practices are increasingly used by large-scale and commercial farmers in developed and developing countries, adapting them for small-scale and poor farmers has been a harder sell.”
The FAO has published the paper: Crop residue based densified total mixed ration: A user-friendly approach to utilise food crop by-products. In this publication, the authors argue that “crop residues are valuable resources since they form a bulk of ruminant feed in many tropical countries. Due to lack of effective management of these resources, unfortunately they are being burnt in some countries, causing environmental pollution. The digestibility of crop residues and other low quality forages can be increased through the action of rumen microbes by strategically mixing nitrogen and minerals that are deficient in these feed resources. The increase in digestibility of crop residues and low quality forages, in turn also increases their intake. Both these phenomena enhance the efficiency of nutrient utilization from these feed resources in animal food chains. To achieve this, the present paper discusses a technology based on the formation of a complete diet in the form of densified feed blocks or pellets from straws mixed with minerals, oil seed cakes and other agroindustrial by-products. The methods for preparation of such total mixed rations, their use and impact have been presented. It is hoped that this technology will enhance income of farmers, decrease environmental pollution and help alleviate shortage of good quality feeds in tropical countries. In addition, the feed produced in the densified form as blocks or pellets could also provide complete feed to livestock in emergency situations. Public-private partnership is expected to enhance the application and impact of this technology”.
“The ‘Second Phase’ of the SLP crop residue project has begun in Ethiopia and Bangladesh and will continue in Zimbabwe and Niger shortly. In this phase of the project, a participatory and collaborative approach is being taken in order to understand constraints faced by farmers and other stakeholders, and to generate knowledge that can inform future action.
The work, led by Dr Beth Cullen (ILRI) in collaboration with other researchers from ILRI, ICRISAT, IITA, CIMMYT and local partner institutions, has consisted of presenting highlights from survey work to farmers from selected villages in each of the sites of the SLP crop residue project. Basic graphs were prepared to help farmers visualize the results and these acted as a starting point for further discussion. Topics covered included: cropping patterns, crop residue use and competition, feeding strategies and livestock productivity, impact of technologies such as fertilizer, improved seed, herbicide and pesticides, income sources, mulching and soil fertility, access to information and extension services. Discussions with farmers helped to probe these subjects in more depth in order to better understand dynamics of crop residue use and decision making processes at farm level. This process has generated important qualitative information which will be used to fill gaps in the quantitative data collected so far.
Dr Elahi Baksh from CIMMYT discussing survey results with farmers in Bangladesh (photo: Beth Cullen).
After in-depth conversations with researchers about the results, farmers were asked to think about their plans and visions for the future. They were presented with four options: intensification, diversification, specialization and out of farming. Farmers voted for their preferred future option and were asked to explain the reasons for their choice. Choices were influenced by factors such as livestock numbers, land size, access to markets and roads. Farmers were then asked to brainstorm the main constraints they face, to prioritize these constraints, identify root causes and potential solutions. Challenges varied from village to village, but consistent themes also emerged. At the end of the exercise farmers expressed thanks to researchers for feeding back the survey results and for involving them in further discussion.
After working at village level a stakeholder workshop was arranged to bring together experts including crop and livestock experts from local agricultural bureaus, extension coordinators, local extension agents, staff from national research centers, researchers from local universities and NGO representatives. Farmers from selected villages were invited to join the discussions, they valued being part of the process from start to finish as well as the opportunity to engage in dialogue with other stakeholders. Results from the survey and farmers feedback were synthesized and presented to stakeholders for their comments. Stakeholders were then invited to consider three key challenges and identify technical, institutional and policy options for improving livelihoods and ensuring longer term system sustainability.
A group of stakeholders working together to identify ‘TIPs’ in Ethiopia (photo: Beth Cullen).
The combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches and exchanges between researchers, farmers and other stakeholders has yielded valuable results. These results will be communicated in a series of reports and briefs to policy makers, researchers and the various partners and stakeholders involved in the research. SLP researchers will also consider how the collaborative research process and the findings could help to inform and be integrated into ingoing research, particularly the new CGIAR Consortium Research Programs (CRP’s)”.
By Dr. Beth Cullen
The CGIAR Research Programme on Maize (MAIZE) wants to extend its current partnerships to capture a wider range of innovative ideas, increase the quality of the research, and integrate the skills of the most able and well-connected members towards their Vision of Success.
The MAIZE Competitive Grants Initiative allow scientists world-wide to apply for funds to support research and capacity‐building activities that will make a significant contribution to the vision of success of MAIZE. Concept Notes are sought for one or more of the priority research areas including:
- Socioeconomics and policies for maize futures
- Sustainable intensification and income opportunities for the poor
- Smallholder precision agriculture
- Stress tolerant maize for the poorest
- Towards doubling maize productivity
- Integrated post-harvest management
- Nutritious maize
- Seeds of discovery
- New tools and methods for NARS and SMEs
AFRICA RISING Program (Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation) is part of the Feed the Future Initiative of USAID. This initiative is funding three projects in West Africa, Ethiopian Highlands, and East and Southern Africa. The project in the Ethiopian Highlands is ‘Sustainable intensification of crop-livestock systems to improve food security and farm income diversification in the Ethiopian highlands’, led by ILRI.
ILRI seeks to recruit a Project Coordinator to coordinate and manage the project (about 40% time) and provide scientific input into project implementation (about 60% time). The deadline for applications is the 18th May 2012.
Last month the Montpellier Panel presented the report on ‘Growth with Resilience: Opportunities in African Agriculture’. The report’s vision states:
“The challenge is to generate agricultural growth that produces enough food, ensures it is accessible to all, is inclusive of the most vulnerable and is resilient, and hence able to withstand the increasing multiple stresses and shocks that afflict the world.
To this end, we believe the priority should be supporting the creation of:
- Resilient markets that enable farmers to increase production and generate income through innovation and taking risks, while ensuring food is available at an affordable price.
- Resilient agriculture that creates agricultural growth out of knowledge and innovation, while simultaneously building the capacity of smallholder farmers to counter environmental degradation and climate change.
- Resilient people who are able to generate diverse livelihoods that provide stable incomes, adequate nutrition and good health in the face of recurrent stresses and shocks.
To achieve these goals we will also need political leadership that demonstrates the necessary vision and will”.
This week Nature discusses about increasing food production in Sub-Saharan Africa by using fertilizer (supported by subsidies) or by implementing more sustainable ways such as conservation agriculture, “fertilizer trees” and legumes. The Editorial concludes that “For now, that has to mean improved access to fertilizers, because the choice between food and famine is an easy one”. Maybe the opportunities are in combining both approaches, depending on the farm/local conditions and socio-economic and biophysical context.
This week in the session of Food Security of the Planet Under Pressure conference in London, Diego Valbuena presented the preliminary results of the SLP residue project. Focusing on biomass use and pressures in mixed crop-livestock systems, the main messages of this presentation were that:
- Mixed systems are dynamic and diverse, with different options and challenges
- Pressures on crop residues needs to look at both production and demand
- Trade-offs between livelihoods and ecosystem services can be avoided
- System research is useful to better understand pressure and options on residue/biomass, but we need more participatory, integrated and coordinate research
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”.
New Agriculturist has just published an article (in French) on how a dual-purposed variety (food and feed) of groundnuts improved animal feed and dairy production in a district in India. It also describes the options and challenges of seed production and dissemination of crop varieties that have a limited value for the private sector. This article illustrates the the collaboration of different institutes including ICRISAT (International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics), ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute), Acharya N.G.Ranga Agricultural University and different NGOs.
The CGIAR Consortium, representing the world’s largest global agriculture research partnership aimed at reducing rural poverty and hunger was officially granted International Organization status this week.OK
According to CGIAR Consortium Board Chair, Carlos Pérez del Castillo: “Achieving International Organization status and recognition is indispensable if CGIAR is to be able to speak with one voice at an international level, thereby raising awareness and strengthening its credibility at a time when agricultural research is key to the survival of billions of people.”
This book contributes to the identification, design, and implementation of the investments, approaches, and complementary interventions most likely to strengthen agricultural innovation systems (AIS) and to promote innovation and equitable growth. The Sourcebook provides a menu of tools and operational guidance, as well as good practice lessons, to illustrate approaches to designing, investing in, and improving these systems.
The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is looking for for an innovative, results-oriented scientist with excellent skills in agricultural innovation to facilitate technology adoption and maximize CIMMYT’s impact. The scientist will work as a member of CIMMYT’s Global Conservation Agriculture Program (CIMMYT-GCAP), and will play a key role in a large multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional team. The selected scientist will work closely with CIMMYT’s research teams in the different regions where innovation approaches are implemented, and will partner with advanced research institutes, national research and extension programs, NGOs and private sector stakeholders. He/she will be responsible for reinforcing/evaluating and redesigning, if necessary, multi-stakeholder approaches for the co-development and increased adoption of sustainable agricultural practices in Latin America, East and Southern Africa, and South Asia.
End of last year IIED and IUCN published a book in which the authors explain that our current way of providing food and other basic needs involves industrialised systems that are linear, centralised and globalised. In the linear approach, it is assumed that at one end of a system there is an unlimited supply of energy and raw materials (which there isn’t), while at the other the environment has an infinite capacity to absorb pollution and waste (which it hasn’t). The inevitable result is resource shortages on the one hand and solid waste, climate change, biodiversity loss, and air pollution problems on the other.
An alternative to the current linear paradigm is to develop productive systems that minimise external inputs, pollution and waste (as well as risk, dependency and costs) by adopting a circular metabolism. There are two principles here, both reflecting the natural world. The first is that natural systems are based on cycles, for example water, nitrogen and carbon. Secondly, there is very little waste in natural systems. The ‘waste’ from one species is food for another, or is converted into a useful form by natural processes and cycles.
This book shows how these principles can be used to create systems and settlements that provide food, energy and water without consuming large quantities of fossil fuels and other finite resources. In the process, greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollution are minimised whilst human well being, food and livelihood security, and democratic control are enhanced.
FARA releases a report examining the experiences of 21 case studies covering a wide range of African farming systems over broad geographic and historical landscapes. This review seeks to assess the usefulness of innovation systems approaches in the context of IAR4D in guiding research agendas, generating knowledge and use in improving food security and nutrition, reducing poverty and generating cash incomes for resource-poor farmers. The report draws on a range of case studies across Sub-Saharan Africa to compare and contrast the reasons for success from which lessons can be learned.
Last couple of years the Livestock Policy Initiative of IGAD (IGAD-LPI) in cooperation with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development of Ethiopia (MoFED), has revisited estimates of livestock’s contribution to the Ethiopian economy, through three studies, which conclude that the contribution of livestock in the Ethiopian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and to the wider economy is much higher than previous estimates.
The authors identify a set of development priorities for agriculture that cut across West and Central Africa at both the country and regional levels to achieve economywide growth goals in the region. To do this we adopt a modeling and analytical framework that involves the integration of spatial analysis to identify yield gaps determining the growth potential of different agricultural activities for areas with similar conditions and an economywide multimarket model to simulate ex ante the economic effects of closing these yield gaps. Results indicate that the greatest agriculture-led growth opportunities in West Africa reside in staple crops (cereals and roots and tubers) and livestock production. Contributing the most to agricultural growth in the Sahel are livestock, rice, coarse grains, and oilseeds (groundnuts); in Coastal countries, staple crops such as cassava, yams, and cereal seems to be relatively more important than other subsectors; and in Central Africa livestock and root crops are the sources of growth with highest potential. Results also point toward an essential range of policies and investments that are needed to stimulate the productivity growth of prioritized activities. These include developing opportunities for regional cooperation on technology adaptation and diffusion, strengthening regional agricultural markets, exploiting opportunities for greater regional cooperation and harmonization, diversifying traditional markets, and enhancing linkages between agricultural and nonagricultural sectors.